The new PGA Tour season is underway in 2018 and there was a feeling of déjà vu as Dustin Johnson dismantled the field to claim the first trophy of the year.
DJ took the Tournament of Champions crown by some eight shots from closest competitor Jon Rahm, and an astonishing weekend was highlighted by the fact he nearly made a hole in one on a Par 4!
It was a reminder, if any were needed, that while the world of golf focuses on upstarts like Rahm, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, it is the world number one who is very much still the man to beat.
That event took place in sunny Hawaii, and the players are hanging around on the island for one more week for the Sony Open, which will take place at the picturesque Waialae resort in Honolulu.
In stark contrast to last week’s host track Kapalua, Waialae is a test of ball striking and accuracy, rather than an out-and-out birdie fest. It may take patience to find those par-breaking opportunities, but if you find fairways then you are going to have a chance to make birdie on this short, Par 70 stretch.
But the course’s key defence over the years has typically been the strong Hawaiian breeze that buffets the players, but with the forecast suggesting a rather benign week we would expect the cream to the rise to the top and a low winning mark to be recorded.
So where is the smart betting money going?
The Market Leaders
The two that stand clear from the rest at the head of the market are messrs Spieth and Thomas, and for our money the former is the most likely of the pair to take the spoils.
He played well enough last week at the Tournament of Champions, and his final 54 hole salvo of -14 was bettered only by Johnson.
For a player who can be quite wayward off the tee, it is surprising that these tree-lined fairways seem to suit Spieth’s eye, but he finished third here 12 months ago and is also a champion at the Colonial Club, a very similar track to this which hosts the Dean & Deluca Invitational.
The top-10 of this event last year was revelatory in that it was made up of major winners (Spieth, Thomas, Zach Johnson), PGA Tour champions (Kevin Kisner, Jim Herman, Gary Woodland) and classy, straight shooters such as Chez Reavie and Charles Howell III. If that is an indication that the finer talents thrive at Waialae, then the 5/1 odds offered on Spieth opening his account for 2018 look fair.
Thomas, meanwhile, wasn’t quite at his best last week in defending his Tournament of Champions crown, and he will have to make do without regular caddie Jimmy Johnson this week who has a foot injury. Johnson has been at Thomas’ side throughout his dramatic rise up the world rankings, and while his replacement – Phil Mickelson’s former bag-man Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay – is more than an adequate replacement, you sense that JT will miss his regular sidekick’s input.
Sealed with a Kis
As mentioned we expect the classier sorts to really thrive in Honolulu this week, especially given the lack of wind expected, and so punters are advised to not slip too far down the market when placing their wagers.
But a flutter on the 25/1 shot, Kevin Kisner, could be a sensible ploy.
The fact that he has finished inside the top-five here in his last two trips is of obvious importance, as his comfortability at correlating courses to Waialae: he has won at Colonial and just missed out on victory at the RBC Heritage event, played at the seaside resort of Harbour Town.
He’s somebody that loves putting on these Bermuda grass greens too, and just last week at Kapalua he ranked first for Strokes Gained: Putting.
Those are all handy insights into a good run here from the 33-year-old.