2023 Sony Open First Round Leader Picks: Can J.T. Poston Repeat Last Year’s First-Round Heater?

The Sony Open marks the first full field event of the year and, with 144 golfers teeing it up this Thursday, there’s some far bigger odds available to look at in the first-round leader market.

This venue is quite a bit different than last week’s. It is a far more technical track at Waialae Country Club, featuring very narrow fairways that favor accurate drivers off the tee. Waialae is a short par 70 with smaller Bermuda greens that measures just 7,044 yards. Players often opt for fairway woods or even irons off the tee in spots, which makes this event a far more approach driven course with a huge emphasis on short to mid iron play.

Finally, with a couple of short par 5’s, receptive greens and a mostly straight forward layout, players will need to sink putts. Winners at Waialae tend to gain most of their strokes with the flatstick, and for first-round leader bets should focus on players who can spike with that club for at least a round.

Afternoon players have either been in the solo lead or tied for the lead after Round 1 in each of the past five seasons. With high humidity, the greens stay receptive in the afternoon at Waialae, and this time of year generally has calm afternoon conditions. Nothing different is expected this year, so afternoon tee times will be the target in OddsShopper’s golf betting tools.

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2023 Sony Open First Round Leader

Denny McCarthy First Round Leader +6600 | DraftKings

With such a putter driven venue there’s no harm in taking a shot with Denny McCarthy this week — especially at very solid odds of 66-1. McCarthy played this venue for the first time last year and produced a 48th-place finish. He also produced rounds of 64 and 66 for the week so there’s clearly plenty of upside for him at Waialae, a venue that won’t disadvantage him for being shorter than most players off the tee. McCarthy actually showed improvement in that area of his game over the fall, gaining strokes off the tee in each of his final five events of 2022. As the No. 16 Round 1 scorer last year, and as one of the top putters in this field, his added consistency off the tee makes him an attractive starting point in this market.

J.T. Poston First Round Leader +6600 | BetMGM

One other trend to think about when making bets this week is the Maui factor. Golfers who played last week in Maui typically have a great record when it comes to playing in the Sony Open — regardless of how they did the week before. Clearly acclimatization matters, and that trend should help a player like J.T. Poston this week, who has won twice on the PGA Tour titles at TPC Deere Run and Sedgefield, two very similar courses to Waialae.

Poston ranks 18th in strokes gained putting in this field and shot a 64 to open this event last season. While he hasn’t been great on the greens over his last handful of starts, he has the advantage of playing last week in Maui and also sets up extremely well for this venue. With generous odds on tap and an afternoon tee time, there’s no reason to shy away from adding him to cards this week either.

If looking to make a wager on BetMGM this week, then J.T. Poston is a first-round leader target to consider at that sportsbook. He has solid 66-1 odds there (bigger odds than other places), and new BetMGM users get a bet up to $1,000!


With another weaker field, the play is to take shots with a basket of players who have longer odds. You can always use OddsShopper to check out and compare odds across the major sites.

Robby Shelton First Round Leader +8000 | DraftKings

Shelton showed some solid form in the fall of 2022, making six of seven cuts and landing a 10th-place finish in his last start at the RSM Classic. He gained strokes on approach and around the greens in his last two starts of the fall and played well at this event in 2021, landing a 25th-place finish while gaining over two strokes around the greens and on approach. Shelton’s a solid young player capable of landing a low round on a shorter venue like this, and with 80-1 odds and an afternoon tee time, he makes for a good long shot target this week.

David Lingmerth First Round Leader +11000 | DraftKings

Sam Ryder First Round Leader +11000 | DraftKings

Both David Lingmerth and Sam Ryder set up well as potential spike candidates at this week’s venue. Neither have the distance or consistency in their long games to challenge on tougher setups but they’re both capable of getting hot with their putters and short irons for a round or two. Lingmerth likely gained some confidence from his play over the fall, as well, where he landed three top 12 finishes, including a 10th at the RSM Classic. He’s also played and putted well at this venue before, landing a career-best 13th-place finish here in 2016.

Ryder’s of a similar mold as he often goes multiple events without shooting anything better than even par before exploding with a couple of low rounds. He shot 66 or better in three of his eight first rounds over the fall and has very solid Bermuda putting splits, ranking out 18th in this field in strokes gained putting on Bermuda greens over the last 50 rounds.

Both of these men likely won’t be consistent enough to challenge for four rounds in the outright market, but both have the ability to go uber-low on a shorter venue like Waialae for 18-holes. At over 100-1, they’re the perfect pairing for spreading units over more players with longer odds.

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Geoff Ulrich

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