Sony Open experts' picks

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
6:59
PM ET

Each week of the season, our experts share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.


Horse for the Course

Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: Adam Scott
Yeah, I know he's played the event only five times since 2004, but in those starts he's got two top 20s and a runner-up finish. He hasn't played Sony since 2011 and after a warm-up week in Maui, I'm confident his game will be in 2013 form.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Russell Henley
In 2013, the 24-year-old former Georgia star shot a 7-under 63 in three of his four rounds at the Waialae Country Club on his way to a 3-shot win for his first career title.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Charles Howell III
He's never won at Waialae, but he has an amazing record at the Honolulu course. Howell has never missed a cut in 12 appearances in the tournament and has seven top-5s.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Charles Howell III
Not picking CHIII at Waialae is kind of like keeping Tiger off your Masters betting slip: Do so at your own risk. That being said, 16 of Howell's past 18 rounds in Honolulu have been sub-70, and there's no reason to think that'll change this week.


Birdie Buster

Collins: Jordan Spieth
If there's one guy you want to bet on playing well at a course he's never played a pro event on, who's a better bet? Solid start to the year last week in Maui, now expect no worse than another top-10 in this first full-field event of 2014.

Evans: Charles Howell III
In this inaugural wraparound season, the 34-year-old Augusta, Ga., native has top-10s in three of his five events. In 2013, Howell started his year with a tie for third at the Sony, a second-place finish and a tie for ninth, but he didn't maintain that level of play throughout the season. The former Oklahoma State star has qualified for only one Masters in the last five years, so he needs a hot start to his season to earn a place in his hometown major. In his last appearance at Augusta National in 2012, he tied for 19th.

Harig: Zach Johnson
The winner Monday at Kapalua is on fire. He ended 2013 with a victory over Tiger Woods at the World Challenge and then captured the Tournament of Champions. Add his victory at the BMW Championship and he's won three of his past six starts.

Maguire: Matt Kuchar
Just before he sets off on his Hawaiian vacation -- the real kind, not the one in which he plays golf tournaments for two weeks -- expect Kuchar to continue his consistent-as-usual golf that has seen five straight top-10s, including silly season events.


Super Sleeper

Collins: Guan Tianlang
Remember that 14-year-old kid at the Masters who got the 1-stroke slow-play penalty and still made the cut? Well, that same kid turned 15 in October and should be a bit stronger and longer. His short game will serve him well this week.

Evans: Vijay Singh
In 2005, the 50-year-old Fijian beat Ernie Els by a shot at the Sony Open for his 25th career win. That victory at Waialae was one of his four on the season. He's no longer a prolific winner, yet Singh hasn't lost his competitive drive, as evidenced by his runner-up finish at the Frys.com Open in October.

Harig: Derek Ernst
He finished last by a mile at Kapalua, but perhaps the Wells Fargo winner finds some form on another island.

Maguire: John Peterson
The PGA Tour rookie won't be high on many people's radar, but remember, he's the same kid out of LSU who finished T-4 at the 2012 U.S. Open.


Winner

Collins: Charles Howell III
He's ranked second in all-time money earned at the event and has never won it. Since 2005, he's had only three finishes outside the top five! Yeah, you might want to read that again, but it's true. Time to punch that ticket to Augusta early, C-3PO.

Evans: Adam Scott
Since his Masters victory in April, the No. 2-ranked player in the world has won three times globally and earned five other top-10s, including a sixth last week at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. The 33-year-old Australian missed the cut at the Sony Open in his last appearance there in 2011, but prior to that he tied for second in the event in 2009.

Harig: Jason Dufner
He made a run at Kapalua and has been playing nicely. He takes out his Auburn national championship disappointment on Waialae to win a fourth PGA Tour title.

Maguire: Brian Gay
Waialae isn't the longest of tracks (a par-70 that's barely more than 7,000 yards long.) That plays right into the wheelhouse of the short-hitting Gay, who is currently second-to-last on the PGA Tour in driving distance. He's playing well, though, as shown by a T-13 last week on the big ballpark that is Kapalua.

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