The X Factor: Digging deep to find three player performance indicators at the Sony Open

Cameron Smith is looking to ride the wave, Webb Simpson is in his sweet spot and Kevin Kisner’s at a happy hunting ground too.

From the Plantation Course at Kapalua to Waialae Country Club in Honolulu - the yin and the yang of Hawaiian golf.

Last week's Tournament of Champions took place on rolling terrain, this week at the Sony Open the ground is as flat as the flattest pancake. Last week was wide with no trees, this week is tight and tree-lined. Last week there were huge greens, this week only tiny putting surfaces.

It's still golf, though. Still the business of bunting a ball down the fairway and then minimising how much you fiddle around with the tricky business of getting it in the hole.

It's also the first full field event of 2022. Let's take a closer look at three players and what could make the difference between a good and a bad week.

Riding, or being hit by, the wave?

Cameron Smith is, of course, hoping to emulate Ernie Els and Justin Thomas by winning the Hawaiian double this week.

At the Tournament of Champions, an exercise in slamming the foot to the birdie pedal and keeping it there, he reigned supreme and will surely be high on the excitement of not only claiming just a second individual PGA Tour win and breaking the top 10 of the world rankings, but also of going head-to-head with a rampant World No. 1 (Jon Rahm) at the weekend and downing him.

His confidence can only rise when he recalls that he's already won at Waialae, doing so just two years ago.

Straight after winning last Sunday he said: "I'm really looking forward to next week. Obviously, I've got a really good history there and I love the golf course. It reminds me so much of where I grew up playing golf. I feel really comfortable around there and I can't wait for Thursday. I'm drained at the moment, but I'm excited for next week already."

Beware the "drained". Winners often get hit by a wall the following week. Sometimes they ride the wave on Thursday and then it hits them. Last year Harris English played superbly at Waialae after his win at Plantation - but only after he endured a tired and flat first round.

Smith is in a good place, but joining Els and Thomas will be tough. Last year Nelly Korda referenced the physical and mental exhaustion that reveals itself a couple of days after a win, and Smith did admit to having sleepless nights ("I saw a lot of the ceiling") during his wire-to-wire win in Kapalua.

The Bermuda specialist

Webb Simpson's record at Waialae is excellent. It is also, with the exception of his debut, eerily progressive.

He finished tied ninth in that first start back in 2009. Then he's gone: MC(54h)-T46th-T38th-T20th-T13th-T13th-T13th-fourth-third-fourth.

It's a staggering set of numbers. On the one hand, absurdly rare to see a player make 10 appearances and improve his overall record every single time. On the other, what are the chances of a player finishing T13th three straight years?!?!

The two obvious observations are that: 1, if he maintains the run he has to contend this week, and 2. there's got to be a good chance the run ends soon.

He might not progress to first or second this week, but another strong performance ought to be well within his reach.

Consider his form since the start of January 2018. On grainy greens (Bermuda and Paspalum) he's made 39 starts of which 30 were top 20s, 21 top 10s and 15 top fives. He finished top three no less than 10 times with a hat trick of wins.

Compare that to other putting surfaces (Bent, Poa): 41 starts, 21 top 20s, nine top 10s, two top fives, one top three (second).

He's absolutely in his sweet spot this week.

Kis and tell

A Kevin Kisner press conference is always fun, with a straight-talking caustic approach to the distance debate that's rather different to the mealy-mouthed comments of many of his peers.

The 37-year-old has never bothered to hide the fact that many courses on the circuit are simply too long for him to compete. Take, for example, his chat ahead of last year's Sony Open.

Asked if he could win anywhere, he replied: "Probably not. I'm not going to win at Bethpage Black or Torrey Pines."

Why play, then?

"Because they give away a lot of money for T20th," he answered, adding: "I just don't go to the Tour events that I don't think I can win."

Asked if there was a risk that he convinces himself he can't win, Kisner was once again open.

"I understand what you mean, but I don't think I can make up enough ground in the areas that I'm great on certain courses. So I just don't attend those.

"On the flipside, I probably put too much pressure on myself on the courses I know I can win at. I have to be cognizant of that."

His record at Waialae was initially poor. In fact, he missed the cut in his first four appearances, but he kept returning and since then he has made the weekend six times on the bounce with three top five finishes.

He played very nicely for tied eighth last week, so ought to be in a chipper mood.

"I like that it's a shotmaker's golf course," he said of Waialae last year. "You've got to play to certain spots. It's Point A to Point B and make some putts. That's kind of my M.O. on the PGA TOUR. So I appreciate when we get the golf courses that play that manner and it's not really 'see how far you can hit it'.

"I appreciate when it's playing firm like this in the fairway. So I think it really brings ball-striking precision into it and a lot of mental game to understand how the ball is going to react when it hits the ground."

Given that latter point, he maybe a little underwhelmed that the fairways are soft, following a period of sustained heavy rain.

READ MORE: Seven golfers who had record-breaking weeks but failed to win

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