Updated throughout each tournament week, 'The Starter' will provide key news, notes, and other nuggets prior to the first tee time on Thursday morning. Think of it as an all-in-one resource to help guide you in the days leading up to the start of the tournament, as you prepare your fantasy golf lineups and entries. As soon as we receive valuable news updates on things such as tee times, featured groups, withdrawals and other course reports we’ll be sure to post them all here.
Jon Rahm won on the PGA Tour for the 8th time. He's now earned a win on TOUR in 7 consecutive seasons.
Rahm's scoring stats at the Tournament of Champions over the last three years:
80 strokes under-par
40.74% Birdie-or-Better Percentage
Rahm came from 7 strokes behind on the final day to claim victory at Kapalua. Since last May, three golfers on the PGA Tour have come from 7 shots back at the start of the final round to win (Justin Thomas at the 2022 PGA Championship; Sam Burns at the 2022 Charles Schwab Challenge; Jon Rahm at the 2023 Sentry TOC).
Rahm remains at No. 5 in the Official World Golf Rankings following his win. He's moved up just one spot in world rank since last October, despite winning 3 of his last 5 starts worldwide over that span of time.
Collin Morikawa finished runner-up after squandering a 6-stroke lead to start the final round.
Morikawa saw mostly positive results from hiring both a putting coach and a chipping coach in recent months. Morikawa's Strokes Gained: Short Game (SG: ARG + SG: PUTT) stats at the Tournament of Champions:
Rounds 1-3: +8.21
Round 4: -3.28
Tom Hoge (T-3), Tom Kim (T-5), and J.J. Spaun (T-5) were all first-timers at the Tournament of Champions who finished in the top 5.
Hoge ranked 1st in SG: APP (+10.12) while Kim ranked 1st in SG: T2G (+6.78).
Scottie Scheffler (T-7) needed a two-way tie for 3rd place or better to reclaim the No. 1 world ranking spot but came up short.
Seamus Power (T-25) extended his active streak of under-par rounds to 16 (longest on the PGA Tour). He also stays at No. 1 in the FedExCup Standings.
Will Zalatoris (T11) shot all four rounds in the 60s at Kapalua in his first start of the season. It was Zalatoris' first event on the PGA Tour since suffering a back injury last August.
Xander Schauffle (WD) pulled out of the event during the second round due to a back injury. He apparently battled through the injury at the Hero World Challenge last month. Schauffele now plans to get an MRI in order to get more information on the extent of this injury.
Waialae Country Club - Honolulu, Hawaii
Event #11 of the 2022-23 FedExCup Regular Season
Full-Field Cut Event
The Hawaii swing bounces over to Honolulu this week for the first full-field cut event of 2023. Starting out in 1965 as the "Hawaii Open," this is one of the longest-running events on the PGA Tour.
As the second stop in Hawaii, Sony Open week tends to be a popular time for people who play fantasy golf to focus on trends. The main trend revolves around winners at Waialae.
Per Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf on Twitter), 8 of the last 9 winners of the Sony Open played the previous week at Kapalua.
Additionally, over the last two years, 51 golfers have played both Hawaii tournaments with 42 (82%) of them making the cut at the Sony Open.
These trends get bolstered by the fact that, typically, the Sentry Tournament of Champions field is comprised of the best players on TOUR.
These top players not only get a week to shake off competitive rust at Kapalua, but then they also show up at the Sony Open as some of the clear tournament favorites and highest-ranked players in the field.
For those wondering, here is the list of golfers playing in the Sony Open this week who played in last week's Tournament of Champions: Keegan Bradley, Ryan Brehm, Corey Conners, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Tom Hoge, Billy Horschel, Mackenzie Hughes, Sungjae Im, Tom Kim, K.H. Lee, Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Svensson, Jordan Spieth, J.J. Spaun, Adam Scott, Chez Reavie, and Chad Ramey.
Since its inception in 1965, the Sony Open has been played at Waialae Country Club. So there's a ton of history, data, and general information on this course.
Despite also being located in Hawaii, Waialae CC differs pretty significantly from the Plantation Course at Kapalua that we saw last week.
While Kapalua is a Par-73 known for its openness and its gigantic, undulated fairways and greens, Waialae is a relatively short Par-70 that features very tight fairways and several doglegs. Waialae ultimately asks for more accuracy off-the-tee, positional awareness, and a bit more strategy.
*If* there are any similarities to point to between the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open, it's that both events (when the wind is down) tend to yield low scores.
Waialae Country Club's two Par-5s have together played as the easiest Par-5s on the PGA Tour in terms of scoring over the past three seasons.
