34 golfers entered and previewed for your enjoyment.
It makes a great, last-minute gift for the holidays or an excellent Valentine’s Day surprise.
This fella is quite good around here but he’s not the best:
Sentry Tournament of Champions
Kapalua Resort & Spa
Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
Course specs: 7,452 yards, Par 73 (36-37);
Greens: Bermuda running 10.5; 7,120 square feet on average;
Rough: Bermudagrass at 2″.
Water Hazards: 0
Course architect(s): Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (1991).
Purse: $6.3 million
Winner’s Share: $1.260 million and 500 FedExCup Points
Defending champion: Justin Thomas fired 22-under-par to defeat Hideki Matsuyama by three shots and claim his first TOC victory.
Notes: 37 players qualified with victories in calendar 2016 but only 34 are entered this week. See my link below for more details.
Notes II: 72 holes, no cut, Thursday through Sunday.
Welcome to the New Year but same season as the 2017-18 wrap around schedule does just that.
For those of you old and new, thanks, as always, for reading and I’ll be doing my best to keep up with the Joneses here, there and everywhere.
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I’m going back to one of my older formats for previews.
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Previous champions at Kapalua:
1999: David Duval, -26
2000: Tiger Woods, -16*
2001: Jim Furyk, -18
2002: Sergio Garcia, -18*
2003: Ernie Els, -31
2004: Stuart Appleby, -22
2005: Stuart Appleby, -21
2006: Stuart Appleby, -8*
2007: Vijay Singh, -14
2008: Daniel Chopra, -18*
2009: Geoff Ogilvy,-24
2010: Geoff Ogilvy, -22
2011: Jonathan Byrd, -24*
2012: Steve Stricker, -23
2013: Dustin Johnson, -16#
2014: Zach Johnson, -18
2015: Patrick Reed, -21*
2016: Jordan Spieth, -30
2017: Justin Thomas, -22
#weather-shortened event (54-holes)
History Lessons — 2017-18 Winners
Frys.com: Brendan Steele
CIMB: Pat Perez
WGC-HSBC: Justin Rose (not entered this week)
Sanderson Farms: Ryan Armour**
Shriners: Patrick Cantlay**
OHL Mayakoba: Patton Kizzire**
RSM Classic: Austin Cook**
Qualified – Not Participating
Sergio Garcia: The newly-married Masters champ hasn’t teed it here since 2006.
Henrik Stenson: The Champion Golfer of 2016 has played here one time, in 2008, and will not add to that total in 2018.
Justin Rose: He’s only played here once, in 2011.
- Tournament Record: 31-under-par, Ernie Els (2003).
- Course Record: 62 (last set in 2015 by Chris Kirk and Jason Day).
- Debutant Winners at Kapalua: Sergio Garcia (2002), Daniel Chopra (2008).
- Of the 25 winners of this event, 24 have advanced to The Tour Championship. Poor Daniel Chopra.
- Rookie Winners: None.
- Repeat Champs: Stuart Appleby (three straight, 2004-2006) and Geoff Ogilvy (2009-10). #Aussie
- Playoffs: Seven, last used in 2015 as Patrick Reed defeated Jimmy Walker.
- Scoring: Of the last 10 winners, seven have posted 20-under or lower.
- Major Champions: 5 of the last 10 including four of the last five.
- 20-Somethings: 4 of the last 5.
- Youngest: Tiger Woods, 21; Reed (24), Spieth (22) and Thomas (23) are the last three to win.
- Previous Champions in the field: Dustin Johnson (2013), Jordan Spieth (2016) and Justin Thomas (2017).
Inside the ropes
Welcome to the 20th edition at The Plantation Course at Kapalua. The last three seasons this track has been ranked the easiest on TOUR so I wouldn’t expect much of a difference this year.
The winds will blow favorably again this year and with seven of the OWGR top 10 in the field, we should have plenty of clues where to look. With only 34 players in the field and 14 of them being first-timers to Kapalua, I’m not sure how much panning for gold will be going on this week in fantasy land.
The aforementioned wind will blow 20-25 mph daily so the pros will use all of width of the fairways and depth of the greens. Resort course golf will give the pros plenty of chances to be aggressive with their approach shots and putts it’s hardly a wonder why low scores constantly win this event.
Trend or Not a Trend?
2017: 11 first time players; only two hit the top 10 (Tony Finau and William McGirt, T9). Top 20 players last year were all double digits under par.
2016: 14 first time players; five hit the top 10 (Brooks Koepka, T3; Padraig Harrington, Peter Malnati and Fabian Gomez, T6; Kevin Kisner, ninth). Top 23 players were double digits under par.
2015: 11 first time players; three hit the top 10 (Hideki Matsuyama, T3; Robert Streb and Brendon Todd, T8). Top 24 players were double digits under par.
