Friday, January 28

The Punter’s In-Play Blog: Sensational 61 sees Na lead the Sony

10:25 – January 14, 2021

With an opening nine-under-par 61, the defending champ, Kevin Na, shot his 11th career round of 62 or lower on the PGA Tour yesterday afternoon to lead the Sony Open by a stroke but he threatened to go even lower.

Na found every single fairway and he was matched at a low of just 4.1 after he’d raced to eight-under-par through just 12 holes but he slowed up a bit after that, parring five-in-a-row before picking up his ninth birdie of the day at the straightforward par five 18th.

So well did he play, that Na was disappointed with his score after the round and it was an ominous performance that could and should have been better given he ranked third for Putting Average but only 55th for Strokes Gained Putting. The longest putt he made all day was from inside seven feet so the frustration was understandable.

With the 2013 winner, Russell Henley, tied for second alongside the 1996 champ, Jim Furyk, (who aced the par three 16th), and with the 2018 winner, Patton Kizzire, one of five men tied for fourth and two off Na’s lead, it’s fair to say that course form is holding up well again at Waialae!

Defending titles is tough, which is one of the reasons I overlooked Na before the off, despite backing him last week at 120.0119/1, but they have a very good record in this event.

Hubert Green went back-to-back in 1978 and ’79, Corey Pavin made a successful defence in 1987 and two players have won consecutive Sony Opens this century. Ernie Els won here in 2003 and 2004 and Jimmy Walker won back-to-back in 2014 and 2015.

With the rough up this year, Na’s arrow-straight long game is going to stand him in good stead but he’s fractionally short for me now given he’s led or co-led after the opening round six times previously on the PGA Tour and he’s never gone on to win.

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In fact, he’s only once managed to finish inside the top-five and that was on the last occasion that he led after the opening day, at the 2018 Charles Schwab Challenge. Interestingly, he returned 12 months later to win that title and it would be remiss of me not to mention that on the only occasion that he led after round one on the Korn Ferry Tour (at the Mark Christopher Charity Classic way back in 2006) he went on to win.

Playing early today is a plus given yesterday’s early starters averaged almost half a stroke less than the PM starters (0.43) so that’s another thing in Na’s favour but I’m plumping for another former Charles Schwab winner with an early start today – Jason Kokrak.

Kokrak took his time to get going yesterday, but he played his last 11 holes in six-under-par, and I thought 22.021/1 was a reasonable price given his recent form.

He won his second PGA Tour title, the Charles Schwab Challenge, in May last year and he finished 2021 really well, coming from just off the pace to claim the Houston Open in November before pairing up with Na to win the QBE Shootout in December.

He was on the shortlist before the off so I was happy to get him onside this morning at 22.021/1. I’ll be back tomorrow to take another look at the halfway stage.

Pre-Event Selections:
Kevin Kisner @ 46.045/1
Billy Horschel @ 65.064/1
Brendan Steele @ 90.089/1

In-Play Pick:
Jason Kokrak @ [22.0]

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Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
Back 2 u Stewart Cink @ 110.0109/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
Back 2u Branden Grace @ 120.0119/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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