2022 Sony Open:
Par-5 9th Hole: 4.197 scoring avg. (-.803 under-par)
Par-5 18th Hole: 4.396 scoring avg (-.604 under-par)
2021 Sony Open:
Par-5 9th Hole: 4.171 scoring avg. (-.829 under-par)
Par-5 18th Hole: 4.408 scoring avg (-.592 under-par)
2020 Sony Open:
Par-5 9th Hole: 4.303 scoring avg. (-.697 under-par)
Par-5 18th Hole: 4.364 scoring avg (-.636 under-par)
These scoring stats are not super surprising when you consider both holes played relatively short for PGA Tour standards. Both Par-5s are very much reachable for even the shortest hitters in the field.
Additionally, the winning score at the Sony Open has gotten to 20 under-par in 7 of the last 10 years.
Sony Open scoring average and winning score from 2018-2022:
2022 Scoring Average: 68.00 (-2.00); Winning Score: -23 (Hideki Matsuyama)
2021 Scoring Average: 67.98 (-2.02); Winning Score: -21 (Kevin Na)
2020 Scoring Average: 70.51 (+0.51); Winning Score: -11 (Cam Smith)
2019 Scoring Average: 68.92 (-1.08); Winning Score: -22 (Matt Kuchar)
2018 Scoring Average: 69.90 (-1.10); Winning Score: -17 (Patton Kizzire)
SG Total: +14.68
SG T2G: +7.40 (5th)
SG OTT: +3.64 (5th)
SG APP: +2.60 (25th)
SG ARG: +1.16 (22nd)
SG PUTT: +7.28 (1st)
Hideki Matsuyama came from behind in the final round to eventually defeat Russell Henley in a playoff. Matsuyama hit one of the best shots of the entire year on the 18th hole in the playoff: a 276-yard three wood approach shot that landed inside three feet for an easy Eagle. It was the first time since 2015 that a golfer had won a playoff with an Eagle.
Matsuyama led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting, which was the best putting week of his career. He also made 26 birdies, which marked the second-most for a single event in Matsuyama's career.
He played in the Sentry Tournament of Champions the week before winning the Sony, but Matsuyama had a pretty average T-13 finish at Kapalua.
In 2021, Kevin Na won the Sony Open after finishing almost last at Kapalua the week before. You can go back further, but I think there's data to support that golfers don't have to necessarily play amazing the week prior at the Tournament of Champions in order to win the Sony.
Field Changes (-): Patrick Rodgers and James Hahn both pulled out of the originally announced field. John Huh WD'd on Tuesday (1/10).
Field Changes (+): Aaron Baddeley and Parker McLachlin were added as sponsor exemptions. Jonathan Byrd was added to the field on Tuesday after Huh withdrew.
Field Changes (+): Andrew Novak and Dylan Wu were added as alternates.
Monday Qualifiers into field (+): Joseph Winslow, George Markham, Austen Truslow, Danny Guise.
Zero golfers in the OWGR Top 10.
Seven golfers in the OWGR Top 25.
Tom Kim is the highest-ranked golfer in the field.
Jordan Spieth is making his first start at the Sony Open since 2019.
Billy Horschel remains in the field as of Tuesday morning despite reports indicating that he was going to pull out of the event. Something to keep an eye on.
Taylor Montgomery, a rookie breakout in the Fall, is in the field.
Cole Hammer gained entry into this week's field by way of a T-5 finish at the RSM Classic.
Kazuki Higa was given a designated sponsor exemption into the field. He was recently extended an invitation to play in the 2023 Masters due to his top status on the Japan Golf Tour.
Note: Jonathan Byrd has replaced John Huh (WD) in the field and will fill his tee time spot.
Featured Groups on Thursday (Round 1): Matt Kuchar / Russell Henley / Tom Hoge; Billy Horschel / Jordan Spieth / Zach Johnson; Adam Scott / Hideki Matsuyama / Sungjae Im.
Featured Groups on Friday (Round 2): Billy Horschel / Jordan Spieth / Zach Johnson; Keegan Bradley / Mackenzie Hughes / Tom Kim; Adam Scott / Hideki Matsuyama / Sungjae Im.
Anders Albertson (back) - OWGR 384th
Anders Albertson withdrew during the second round of the Houston Open in November due to a back injury. He then WD'd from the RSM Classic the next week just prior to his round one tee time and has not played since. It's worth noting that this week's Sony Open is Albertson's first chance to play since the RSM, which took place in the middle of November.
