Sentry Tournament of Champions: Fowler can show intent

Rickie Fowler can make a flying start to 2018
Rickie Fowler can make a flying start to 2018

Dave Tindall previews the first PGA Tour event of the calendar year - the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Resort in Hawaii...

"Two years ago Fowler fired 69-67-69-67 for a top five. It means he's 26-under for his last five rounds at Kapalua."

Main Bet: Back Rickie Fowler e.w. @ 7/1

Each-way terms: 1/5 odds, 5 places

Main Bet: Back Rickie Fowler e.w. @ 7/1

Being an American with a sharp and imaginative short game certainly seems to be the common thread when looking at past winners of the calendar year-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Kapalua Resort is a wide-open and exposed par 73 with huge undulations and massive greens.

Patrick Reed, the 2015 winner, summed it up nicely last year: "Any time I can come out, set up with wide fairways, large greens and be able to just kind of shape the golf ball and do whatever I want with it and be creative, it kind of fits into my wheelhouse."

Two of the last four winners of the event - Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson - have also won the Open Championship, backing up the idea that being able to thrive in the wind and not just play target golf are important assets.

Everything mentioned so far would appear to apply to Rickie Fowler and, having ended 2017 on a roll by finishing runner-up at the OHL Classic in Mexico (windy and coastal) and then shooting a 61 to win the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas (windy, coastal, limited field) I expect him to put in a massive title bid.

This is just the American's third start in the event but he's shown plenty of promise so far.

On debut in 2013 - an event reduced to 54 holes - he opened 70-74 and then added a 67 to take sixth place.

Two years ago he fired 69-67-69-67 for a top five. It means he's 26-under for his last five rounds at Kapalua.

In 2016, Fowler noted: "This golf course is a lot of fun to play. I hope the wind is up a little bit. I enjoy playing in the wind, and I feel like around this course you've got to have a good imagination and visualise shots and be ready for some awkward lies."

This could be the start of a huge year for Fowler and, as Thomas showed, this can be the springboard for a red-hot ride which can end with the crescendo of a first major win.

Fowler has everything going for him here although the same can be said for several others!

Jordan Spieth has course form of 2-1-3 and it doesn't taken an Einstein to work out why given the test in front of him while Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson are also part of a seven-year run in which Americans have lifted the trophy.

At the prices, you have to nail your colours to one of them though and I can just see Fowler draining more of those six and seven footers than anyone else.

As Brooks Koepka said of Kapalua: "It's all about putting here. The best putters are going to win. They're so grainy."

Fowler was second for Strokes Gained: Putting in 2017, 40 places in front of Spieth, and he's very comfortable on these Bermuda greens.

Take him at 7/1.

Next Best: Back Marc Leishman e.w. @ 22/1

I certainly considered 28/1 shots Brian Harman and Pat Perez for my second pick.

Harman scrambles and putts well and ended 2017 with form of 5-8-4.

Perez was also one of the big movers up the world rankings last year and started his run with a top three in this event 12 months ago.

But you only have to drop six points to find Marc Leishman at 22/1 and I just think he's far more likely to challenge and outperform all the elite names on show.

The Aussie already has four top sixes in majors (Harman and Perez have one each) and three of those have come in the Open Championship - the best test of creativity and excelling in the wind.

Leishman also beat stellar fields last season to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational and BMW Championship (third leg of the FedEx Cup play-offs).

He landed the latter with 23-under to show he can win a birdie-fest (that's the deal this week) while he fired 19-under to win the 2015 Nedbank Challenge - like this week, a limited-field event.

The 34-year-old was 39th for Scrambling last season and 37th in Strokes Gained: Putting so the clues are there if you're trying to build an identikit winner.

Aussies used to love this event with Stuart Appleby winning three times on the spin from 2004-2006 and Geoff Ogilvy going back-to-back in 2009-2010.

Being good wind players was an obvious explanation but another theory was that they'd kept the engine running by playing in the big Aussie events in December so had a sharpness edge.

With Americans winning every year since 2011, that angle may have gone but I still like it that Leishman arrives here having played the Australian PGA last month where he finished fourth.

He's got some good form in the other Hawaii event and is playing the Plantation Course for the first time in 2013.

Leishman was only 23rd back then but it gave him a first look at the course and he's a vastly improved player five years on.

Thomas, incidentally, won last year having finished 21st in 2016 so you only have to go back 12 months to find an example to help Leishman's cause.

Final Bet: Back Kevin Kisner e.w. @ 25/1

You'll find former Kapaula winners Spieth, DJ and Reed high up the 2017 Scrambling stats (Fowler was eighth) and looking at the same list helps lead us towards Kevin Kisner.

Kisner finished 30th in Scrambling last season and is sixth in the 2018 charts after getting up and down 72.2% of the time when he took fourth place in the RSM Classic (by the sea) in Georgia in mid-November.

That was his first start since a top three in the Tour Championship so KK certainly finished 2017 on a good note.

He made his first and only start in this event two years ago and took to Kapalua like a duck to water by shooting 69-65 over his first 36 holes to sit second at halfway.

"It's fun to play and it's cool to hit a bunch of different shots," he said that Friday.

"I grew up on these greens, so I don't read grain or anything like you hear all these guys talk about. I just look at it and putt."

That simple method certainly worked well for him that week, with Kisner finishing tied third for Strokes Gained: Putting.

After 36 holes, Kisner added: "First tournament of the year, kind of rusty, haven't played in a while, and seeing where my game is and looking forward to having a chance on the weekend."

That rust caught up with him as he shot a pair of 2-under 71s to finish T9 but it was still a decent first knock.

Although the Sony Open is played on a completely different style of course, it's very common to find that good form in one Hawaii event is repeated in the other.

So it also has to be good news that Kisner has finished fifth and fourth in his last two starts at Waialae. He's certainly worth looking at for that event next week but don't miss out on him here.

It's a tough front end of the market but there's five each-way places to go at and Kisner is certainly capable of hanging tough with the big guns if the putts drop.

He finished 20th for Strokes Gained: Putting last season and third in 2016 so he's been one of the best around with the short-stick in recent years and that's a key asset on this course.

Nothing is leaping out at me further down the betting and I won't overdo the search given that the last six winners here have been under 25/1.

Billy Horschel at 100/1 could be an option given the Bermuda greens and his sixth place on debut in 2014 but his form in 2017 tailed off.

Dave's 2017/18 PGA Tour P/L (based on £5 e/w per selection outrights, £10 win top 5s/10s)

Staked: £220
Returned: £705
P/L: +£485

(After the Hero World Challenge)

P/L: +£1179.89

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