Core Fore: Sony Open

Every week, the Core Fore will have some brief course notes, statistics to focus on ($), and four players to build your core around (free, every week!). For tournament picks, make sure to check out Josh Burkett’s Going For The Green article. Stats used in this article are from: FanShareSports.com, FantasyGolfMetrics.com, and FutureOfFantasy.com which are all tremendous resources.

This week the PGA has its first full-field, regular cut event of 2017, and the DFSDatalytics PGA team couldn’t be more excited about it. Unless otherwise noted, all rankings / stats are from the 2016 season. The Sony Open in Hawaii takes place at Waialae C.C. in Honolulu starting Thursday:

THE COURSE

Course map (click to view)

CUT LINE: Cut after 36 holes, field of 144 golfers. Average cut -0.38 (10th lowest on Tour)

COURSE: Waialae C.C. in Honolulu, 7044 yards, par-70

FAIRWAYS: The fairways at Waialae are narrow and the most difficult to hit – last year, the field hit under 50% of fairways off the tee. Weather-dependent, the fairways should be firm and offer a lot of roll to help the golfers who hit low worm-burner type shots. With the way the course is set up, players that hit draw shots effectively (Jimmy Walker, Zach Johnson for example) will have an advantage over players that hit fades – the holes typically go right to left, and the ones that don’t have nice landing zones on the left hand side of the fairways.

GREENS: Grass on the greens at Waialae are Bermudagrass, of an average size and slightly slower with a stimp of around 11. With there being no rain leading up to the Sony Open the greens should be firm and tough to land on, and they’ve always been slightly tricky with the way they’re rolled. The grain can change the break completely, so reading greens will be an asset.

HAZARDS: The rough is a little thicker off the fairways, which will put an emphasis on players that can hit well out of the rough – especially given how tight the fairways are. Waialae has 78 bunkers throughout that range in size but aren’t actually that tricky, and 4 water hazards including the long pond up the length of the 11th. Wind is the last factor that could come into play with the course being right along the ocean, but as of now the forecast only calls for winds up to 18km/hr for a brief moment on Sunday. By targeting golfers with a low launch angle and apex height, wind would have even less of a factor even if it kicks up during the weekend; worm-burners would also be ideal on the firm fairways to get added distance.

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

STATS

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THE CORE FORE

 

Core #1: Russell Knox ($8100)

There are only a few players that fit this type of course better than Russell Knox does, so it’s strange that in five attempts he’s had he’s missed four cuts, and finished T13 (2015). That ugly course history can be ignored a little for the Brit, as Knox is entering in great form after three top-10s during the fall season and a T17 last week at the Tournament of Champions. Knox’ best finish during the fall was at the OHL Classic, where he finished third.

Knox is a player that excels at avoiding mistakes, as shown by his ranking of 9th in Bogeys per Round, and 14th in Bogey Avoidance %. A lot of that comes from his play off the tee, where Knox isn’t long, but is very accurate (68.23%) which has helped him to a Good Drive ranking of 12th. Knox has a very low ball flight, which was mentioned in the course notes as being helpful this week. That in turn has put Knox on the Green in Regulation a startling 70.30% (4th on Tour), which is ideal as Knox has never been the best putter.

Even with the aforementioned poor putting (111th in Strokes Gained: Putting, 150th in 3-Putt%), Knox is 28th in Scrambling but more importantly, 10th in Scrambling from the Rough. Given how closely putting is tied into scrambling, that speaks volumes about Knox with a wedge in his hand.

The other area where Knox really excels is a crucial element of the course this week, and that’s Par-4 Scoring. Knox has an average of 4.01 on Par-4s, which had him 15th on Tour last season. Knox’ Par-4 Birdie or Better % doesn’t make him an elite golfer, at just 17.10%, but that does have him rank 53rd in that category.

Knox ranks as the 14th most tagged golfer on FanShareSports.com, with a 100% Start Sentiment, so he’ll be fairly popular this week even with the ugly course history. Estimate his ownership around 15%.

 

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Core #2: Russell Henley ($8600)

Russell Henley has a win (his first time out, 2013), a T51 and a T17 to go along with a missed cut in his four attempts at Waialae, and has good recent form to enter the week: since missing the cut at the Safeway Open, Henley had three top-25 finishes including a weather-shortened top-10 at the RSM Classic. Henley is the T39th most tagged golfer from FanShareSports, with only a 67% sentiment. That could mean very low ownership for a golfer that seems to be a little overpriced given how soft the rest of the pricing is this week.

That low ownership projection should be dynamite for Henley, because there are so many aspects of his game that fit this course perfectly.