Ryan Moore (undisclosed) - OWGR 426th
Ryan Moore withdrew two days prior to the start of the RSM Classic for an undisclosed reason. He's made four starts on the PGA Tour this season and made the cut in two of those appearances. It appears that he will make his fifth this week at the Sony Open.
Mark Hubbard (toe) - OWGR 162nd
Mark Hubbard withdrew from The RSM Classic a few days prior to the start of the event due to a toe issue. He reportedly had surgery to address this toe injury. This will be Hubbard's first start since then. Hubbard has one top-50 finish in six starts at the Sony Open.
David Lipsky (undisclosed) - OWGR 208th
David Lipsky withdrew after the first round of The RSM Classic for an undisclosed reason. There's no reason information on Lipsky's WD at the RSM, but it looks like he's good to go for this week's Sony Open in Hawaii.
Brendan Steele (back) - OWGR 120th
Brendan Steele withdrew during the third round of the Houston Open due to a back injury. He has not played in an event since suffering that injury, though it has been nearly two months since it occurred. Steele being in this week's field in Hawaii suggests he's likely fine, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
OUT OF FIELD
Xander Schauffele (back) - OWGR 6th
Schauffele withdrew during the second round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions on due to a back injury. After laboring through the first 26 holes of the event, Schauffele decided it was time to call it quits. Schauffele attempted to play Tournament of Champions despite not being able to swing at 100% because of the back issue that had been plaguing him since early in the week, forcing him to miss the Wednesday pro-am.
Reports emerged that Xander dealt with the same injury during the Hero World Challenge a month prior. He was able to play through it then, but clearly the injury is more serious than initially thought. Schauffele plans to get an MRI once he returns from Hawaii in order to get some more information on the injury.
Schauffele is currently committed to teeing it up at The American Express next week, but obviously this injury has the potential of keeping him out if it does not improve.
James Hahn (neck) - OWGR 301st
James Hahn withdrew from the Sony Open on Monday due to a neck injury.
Patrick Rodgers (undisclosed) - OWGR 148th
Patrick Rodgers pulled out of the Sony Open field on Sunday. It's currently unclear why Rodgers decided to not play this week after being in the originally announced field.
Dean Burmester (toe) - OWGR 55th
Dean Burmester announced on his personal Instagram that he's starting the new year with a broken toe. He was never in the field for this week's Sony Open, but this could be an injury to keep an eye on.
Jhonattan Vegas (OWGR 132nd)
Jhonattan Vegas missed his hometown event in the Houston Open citing a "recurrent injury" that has been keeping him out this season. He's yet to make a start during the 2022-23 PGA Tour season. Vegas provided a recent update on Twitter, saying he's "excited to get the new year going. Things are feeling better every day." Vince Whaley (OWGR 328th)
Vince Whaley withdrew prior to the start of the Houston Open in early November. He also WD'd prior to the start of the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba in late October. It's unclear what sort of issue Whaley dealt with throughout the Fall, but he has not played in a PGA Tour event since the Shriners Children's Open in early October.
John Huh (OWGR 176th)
John Huh withdrew from the Sony Open on Tuesday. No information has been provided on Huh's WD, but we will continue to monitor his status.
Sony Open golfers with the highest "True Strokes Gained" (avg. adjusted strokes gained) at Waialae Country Club (min. eight rounds played):
Corey Conners +1.75 (best finish: T-3 in 2019)
Keith Mitchell +1.28 (best finish: T-7 in 2022)
Adam Svensson +1.28 (best finish: T-7 in 2022)
Patton Kizzire +1.24 (best finish: Win in 2018)
Webb Simpson +1.22 (best finish: 3rd in 2020)
Jordan Spieth +1.21 (best finish: 3rd in 2017)
Corey Conners has never lost strokes putting in four starts at the Sony Open.
Keith Mitchell's made the cut at the Sony Open in four of the last five seasons. His finishes over that span are: T-7, T-14, MC, T-16, T-25.
Adam Svensson has just two starts at the Sony Open. He finished T-7 last year and T-43 back in 2019. Svensson ranked dead last in SG: PUTT (-8.60) at last week's Tournament of Champions.
Webb Simpson's found comfort at Waialae CC in his career. He finished T-4, 3, T-4 in his three starts from 2018-2021. That said, Simpson's struggled to find form over the past year. He finished T-61 at the 2022 Sony Open, and he's missed the cut in both starts he's made this season on the PGA Tour that had a cut line.
Jordan Spieth will be making his first start at the Sony Open since 2019.
Notable first-timers at the Sony Open this week: Justin Suh, Taylor Montgomery, Tom Kim, Ben Griffin, Cole Hammer, Carl Yuan, S.H. Kim.