The PGA Tour returned to our screens last week in Hawaii for the Sentry Tournament of Champions and this week see’s the second leg of the ‘Hawaii double’ the Sony Open, while the European Tour is back with us for the South African Open.
This year promises to be a fantastic year of golfing action as we not only have the staple diet of the four majors, the WGC’s and the regular tour events but we also have a Ryder Cup and the Olympics to look forward to.
So, let’s see if we can start our year off in fine style by solving the puzzle offered up by the Sony Open where Paddy is paying the first 8 places.
The course, which has hosted this event every year since inception is Waialae CC, a par 70 track measuring 7,044yds, situated just outside of Honolulu.
In contrast to last week’s venue, distance off the tee here is not an advantage and the key to success at Waialae historically to find the smallish greens and hole plenty of putts.
The market is dominated by Justin Thomas, who is followed by Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson, with the former two finishing first and second last week.
There’s 23 players who tee’d it up last week and have made the short trip across to Honolulu.
We should note that all of the last six winners had played the previous week at the Sentry TOC.
On this basis it is hard to look past the chances of Thomas of repeating his feat of 2017 and doing the ‘Hawaii double’.
He’s only available though at 5-1 and with similar tough, windy conditions to last week forecast, my concern is that two victories in these conditions may just be too much to ask for. I am going to hunt for the each-way value elsewhere.
First up on this basis is young Chilean superstar Joaquin Niemann. Niemann is making his first start this week at Waialae CC however his maiden tour win came when we were onboard at the Greenbrier last autumn on another short par 70 track designed by this weeks course designer Seth Raynor.
Fifth last week at Kapalua and a self-confessed lover of playing in the wind, he should relish this test and he gets our headline vote at 28/1.
Next up for me is Sebastian Munoz at 60/1. Like Niemann, Munoz was victorious last autumn for the first time on tour and also like the Chilean he has performed admirably at the Greenbrier finishing third and seventh there for the past two years.
Furthermore Munoz finished 10th here last year. 17th last week should serve as a nice warm up and he is fancied to go well again. I shall finish our team with a couple of grizzled veterans in the shape of Ryan Palmer (80/1) and Graeme McDowell (100/1).
Both love playing in the wind and Palmer is a former winner here, while all of Gmac’s four wins on the PGA Tour have come on shorter coastal tracks. This test should be ideal for both.
Taking a brief look at the South African Open and we are at the Randpark GC outside of Johannesburg, which also hosted the event when it was last held in December 2018.
Two tracks are used here with the Firethorn course and the Bushwillow course sharing duties over the first two days, before the host course, The Firethorn, a tree-lined par 71 measuring 7114 yards, takes over for the final 36 holes.
As is always the case in South Africa it is the home players who dominate the betting market and it is hard to ignore the claims of the market leader and defending champion, Louis Oosthuizen.
At nearly three times the odds though and with Paddy again paying 8 places, I prefer to take a chance that Branden Grace @ 14/1 turned the corner with his third place finish at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December. Seventh here in 2018 and hopefully rested and raring to go he gets our vote.
Alongside Grace, I will also play one of the new breed of South African player, Zander Lombard @ 28/1. He finished 15th here when in no sort of form in 2018 but arrives in far better nick this time around.
It would be no great surprise to see him get his breakthrough win on home soil this week.
*Prices correct at time of publishing