With a total Strokes Gained: Putting number of 1.878 on Bermuda greens, Russell Henley is the 9th ranked putter on tour on this type of grass, and second best in the field this weak. From Bentgrass (0.569) to Bermuda, Henley picks up an extra 1.309 strokes with the flat stick and makes 10% more cuts on Bermuda. (Sample size of 52 events Bermuda / 54 events Bentgrass).

Henley’s a great hitter out of the rough (16th in Proximity to the Hole from the Rough), and is the 11th best out of the rough at Waialae specifically. In Honolulu, Henley averages only 38’6″ from the hole outside the rough, 3′ better than his performance on other courses. With a Driving Accuracy here of 56.3% (average 63% on other courses) which is actually 25th best, the American will need to continue his good play from off the fairway.

Through his four tournaments played at Waialae, Henley has averaged 4.045 Strokes Gained: Putting which has him fourth of all golfers, and the best average with a sample size larger than two. Digging through the rest of Russell’s statistical performances at Waialae, he’s been consistently one of the best golfers in the field:

  • 9th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (2.206)
  • 66th in Strokes Gained: Approach (0.206) – compare to his full season SG:App average of 0.079
  • 5th in Par-4 Scoring (-0.09)
  • 11th in Birdie or Better %

 

Core #3: Charles Howell III ($7,800)

Chucky Three Sticks is the second most tagged golfer on FanShareSports.com, with a 100% Start Sentiment on 11 tags – expect Howell to be one of the the three chalkiest plays this week, if not the chalkiest. He’s coming in with a great price tag, under $8000, and has one of the most – if not the most – consistent course histories here. Through the last ten years, Howell has never missed the cut here, and although he hasn’t won he has amassed five top-5s to go with an 8th, T13th, T68 and T69.

Course history aside, there’s a lot of statistical merit to using Howell:

  • Strokes Gained: Tee to Green – 41st
  • Proximity to the Hole from the Rough – 26th, 36’3″
  • Bogey Avoidance – 16th
  • Par-4 Scoring – 42nd,
  • Apex Height – 139th (lower ranking is better here)

He checks off most of the boxes required this week which shows through his history, but Howell is also having a great swing season; since missing the cut at the Safeway Open, Howell has made four straight cuts which includes three top-15s.

Howell has always found more success on Bermuda grass greens – 0.551SG:P on Bermuda compared to 0.288SG:P on Bentgrass – and is a fantastic approach player (19th in Greens in Regulation) which will give him plenty of opportunities with the flat stick.

 

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Core #4: Branden Grace ($7,500)

This is a great spot to get Grace at some lower ownership, after he burned 30% of entries last week in a no-cut event by finishing DFL. As of today, Grace is T34th on FanShareSports, and has a mixed sentiment with one Sit and one Start tag. Grace has never played this course before, so with zero history to look at, it will also help lower his ownership. He’ll take that low ownership potential and combine it with some of the highest upside on the slate, as it’s sometimes easy to forget Branden Grace is the 17th ranked golfer in the world.

It’s not his world ranking that’s appealing however, it’s his statistical acumen on a great course setup – from tee to green, Grace gains 1.035 strokes (15th), and although on the surface he seems to lack Driving Accuracy (162nd, 55.26%) he’s actually done well historically on narrow-fairway courses. From Josh Culp’s futureoffantasy.com, Grace has gained 1.751 strokes on courses where the field averages less than 56% Driving Accuracy.

Grace has a low launch angle and apex height which is nice off the tee, but more importantly is a stud out of the rough which is so important on narrow fairways. Grace’s Proximity to the Hole from the Rough is just 5′ worse than his Proximity to the Hole from the fairway, and he had an overall PtHR ranking of 5th on Tour last year. That on its own doesn’t speak to his game out of the rough, but when coupled with his ranking of 28th in Scrambling from the Rough versus 86th Scrambling, it speaks volumes.

The South African is a par-4 monster, 15th in overall par-4 Scoring (4.01) and 18th in par-4 Birdie or Better (18.27%). He’ll need to putt well this week to keep scoring on the ever important par-4s as he’s only 121st in Strokes Gained: Putting and 108th in 1-Putt Percentage, but Grace can get hot at any moment and start walking in putts. Last season Grace’s second best putting effort came at the WGC Cadillac which has slightly faster greens (12′ on the stimp vs. 11′ at Waialae), but average the same size and are also Bermuda; at the WGC, Grace finished with 0.957 Strokes Gained: Putting.

 

TOTAL SALARY REMAINING: $9,000 per golfer.

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