The Punter

The Punter's De-brief: Classy Kirk converts in style at 229/1

Golfer Chris Kirk
Chris Kirk with The Sentry trophy

Chris Kirk has won the first event of 2024 in impressive fashion and our man's back to look back on his victory here.

Since The Sentry moved to the Plantation Course at Kapalua 25 years ago, four men had begun the final round with a one-stroke lead but none have them had gone on to win.

That didn't bode well for the pre-event 230.0229/1 chance, Chris Kirk, who led Akshay Bhatia by one and past winners, Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele, by two, with a host of potentially dangerous opponents a further three and four strokes adrift with 18 to play.

Kirk drifted throughout the day, from around 5.49/2 to 6.05/1, on Sunday but once he began his fourth and final round, it was clear that someone was going to have to do something very special to beat him.

Kirk had been matched at as high as 790.0789/1 for a few pounds when the market first opened and he was matched for several hundred pounds between 300.0299/1 and 360.0359/1 before firming up at around 230.0229/1 before the off but his backers had very few concerns on Sunday.

Jordan Spieth was matched at a low of 2.3611/8 after he'd birdied five holes in-a-row from the seventh to get to within one of Kirk and the first round leader and course debutant, Sahith Theegala, hit a low of just 2.245/4 as he put in a strong challenge on the back-nine, but Kirk was extremely impressive and after he'd posted a five-under-par 31 on the front-nine, he never really looked like being denied.

A tap-in birdie on the par three 11th was followed by a simple two-putt birdie at the par five 15th and he sealed the deal with this brilliant approach on the par four 17th.

Although we hadn't seen Kirk on the course anywhere since he'd finished 28th at the RSM Classic in November, there were reasons to think he could contend.

He had finished seventh at the Plantation Course on debut 12 years ago (course form figures reading 7-16-14-24) and he'd finished second at this week's event, the Sony Open, three years ago. As highlighted in this week's preview, the two tournaments correlate very nicely.

Bigger field may result in more outsider winners

Longshots have had a dreadful record in The Sentry since it moved to the Plantation Course so Kirk winning at such a big price could very easily be a one-off, but I'm not convinced.

Up until this year, the only way to qualify for The Sentry was to win an event on the PGA Tour in the previous calendar year but the qualifying criteria changed this time around to include any players that finished in the top 50 of the final FedEx Cup standings.

That resulted in the field increasing in size by around a third and the quality of the field improving considerably.

As a result, there were far more triple-figure priced contenders with a genuine chance of winning and another outsider winning next year is a distinct possibility.

Is sorry Scheffler one to take on?

My sole selection before the off last week was the world number one, Scottie Scheffler, but he's one I'll steer clear of for a while now.

Having spent time with putting guru, Phil Kenyon, and having changed his putter, he had performed admirably on the greens at the Hero Challenge in December where he eventually won comfortably by three strokes.

Scheffler wins the Hero.jpg

I was happy to back Scheffler last week at odds in excess of 6/17.00, in the hope that his performance on the dancefloors in the Bahamas wasn't a one-of but it looks like it might have been now.

Scheffler missed numerous very short putts throughout the week last week and having led at halfway, and having been matched at a low of 2.56/4 in-running, his putting woes eventually cost him any chance of victory.

After much frustration on the greens, Scheffler ended the week tied for fifth having ranked just 27th for Putting Average and a woeful 45th for Strokes Gained: Putting.

I would love to see him turn that all around but it's going to be tough and despite his quite brilliant tee-to-green game, until we see some consistency on the greens, he's one to ignore or even take on.

We've got two tournaments to enjoy this week. The PGA Tour remains in Hawaii, hopping from Maui to Oahu for the Sony Open, which I've previewed here and the DP World Tour resumes in Dubai for the inaugural edition of the Dubai Invitational, which I've previewed here.

Read my Sony Open preview here

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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