The PGA Tour resumes on Thursday in Hawaii with 34 of last year's winners looking to kick off 2020 with another victory. Read our man's detailed preview here...
"Dustin Johnson looks a fair price at around 12.011/1 given he’s won the title twice previously, he’s an excellent wind player and he hacked up by eight strokes here two years ago and I’m also happy to play Rickie Fowler at 19.5 given the forecast."
The Sentry Tournament of Champions is a limited field event restricted to those that won on the PGA Tour in the previous calendar year.
The tournament was first staged in 1953 and between 1986 and 2013 it was the traditional season opener but in 2013 the PGA Tour switched to it's current wraparound format, with each season starting in the autumn, so it now appears about a quarter of the way through the season.
Not all the PGA Tour winners take part. In fact, we're missing a number of big names this year. Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari and Phil Mickelson are all swerving the tournament and with the Masters winner, Tiger Woods, the US PGA champ, Brooks Koepka, and the Open winner, Shane Lowry, are all absent too, Gary Woodland, the US Open winner, is the only major winner of 2019 in the field.
Plantation Course at Kapalua, Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii.
Par 73, 7518 yards
Stroke index in 2019 - 70.92
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 usually 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 in 2016 but that didn't even set the tournament record. Ernie Els got it to -31 in 2003!
As many as ten of the 18 holes averaged under par last year and the four par fives (the fifth, ninth, 15th and 18th) were the easiest, averaging just 4.49.
This will be the 22nd staging in-a-row at Kapalua.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 23:00 on Thursday, Friday and Sunday but 21:00 on Saturday (UK and Ireland time)
Last Five Winners
2019 - Xander Schauffele -23
2018 - Dustin Johnson -24
2017 - Justin Thomas -22
2016 - Jordan Spieth -30
2015 - Patrick Reed -21 (Playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the Sentry TOC?
As he'd done when he won the title for the first time in 2012, Dustin Johnson ranked second for Driving Distance when he took the title two years ago and the 2017 winner, Justin Thomas, ranked third for DD but bombing it off the tee isn't essential.
Brian Harman finished third two years ago when ranking 27th for DD, last year's winner, Xander Schauffele, only ranked 14th, and Zach Johnson only ranked 23rd when he won here in 2014. Last year's second and third, Gary Woodland and Justin Thomas, rankled third and second for Driving Accuracy but I'd still just favour length over accuracy from the tee...
The fairways are wide and the rough minimal and Driving Accuracy is pretty much an irrelevant stat. Schauffele ranked 15th 12 months ago and Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, who finished tied for fourth, ranked 29th and 30th. DJ ranked 18th for DA two years ago, the runner-up, Jon Rahm, ranked 26th and Hideki Matsuyama, who finished tied for fourth, ranked 33rd. In 2017, the winner, Thomas, ranked 17th for DA, the runner-up 23rd and Dustin Johnson and Brendan Steele, who finished tied for sixth, ranked 28th and 30th for DA respectively. And there were only 32 in the line-up! In 2016, the first five home all ranked 12th or worse for DA and in 2015, four of the first five home ranked 20th or worse for DA.
Greens In Regulation hasn't been an especially important stat here and three of the last six winners have ranked 11th or worst but it appears to be more important than it once was. Schauffele ranked fifth last year, Thomas, in third, ranked fourth, and Woodland, who finished second, and McIlroy (tied fourth), ranked joint-first for GIR. The first and second ranked second and third for Greens In Regulation three years ago, and Brian Harman, who finished third in 2018, ranked number one for GIR.
Only two of the last seven winners have ranked first for Par 5 Scoring but four of the seven have ranked first for Par 4 Scoring and Xander ranked second 12 months ago.
Schauffele only ranked eighth for Scrambling and that was quite high given how important that stat is usually. The first three home two years ago ranked sixth, third and first for Scrambling, and Rickie Fowler, who finished tied for fourth, ranked second. Thomas only ranked 12th three years ago but the first two home in 2016 ranked third and first for Scrambling and nine of the ten winners prior to 2016 ranked first or second. To win at Kapalua you need a fantastic touch around the green and you also need a red-hot putter...
