Getting the six highest-rated golfers in the world beat in the opening event of the year, the Tournament of Champions, meant round one goes to the bookies even though winner Harris English would have been far from friendless. We punters just have to get back up on our horse and fight back!
English, a 28-1 chance last week, is only half those odds to complete the Hawaiian double when the PGA makes the cross-island hop from Maui to Waialae Country Club in Honolulu for the Sony Open.
It would be hard to find two more disparate golf courses, Kapalua long, undulating and wider than the M1, Waialae just over 7000 yards and par 70, flat and much narrower – though not so tight that ridiculous scores can’t be achieved – Justin Thomas wrecked it as a contest when shooting a first-day 59 on the way to a 27-under blitz four years ago.
Waialae relies on the wind to protect it and 35-40mph gusts early in the piece last year led to the leading score of 11 under being the highest for 15 years.
Thomas it was who pulled off the Hawaiian double when he shot a barely credible 49 under par for his eight rounds at Kapalua and Waialae in 2017.
The field of 144 will be grateful that JT, disgusted with himself for uttering a disrespectful anti-gay slur after missing a short putt, will be sitting it out this week. JT would have been a warm favourite, particularly after his good third at Kapalua.
Australians have always been good in the wind so no surprise that Cameron Smith emerged as last year’s winner after a play-off with Brendan Steele for his first solo PGA victory. His only previous success came in the New Orleans pairs event.
Cam played better than his 24th position at Kapalua, a high finish spoilt by a poor final round. As it’s less than two months since he shared second place at the Masters, a strong title defence is anticipated even though the forecast is good and conditions are not likely to be similar.
This is an 11-1 the field tournament. Nobody has an outstanding claim, with Fitzdares giving the call to Webb Simpson over USPGA champion Collin Morikawa, with Kapalua hero English and Daniel Berger right behind.
It’s impossible to rule out any of that quartet but only English had a decent Sunday.
Young Morikawa looking the most likely winner going into the final round but found it a a struggle, fading down to seventh.
Winning back to back is never easy. Thomas did it but was able to freewheel. English, in contrast, had a really tough week, leading for much of it and just hanging on for his first win in almost eight years. Emulating JT’s feat is probably asking too much of him.
Simpson is having an excellent year but it was alarming to see him drop three shots in two holes as soon as he hit the front. He never recovered. Berger had a big shout going into Sunday but, like Morikawa and Simpson, found birdies hard to come by at the business end.
At the prices, the one I like best is Kevin Kisner, fourth in 2016, 2017 and again last year. A gutsy player with a great putting stroke, he doesn’t hit it far enough on the long courses but Waialae is demonstrably right up his street.
Runner-up at Sea Island in November (where he finished with a 63) and the 2017 winner at Colonial, both courses of similar length requiring sharp positional play and a warm putter, Kisner at 25-1 should give punters an excellent run.
The biggest threat could be Sungjae Im, fifth at Kapalua and joint runner-up at Augusta, he is Mr Consistency. Hard to believe he’s only 22 as he seems to have been on leaderboards forever. Rumour has it that this golfaholic lives out of suitcase, going from hotel to hotel, and does not have a home in the States.
He chalked up a breakthrough win at the Honda last March and got close to another when going down in a play-off to Seb Munoz at Sanderson Farms. His Waialae form, 16th and 21st on his only two visits, suggests the course holds no terrors for him.
Don’t expect to find any golf balls in his bag with a 4 on them because 4 is a bad-luck number in his country and the Korean for 4 sounds very similar to the word for death!
Two three-figure-odds outsiders are worth a small interest. Takumi Kanaya is the same age as Im but has only recently turned pro after 55 weeks as world No. 1 amateur.
A winner on the Japan Tour as an amateur in 2019, he racked up a second victory and his first as a pro in November. They were not any old tournaments either but two of Japan’s most prestigious, the Taiheiyo Masters and the Dunlop Phoenix.
Takumi had to go four extra holes at the Phoenix so is not short of nerve. He has received a special invite to the Sony and is unlikely to be fazed by the occasion.
At the other end of the spectrum, Brian Stuard is a plodder who consistently plays above himself at Waialae and could well nick a place at 150-1.
The American journeyman has placed fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth over the years in Hawaii and showed a glimpse of current form when third at the Safeway in September, his best finish since clocking his only win in New Orleans in 2016.
At 231st on the long-driving table but 20th for driving accuracy, this is short hitter Stuard’s Major.
There are plenty of others with chances and victory for Joaquin Niemann, Ryan Palmer, Abraham Ancer, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Corey Conners or Brendon Todd would come as no great surprise. Only one of the last five winners has started shorter than 40-1.
The Sony is the only live golf on Sky but the European Tour tees off in Abu Dhabi next week with players out to lay down an early marker for a Ryder Cup place.