Jordan Spieth: His stroke average here is 67 and change. He’s never finished off the podium and was third last year with a pair of doubles and a triple on his card. He’s made 74 birdies in 216 holes and fired 30-under to win in 2016. He’s a sore thumb this week and most he’s in the field. His “engagement” picture and hole-in-one vide floating around social reminds us all that he’s pretty comfortable in his stripes. (Edit: engagement now “official” per Spieth)
Dustin Johnson: He hasn’t fallen out of the top 10 in his last five results here so he’s the perfect foil for those who want to avoid the herd on Spieth. It’s bizarre that he’s never gone lower than 66 on this track but he’s never posted one round over par in 27 tries either. The only mystifying thing about DJ on this track is why he hasn’t won more!
Rickie Fowler: Fresh off his solo second at Mayakoba and his win at Albany Club in the Bahamas, I’m not sure what we’re looking for here. It obvious he can handle breezy ocean-side tracks and his all-around game seems to translate just about everywhere. He finished fifth here in his last visit in 2016 and didn’t have anything worse than 69 as he signed for 20-under on the week.
Justin Thomas: Go on son, prove me wrong! After dominating the Hawaii swing last year I’m simply saying he won’t again this year. In a field of 34, he SHOULD be a sure-fire top 10 but it is bizarre how many great players have not defended here. The reason is quite simple for me. The course is too easy and many of these guys can make tons of birdies and have shown no fear of closing tournaments in the past. Thomas is one of these guys, no doubt, as he showed FIVE times last year. The only players to win more than twice in the last three years:
Jason Day (5 wins) 2015, included a major championship (PGA).
Jordan Spieth (5 wins) 2015, included two major championships (Masters, U.S. Open).
Dustin Johnson (3 wins) 2016, included a major championship (U.S. Open).
Justin Thomas (5 wins) 2017, included a major championship (PGA).
Three of those four are in the field this week.
Hideki Matsuyama: Similarly to Johnson, Matsuyama also rakes here but has never gone super-low to do so. He’s more of a “death by 1,000 paper cuts” guy as he’s 39-under in two trips. In 2015, his 20-under was good enough for T3; in 2017 his 19-under cashed solo second. Rob Bolton points out that he was feeling less than confident after Brooks Koepka blew his doors off in Japan at the Dunlop Phoenix by nine shots. Well, yeah! Who would have any confidence after that? With three top fives in his last four starts I’m hardly concerned. He’s in the top 15 of every category in The Confidence Factor this week.
Pat Perez: I’m probably over-reaching here but I don’t care. He’s never been a guy who needs much to get going and that will help this week. In two trips eight years apart he found a top 10 in each visit. With a win in the fall that required 24-under-par he won’t mind making a few more birdies this week. He grew up in San Diego at Torrey so a bit of breeze surely won’t bother him.
Marc Leishman: The cat is clearly out of the bag here so be aware moving forward. The Aussie has been an absolute boss since winning API last March as he’s racked up 11 top 17 finishes. I’d also point out that he’s been inside the top five in four of his last six starts but you already know this. He’s hot. He’s confident. Saddle up.
Russell Henley: He went all Justin Thomas as a rookie at Waialae to win in his first event with a TOUR card. In his second trip here in 2015 he made 25 birdies. He won last year at the Shell Houston Open by making TEN birdies on Sunday. Hopefully he and the rest of the UGA alums aren’t too distracted with Monday’s National Championship game against Alabama.
Jon Rahm: I have absolutely zero doubt in my mind how good he is or how good he’s going to be. Hell, Tim Mickelson QUITTING HIS JOB should have been your first clue here, folks. Most every course he played in the last year or so was “new” to him so adjusting shouldn’t be a big deal. He’s had no problem adapting to majors or WGC events so I doubt he’ll be bothered by a bit of breeze and multiple vistas.
Daniel Berger: As I alluded to in The Confidence Factor, he absolutely nails the trend for the last three winners. If only fantasy golf was that easy! He was 11-under through his first 54 holes last year before closing quietly with 72. He’ll have no problem with the Bermuda and he sits in the top 26 in SG: Tee-to-Green and SG: Approach-the-Green. He loves making birdies as well.
Brian Harman: Closing last year with 65 suggests the lefty has figured something out as it was his only round in the 60’s from the four. He steams into paradise on the back of three consecutive top 10 finishes in the fall portion of the season. He has raked on “easy” tracks before (TPC Deere Run, TPC River Highlands, and Sedgefield) and handled 7,800 yards of Erin Hills (big fairways, big greens) for T2.
Brendan Steele: He defended successfully in Wine Country at Safeway and added T13 at CIMB in his only two events of the fall. He’ll chop plenty of wood tee-to-green but this week will be about if he can keep up his hot putting numbers.
