Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
The first full field PGA Tour event of the new year gets underway this week at Waialae Country Club. Justin Thomas is a worthy 6/1 favourite but faces plenty of competition from the likes of Bryson DeChambeau and Jordan Spieth.
Low-scoring will be required to triumph, with only light winds forecast, at the 7,044 yard par 70 with Patton Kizzire shooting 17-under par to win last year’s tournament after a six hole play-off.
A total of 22 players that competed in the Tournament of Champions are staying in Hawaii for this event. This group should have an advantage with 14 of the last 20 Sony Open champions playing at Kapalua the previous week.
Thomas comes in as the man to beat after a superb performance for third place last week. The American made 25 birdies during the tournament including nine in a final round 65. The world number four’s ball striking was exceptional, hitting 84.7 per cent of greens in regulation, throughout the week and was bullish about the state of his game heading into one of his favourite tournaments.
The 25-year-old completed the Hawaii double in 2017 when a sensational opening round of 59 set him on the way to a record-breaking total of 27-under-par to land the Sony Open title. Thomas produced a solid showing 12 months ago with a tie for 14th and was also sixth on debut at the course in 2015. Thomas is a confident selection to claim another win at Waialae.
A successful title defence for Kizzire looks entirely possible and he rates a value bet at 40/1. The two-time PGA Tour winner outlasted James Hahn in a play-off last season making 22 birdies on his way to victory. His other win came at the Mayakoba Classic, another coastal course with some similarities.
Kizzire ended 2018 with a flourish after winning the QBE Shootout and he has taken this momentum into the new year. The 32-year-old enjoyed an encouraging warm-up last week, where he was fourth in strokes gained putting, for eighth spot at the Tournament of Champions and looks well placed to get into contention again at the Sony Open.
Charles Howell III has an exceptional record at this tournament having done everything but get his hands on the trophy. The experienced American has twice finished runner-up at Waialae and has recorded no fewer than nine top tens from 17 appearances.
Howell III has failed to convert his undoubted talent into regular wins but he clinched a long overdue success in November after victory at the RSM Classic. His third PGA Tour title is bound to give him a lift heading into this year and the belief to add more victories. Howell III shot eight-under-par over the weekend at Kapalua for a top-15 finish and is worth backing to feature on the leaderboard again at the Sony Open.
Sungjae Im topped the Web.Com Tour last season after winning twice, including victory in his first event last January. The 20-year-old finished second three times alongside his wins in the Bahamas and Portland. Im had no fewer than eight top tens and produced 54 rounds in the 60s during a record-breaking season.
The South Korean made a superb start to life on the PGA Tour with a tie for fourth place at the Safeway Open in October. Im also recorded a top 20 finish in Las Vegas and big things can be expected of him this year. He looks a winner in waiting and generous odds of 80/1 should be snapped up.
Justin Thomas EW 6/1
Charles Howell III EW 28/1
Patton Kizzire EW 40/1
Sungjae Im EW 80/1