SBS Tournament of Champions: Sony winner Gomez worth chancing at a triple-figure price

Fabian Gomez with the Sony Open trophy
Fabian Gomez with the Sony Open trophy

More than a month after Hideki Matsuyama comfortably claimed the final individual event of 2016, the PGA Tour season resumes in Hawaii on Thursday so read Steve's comprehensive preview of the SBS Tournament of Champions here...

“The first two home last year ranked third and first for Scrambling and nine of the ten winners prior to Spieth ranked first or second for that stat so that’s far and away the most significant indicator.”

Tournament History

Having been first staged in 1953, the SBS Tournament of Champions is a limited field event restricted to those that won on the PGA Tour in the previous calendar year.

Between 1986 and 2013 it was the traditional season opener but in 2013 the PGA Tour switched to its current wraparound format, with each season starting in the autumn, so it now appears about a quarter of the way through the season.


Venue

Plantation Course at Kapalua, Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii.


Course Details

Par 73, 7,452 yards
Stroke index in 2016 - 69.8

Designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the Plantation Course opened in 1991 and it's the only par 73 on the PGA Tour rota. It's a long but easy, wind-exposed course with big elevation changes, wide and severely sloping fairways and large Bermuda greens that will run at just 10 on the stimpmeter. Strong winds can protect the course but if the breeze doesn't get up, Kapalua offers up very low scoring.

Jordan Spieth won with a 30-under-par total last year but that didn't set the tournament record. Ernie Els got it to -31 in 2003!

This will be the 19th staging in-a-row at Kapalua.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 23:00 on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2016 - Jordan Spieth -30
2015 - Patrick Reed -21 (Playoff)
2014 - Zach Johnson -19
2013 - Dustin Johnson -16 (54 holes)
2012 - Steve Stricker -23


What Will it Take to Win the SBS Tournament of Champions?

There were only 32 in the line-up last year and of the first nine on the final leaderboard, only one player, Brooks Koepka, who finished tied for third, ranked inside the top-ten for Driving Distance. The winner, Spieth, ranked 17th and that was the sixth time in eight years that the winner had ranked no better than 15th. It may be a long track but driving distance appears an irrelevance and so does driving accuracy. The fairways are wide and the rough minimal and the first five home last year all ranked 12th or worse for Driving Accuracy. And in 2015, four of the first five ranked 20th or worse for DA.

The first two home last year ranked third and first for Scrambling and nine of the ten winners prior to Spieth ranked first or second for that stat so that's far and away the most significant indicator. To win at Kapalua you need a fantastic touch around the green and a hot putter. Spieth ranked number one for all the various different putting stats last year and that was pretty typical. The last 12 winners have all ranked inside the top four for Putts Per Green in Regulation and nine of the last 11 winners have had a Putting Average ranking of fourth or better.

For the second year in-a-row, two Texans finished first and second 12 months ago and that's not surprising as an ability to understand and play well in windy conditions is essential.


Is There an Angle In?

Had Jimmy Walker held on to win two years ago, having been matched in-running at just 1.091/11, he would have joined an illustrious list of players that have recently won both this event and the Hawaiian-staged Sony Open.

Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson have all won the two tournaments in recent times and there are numerous examples of players playing well at both venues. Brandt Snedeker finished third here and second at the Sony a week later, one year after Walker had finished second here before defending the title at Waialae.

Back in 2015, Zach Johnson offered some insight as to why Sony Open winners do well here when he said that although the tracks are very different in style, the winds are very similar and he felt they played alike as a result.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

Course experience is very important and debutants have a poor record. Sergio Garcia and shock winner, Daniel Chopra, are the only debutants to win here. Last year's winner had previously finished second on his only previous start and he beat the defending champ.

It wasn't surprising to see Reed play well again as defending champions often fare well and multiple event winners are relatively common too. Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Steve Stricker really should have won this at least twice (Stricker arguably three times) and Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods have both doubled up fairly recently. Geoff Ogilvy won the event back-to-back in 2009 and 2010 and Stuart Appleby won it three times in-a-row between 2004 and 2006.

The last six winners have all been American but I don't think that's significant given that prior to 2011, an overseas player won for nine years in-a-row.


In-Play Tactics

This is an extraordinarily hard venue to play catch up. Sergio Garcia, in 2002, and Stuart Appleby, in 2005, both overcame slow starts but every other winner at this venue hasn't been any further than three strokes off the lead after the first round. And it's well worth pointing out that the wind was up in both 2002 and 2005 and that helped the two winners considerably. In benign conditions it's exceedingly hard to make up ground on the leaders.

Reed led after round one last year, with Spieth sitting second, and after a further three days of competition all that affectively happened was that the pair switched places. A year earlier, the two play-off protagonists, Reed and Walker, were tied third and just two off the lead after round one and neither of them were ever outside the top-five on the leaderboard. Kapalua is a very hard place to make up ground.


Market Leaders

The market is struggling to split red-hot Hideki Matsuyama and defending champ, Jordan Spieth, and so am I. Matsuyama, who was third here two years ago on debut, has won four of his last five starts and he's impossible to dismiss but so is Spieth. In his two starts at Kapalua, the 23-year-old American has finished first and second and only two starts ago he won the Australian Open.

The 2013 winner, Dustin Johnson, is also worthy of consideration. He was third behind Matsuyama last time out at the Hero World Challenge and he has plenty of course experience given this will be his eighth appearance but his figures, that read 11-12-9-1-6-10 aren't spectacular and I prefer the market leaders.

Fourth best, and the only other player trading at a single-figure price, is Jason Day. The world number one has played here three times previously and his form figures read 9-3-10. He obviously has to be respected but we haven't seen Day since he withdrew from the Tour Championship with a back injury back in September so that has to be a concern and again, I much prefer the front two in the market.


Selections

I wouldn't put anyone off either of the front two in the market and I very much respect the chances of Patrick Reed but given how strong the in-running trends are here I'm going to keep most of my powder dry before the off.

I backed Spieth and Reed after round one last year at 3.39/4 and 4.94/1 respectively and I'm going to take a good look at the state of play on Friday. Given how well the frontrunners fare, picking out the winner after the opening round should prove far easier than finding him before the off but I have thrown a few pounds at three big outsiders.

Last year's Sony winner, Fabian Gomez, who finished sixth on debut here 12 months ago, looks worth chancing at a triple-figure price and I quite like Aaron Baddeley and Vaughn Taylor too. Baddeley ranked fifth for Scrambling on the PGA Tour last year and he finished fourth at the Australian Open last time out and Taylor finished eighth and fourth here, in 2005 and 2006, on his only two previous appearances.


Selections:
Fabian Gomez @ 100.099/1
Aaron Baddeley @ 150.0149/1
Vaughn Taylor @ 220.0219/1


I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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