Kevin Kisner: The last three events he’s played he’s posted two top 10’s and T12. The last three events he’s played were on Bentgrass, his preferred surface. He carded 65 in his second round here in his first visit. I probably should move him inside the top 10 to be fair.
Patrick Cantlay: I’m sold until I’m not but you’ll have a very difficult time pointing out why I should hop off this train. After his T33 at Quail Hollow in the PGA Championship all he did was stick three Playoff events in the top 13. If that wasn’t enough he picked up his first win in Las Vegas the last time he teed it up. He didn’t miss a cut in 14 events in 2017.
Brooks Koepka: If he is 100% healthy, I have no problem moving him into the top five this week. Now, somebody tell me if he’s 100% healthy. He had a wrist deal after his nine-shot romp in Japan but he still played the Hero. He finished DFL. The good news is he hasn’t WD (yet). The bad news is if he aggravates it, he just might. I’m not rolling the dice, especially with a wrist injury and especially this early in the season. Out.
Been here, done this…
Jason Dufner: I’m nervous for a bunch of these fellas in this part of the column because I don’t believe you can get away with one or two off days of putting at Kapalua. Dufner also hasn’t picked up a top 10 since his win at Memorial in June. This is his fourth rodeo here so he should have a good idea of what it takes to hit the upper half.
Jhonattan Vegas: If they moved this event to Ontario and called it the RBC Canadian Open, I’d be all over him this week. He’s never broken 70 in eight tries. No, thanks.
Kyle Stanley: He just might hit every fairway and every green. He just might two putt every single one of them.
Billy Horschel: It’s trip No. 3 to Maui for but his end of the season form suggests I look somewhere else. His best finish after his May victory is only T26.
Jonas Blixt: The only thing more amazing than his partnership with Cameron Smith to win the Zurich Classic was his T2 out of the blue in Australia last month.
D.A. Points: The winner at the Puerto Rico Open didn’t cash for anything better than T54 in his final 16 events last year.
First Timers not Named Rahm or Cantlay
Xander Schauffele: His amazing run began at the U.S. Open (T5) at Erin Hills and he is one of the few that did not want to see 2017 end. He added The TOUR Championship to his mantle in September after plucking his first win at The Greenbrier Classic in July. Did I mention he was a rookie? Making sure his holidays were extra happy, he also picked up T2 at the Dunlop Phoenix in November. He’ll battle Rahm and Cantlay for best “first-timer” this week.
Kevin Chappell: Too many big numbers this fall that scare me away on his first try. His SG: Putting number from last year doesn’t help either.
Si Woo Kim: Nothing, nothing, nothing, WIN THE PLAYERS, nothing, nothing, nothing, FINISH THIRD AT MAYAKOBA…
Adam Hadwin: Super putter won’t have any advantage this week as it’s his first time on the greens. Not sure he’ll find enough of them in regulation to factor.
Cameron Smith: He’s going to put the current form versus course form in the crosshairs this week! Is Hawaii west enough to be considered Australia-Asia? If so, I’d go ahead stick your house on Smith as he ended 2017 T5 at CIMB, third at the CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, fourth at the Australian Open and was crowned the winner of the Australian PGA Championship. Smith has a wonderful short game and his confidence will be through the roof. He’s in EVERY long-shot, flier category this week for sure.
Wesley Bryan: Another wonderful putter who might struggle to get multiple good looks. He was No. 183 in GIR in 2017 and that’s not the formula this week. His Twitter account looks like he’s having a right old time of it, as he should, before the tournament.
Hudson Swafford: His best finish in four fall events was T28. That sounds about right.
Bryson DeChambeau: Paralysis by analysis? Maybe. Let me find some data to help me decide. His form is beyond decent with T17, T7 and T14 his last three from the fall. He’ll need to have his irons dialed in plus a dodgy putter firing to keep up this week.
Grayson Murray: He has no problem making birdies but doing for four days against a top-heavy field is the question.
Patton Kizzire: Every year he plays well early. Every year. Looks like we already missed our chance as he held off Fowler at Mayakoba for his first TOUR win.
Austin Cook: Fearless. Move him up as he looks to make it back-to-back TOUR wins after closing the season with his first win at The RSM Classic.
Ryan Armour: He’ll avoid bogeys but I’m not sure he’ll be able to make enough birdies.
Chris Stroud: He should be commended for raising tons of money for hurricane victims in Houston recently. It was great to see him pluck his first win in 300 odd events at Barracuda last summer and back that up with a top 10 at the PGA Championship. He’s playing with house money and if there are Golf Gods, they should smile upon him.
Later Wednesday, I’ll present my gaming angles for the week so keep your eyes peeled.