Chez Reavie … Horse for a course. Debuted at the Sony Open in Hawaii in 2008 and has gone 7-for-10 with a pair of top 10s among four top 25s. His personal best was a T3 in 2019 when he led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and par-4 scoring. The rub is that he’s notoriously streaky and had only one top-25 finish in his last 10 starts of 2020 (T3, Safeway). However, not only has Waialae proven to reward experience to climb atop its leaderboard, it pays double in the context of retaining its challenge over time, so a veteran in a slump has reason to arrive with elevated expectations.
C.T. Pan … Perhaps the greatest added value of being your own boss is that you can set your own schedule. Generally speaking, as independent contractors, touring professionals can play whenever and wherever they want. Even when there are obligations, competing on courses that best fit one’s skill set still is largely within the control of the PGA TOUR member. No doubt confidence everywhere is critical, but there’s nothing wrong with logic having a position in the equation. That he has appeared at Waialae only once (MC, 2017) is mildly surprising. On paper, it make senses for the short knocker who ranges just five-and-a-half feet off the ground to seek out a par 70 with a pair of gettable par 5s and stretches to just 7,044 yards. Waialae doesn’t comp directly to Harbour Town, site of his lone TOUR title in 2019 because that’s a shot-shaper’s track, but its test arguably is easier as a shot-maker’s paradise. He committed this week and he’s put last season’s struggles behind him. He’s 6-for-7 with a pair of top 15s in 2020-21, including a T7 at the Masters.
Kyle Stanley … It simple to understand why he was 7-for-7 with four top 25s at Waialae from 2011 through 2019. As a sharpshooter, he can stride to first tees cold and still split most fairways and contend for the field lead in greens hit. After missing the cut in last year’s breezy conditions, the wind isn’t forecasted to be as strong this week, so the course should play closer to how he’s taken advantage of it in the past. In the middle of a modest string of three cuts made in the fall, he hung up a T6 at Sea Island and currently ranks eighth on TOUR in proximity to the hole.
Tom Hoge … The 31-year-had opened 2020-21 with 12 consecutive red numbers, but he had no better than a T24 (Shriners) to show for the consistency. Still, that start warranted attention as a Sleeper at THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK where he finished a pedestrian T38. After a mini-slump, he put it all together for a share of third place at Mayakoba. He currently co-leads the PGA TOUR with 23 rounds under par. His ability to step on the gas and retain control of the wheel explains how he placed third at Waialae in 2018 in the calm but also T12 in last year’s challenging conditions.
Henrik Norlander … It’s hard to believe that his 34th birthday is just a couple of months away (March 25) because he still carries a youthful swagger as he continues to figure out how to manage his game well enough to stay at this level where he belongs. Despite finishing the fall with a trio of missed cuts, the Swede gets the benefit of the doubt for a couple of reasons. First, COVID-19 prevented him from performing at Sea Island where he’d have been among the favorites to contend even as a non-winner. Second, in his last two trips to Waialae, he finished T20 in 2017 and T9 last year. He’s a ball-striker’s ball-striker by trade, but he led the wind-ridden 2020 edition in putting inside 10 feet and ranked second in Strokes Gained: Putting.
NOTE: Sleeper is a relative term, so Rob uses unofficial criteria to determine who qualifies. Each of the following usually is determined to be ineligible for this weekly staple: Winners of the tournament on the current host course; winners in the same season; recent major champions; top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking; recent participants of team competitions.