The last 15 winners have all ranked inside the top four for Putts Per Green in Regulation (Shauffele ranked fourth). Xander ranked second for Putting Average, the three winners before him all topped the Putting Average stats, and 12 of the last 14 winners have had a Putting Average ranking of fourth or better.
Kapalua is very exposed and it gets very windy so great wind exponents do well here. The early forecasts suggest that Thursday won't be too bad but it's going to blow quite hard after that.
Is There an Angle In?
Next week's event, the Sony Open, offers up the best angle in. Thomas doubled up at the Sony three years and he 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 (traded at just 1.091/11 here before getting beat).
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 2008 winner, Daniel Chopra, are the only debutants to win here.
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 DJ, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods have all 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 nine winners have all been American but that's quite strange given that prior to 2011, an overseas player won for nine years in-a-row.
Schauffele confounded the usual in-running stats at Kapalua last year. He was six off the lead in a tie for 19th after round one and although he was only sixth at halfway and fifth with a round to go he trailed by five after both rounds two and three and he was matched in-running at a high of 390.0389/1 before shooting a course record equalling 62 in round four to win by a stroke, despite bogeying the opening hole. It was a magnificent effort, aided greatly by this hole-out eagle on the 12th.
This is usually an extraordinarily hard venue at which to play catch up and the path to victory was far more typical in 2018. DJ sat fourth and just two off the lead after round one, he'd trailed by a stroke in third at halfway and he was in front and leading by two after three rounds before going on to win by six.
A year earlier, Thomas had sat tied for second after round one, tied for the lead after round two, and like DJ, he led by two with a round to go. Patrick Reed led after round one four years ago, 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 Jimmy 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 but last year's result wasn't a complete one-off.
Like Schauffele, 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. Since Appleby won from off the pace in 2005, and prior to Schauffele's victory 12 months ago, 12 of the 13 winners had been inside the top five places and within two of the lead after round one and the odd man out, Ogilvy in 2010, was only three off the lead. Kapalua is a very hard place to make up ground.
I'm not convinced we can just assume the frontrunners will dominate again this time around though. The wind was up in both 2002 and 2005 and that helped the two winners considerably. In benign conditions it's virtually impossible to make up ground on the leaders but windy conditions can create all sorts of carnage so keeping an eye on the weather is crucial.
After back-to-back wins on the European Tour, in Spain and Dubai, seven weeks apart, Jon Rahm contended throughout at the Hero World challenge at the start of December before going on to finish second behind Henrik Stenson. He was beaten by a solitary stroke in the end and he has course form here to boast too.
The 25 year-old Spaniard finished runner-up to Dustin Johnson on debut two years ago and he finished eighth in last year's edition. Given both his sourse and current form, he has a favourite's chance but at less than 5/1, I'm happy to look elsewhere. With his victory in Dubai last month, he's already shown us that a break isn't always a bad thing but he returns to the fray this week having tied the knot shortly after his second place finish to Stenson in the Bahamas and it would be no surprise at all if he teed it up on Thursday a little under prepared.
Justin Thomas hasn't been sighted since he finished down the field in the ZOZO Championship in Japan at the end of October so his wellbeing has to be taken on trust but he was in good heart before that, winning twice in the space of two months. He has interesting course form figures that read 21-1-22-3, so if you're playing the world number four, you'll need to hope it's a going year but he's not for me at the price and neither is the defending champ, Xander Schauffele...
The world number nine can probably be relied upon to put in a stout defence given the last time we saw him was at the start of November when he lost a playoff to Rory McIlroy when attempting to defend his WGC-HSBC Champions title but he hasn't won since taking this title 12 months ago and he's short enough given we're again in the dark as to his current wellbeing.
With no way of knowing what sort of form everyone's in after the break, this is tournament in which I like to tread quite carefully but I'm happy to kick off the event with a couple of small wagers.
Dustin Johnson looks a fair price at around 12.011/1 given he's won the title twice previously, he's an excellent wind player and he hacked up by eight strokes here two years ago and I'm also happy to play Rickie Fowler at 19.5 given the forecast.
There are few players on the planet as well equipped as Rickie for really windy conditions and his form figures here, reading 6-5-4, are a plus too.
Dustin Johnson @ 12.011/1
Rickie Fowler @ 19.5
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
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