Harris English won the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the weekend and our man's back with his customary Monday de-brief to discuss his bets and what we learned for next year...
"Debutants have a poor record, and only two have won here, but it appears that just one look is enough and concentrating on those with only one previous appearance could be a decent angle in if we all make it to 2022."
The Sentry Tournament of Champions was set up to showcase the previous year's PGA Tour winners. It has been the first event of the year on the PGA Tour since 1986 but there was a big change to the format this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Numerous events were lost between March and June last year so, in order to give the field some gravitas, the Sentry TOC was opened up to include everyone who made it to the FedEx Cup deciding Tour Championship at East Lake in September. It was two such players who ended up fighting out the finish.
Pre-event 42.041/1 chance Harris English hadn't tasted individual PGA Tour success in over seven years. Joaquin Niemann's sole success to date came in the Greenbrier Classic back in 2019. After four days and 72 holes in Hawaii, they were the two tied at the top on -25.
Niemann, a pre-tournament 55.054/1 shot, who was matched in-running at a high of 170.0169/1, began the final trailing by five and trading at around 100.099/1 but he raced to a two-shot lead on the back nine after playing his first 11 holes in seven-under-par. Further birdies followed at the 14th and 16th holes as he reached nine-under par and he was matched at a low of 1.564/7.
He really should have won the event, given he had less than six feet for birdie at the final hole to post a ten-under-par 63. But a miss there opened up the door for the resurgent English playing in the final group.
Having led or co-led after every round, English started the final round slowly, playing the first 10 holes in level-par. Having begun the final round trading as the 3.412/5 favourite, his price jumped out to 10.09/1 several times in-running but he rallied brilliantly with four birdies in five holes from the 11th hole.
A bogey at the 17th meant he needed a birdie at 18 to force extra time but he again responded magnificently with this second shot that set up a chance for eagle.
English missed the 10-footer for a three at the 72nd hole but it mattered not in the end, as he won the event at the first extra hole with a straightforward birdie four.
As highlighted in the In-play Blog, I entered the final round with high hopes for 36.035/1 pre-event pick, Collin Morikawa, but the writing was on the wall as early as the par three second hole when he made a bogey four.
The US PGA champion was never at the races after that so it was a disappointing way to finish the opening week of the year.
I was very cautious in-running but I did back Niemann at 3.412/5 after he'd posted his score. That looked big to me, given he was tied for the lead at the time, and when English bogeyed the 16th it looked like a good move. I layed the very small wager back at odds-on as we waited for English to tee-off at 18 and fell asleep which was a fitting way to end a rather uneventful week trading-wise.
Just one look
Even if Morikawa had prevailed, a strong new trend at the Plantation Course would have been cemented, as he, English and Niemann, like four of the six previous winners, were playing there for just the second time.
Niemann was fifth last year on his first look, just in front of Morikawa, who finished seventh on his debut. English finished 11th on his only previous visit back in 2014.
Patrick Reed won here in 2015, after finishing 16th on debut in 2014. Jordan Spieth won on his second appearance in 2016 (by eight strokes!), having finished second in 2014, while Justin Thomas won in 2017 after finishing 21st on debut. Xander Schauffele won in 2019 after finishing 22nd on debut the year before.
Debutants have a poor record, and only two have won here but it appears that just one look is enough and concentrating on those with only one previous appearance could be a decent angle in if we all make it to 2022.
Yet again, putting proved to be the most important factor with the first four home ranking tied first, third, sixth and tied first for Putting Average. Once more Justin Thomas showed what an incredible competitor he is.
The fairways at the Plantation Course are the widest on the Tour but Thomas still managed to miss a third of them, ranking 40th of 42 for Driving Accuracy. The fact that he finished third, beaten by a solitary stroke, tells you all you need to know about his tenacity and it makes one wonder just how many titles he's going to win this year once his A game returns.
The PGA Tour remains in Hawaii this week, moving from Maui to Oahu for the Sony Open. I'll be back with the preview.
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