2023 Sony Open Predictions: Winners, Sleepers, Busts, and Holes to Watch at Waialae Country Club
As usual, the Sony Open is the first full-field PGA Tour event of the new calendar year and features 19 of the 39 players from this past week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions. The most notable names in the field are Jordan Spieth, Tom Kim, Sungjae Im, and, of course, defending champion Hideki Matsuyama.
Since the event’s modern-day inception in 1965, the Sony Open has been contested at Honolulu’s Waialae Country Club, which is again the case in 2023.
The event is typically one of the lowest-scoring tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule, as evidenced by the fact that since that first modern edition in 1965, the winning score has been of the double-digits-under-par variety every year but four.
The last winner not to achieve the feat was Jeff Sluman, who shot 9-under to win by two in 1999.
Three of the last four winners of the Sony Open have shot at least 21-under, the exception being Cameron Smith’s 11-under total in 2020. Matsuyama shot 23-under last year before defeating Russell Henley in a playoff.
So what does the 2023 edition of the Sony Open have in store?
2023 Sony Open predictions
Luke Norris: Brian Harman
I’m really liking Brian Harman’s game right now.
While the 35-year-old lefty hasn’t played particularly well at Waialae since tying for fourth here in 2018 (MC, T-32, T-56, T-48), he’s played some fantastic golf to start his 2022-23 season.
In five starts thus far, Harman has yet to finish lower than 16th just once (that was still a tie for 23rd at the CJ Cup) and recorded back-to-back runner-up finishes at Mayakoba and the RSM. He currently sits in seventh in the FedEx Cup standings, trailing only six players who’ve won a tournament while leading the other four who’ve recorded victories.
Jack Dougherty: Tom Hoge
Tom Hoge has been the best iron player on Tour to start the 2022-23 season, and strong iron play has been the biggest indicator of success at Waialae over the years. Coming off an impressive T3 at Kapalua in which he gained a season-high 2.43 strokes on approach, Hoge enters the Sony Open in great form and fits this course perfectly.
Luke Norris: Matt Kuchar
Matt Kuchar has some solid history at the Sony Open. And we’re not talking old-school history for the 44-year-old either.
Just four years ago, Kuchar won this tournament, shooting 22-under to win by four. And just last year, the nine-time PGA Tour winner tied for seventh, shooting 64-65-67-67 to finish at 17-under for the week. Not bad for a guy going off at 50-1 this week.
Jack Dougherty: Russell Knox
Russell Knox can get swallowed up by longer courses as one of the weakest drivers on the PGA Tour, but he excels on shorter courses that emphasize iron play. That bodes well for his chances this week, considering Waialae is one of the shortest courses on Tour at just over 7,000 yards.
Knox ranks fourth in strokes gained on approach this season, so as long as his putter shows up this weekend, he could find himself in contention.
Most likely bust
Luke Norris: Hideki Matsuyama
It’s never easy to defend a title — unless you’re Tiger Woods, anyway — and Hideki Matsuyama won’t be doing that at the Sony Open this week.
He’s been wildly inconsistent in his five starts for the 2022-23 PGA Tour season, with his best finish coming last week at Kapalua, where he finished 21st in a 39-player field, 38 if you count Xander Schauffele’s withdrawal.
In his other four starts, Matsuyama tied for 25th, tied for 40th, tied for 34th, and withdrew from the Houston Open. Could he repeat? Sure, anything can happen on a course like this. But I’m not seeing it. That said, I could watch that final shot of his from a year ago (seen above) all day long.
Jack Dougherty: Tom Kim
Look, I love Tom Kim as much as all of you love Tom Kim, but the hype train is getting a bit too overcrowded for my liking. After a T5 finish at Kapalua, the 20-year-old is now the betting favorite to win at Waialae, a golf course he’s never played before.
Would I be shocked if he won this week? No, not at all. But I think it’s just as likely he flirts with a missed cut now that his expectations are through the roof.
Luke Norris: No. 13
There aren’t many holes at the Sony Open that have an average score over par, but the 13th is one of them. Formerly played as a par-5 at this event, the 502-yarder that features a fairway bunker at the right dogleg now plays as a par-4. Only six percent of players birdie this hole, and the average score is 4.233. It’s the only par-4 on the back nine that plays above par.
Jack Dougherty: No. 17
The par-3 17th hole at Waialae isn’t excessively long at around 192 yards, but don’t be fooled by its modest length and picturesque views. Because of the strong ocean winds and the intimidatingly skinny green surrounded by four bunkers, the 17th has played over par each year since 2014. A par on Sunday afternoon with the easy 18th on deck will be crucial for the players in contention.