The PGA Tour kicks off again on Thursday in Hawaii and our man's keen to get going again. Read Steve's first preview of the year here...
"G-Mac shot a final round 62 here back in 2011 when he finished third in his only Kapalua appearance and he looks a decent price to go two better. He ranks third for Scrambling on the PGA Tour over the last six months and he should be full of beans after a great end to 2015."
First staged in 1953, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions used to kick off the PGA Tour season but for the third year in-a-row, now that the PGA season runs from October to September, it merely restarts the season after the Christmas break.
It's a limited field event for all the winners on the PGA Tour in the previous calendar year. Over the last four years, the event has been staged between Friday and Monday, to avoid clashing with live NFL coverage on Sunday, but this year we see a return to the usual Thursday to Sunday format.
Plantation Course at Kapalua, Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii.
Par 73, 7452 yards
Stroke index in 2015 - 69.93
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. This will be the 18th staging in-a-row at Kapalua.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 23:00 (UK time) on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2015 - Patrick Reed -21 (Playoff)
2014 - Zach Johnson -19
2013 - Dustin Johnson -16 (54 holes)
2012 - Steve Stricker -23
2011 - Jonathan Byrd -24(Playoff)
What Will it Take to Win The Hyundai Tournament of Champions?
What you do off the tee here is largely irrelevant. Although it's a long track, distance isn't the be all and end all. Patrick Reed ranked fourth for Driving Distance 12 months ago but the man he beat in the play-off, Jimmy Walker, only ranked 17th and five of the six winners that preceded Reed ranked no better than 15th. And this is event were we typically get no more than around 30 in the field.
It's so wide that Driving Accuracy is also immaterial. Four of the first five home last year ranked 20th or worse for DA.
It's all about the short game and how well you scramble and putt. Last year's playoff protagonists had a Scrambling ranking of second and third and nine of the last ten winners have ranked first or second for that stat. The last 11 winners have all ranked inside the top four for Putts Per Green in Regulation and eight of the last ten winners have had a Putting Average ranking of fourth or better.
It's telling that the first two home last year were both Texans, as even though the wind wasn't too strong, it was still a factor, as it always is at Kapalua, and great wind exponents often prosper.
Is There an Angle In?
Had Jimmy Walker held on to win 12 months 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 in addition to Walker placing at Kapalua last year, the man that won the Sony before Walker doubled-up at Waialae Country Club, in 2014 and 2015, Russel Henley, finished third here last year.
Zach Johnson has offered provided enlightening quotes about the venue that are well worth considering. Last year, he 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 that he felt they played alike.
And when he won here two years ago he said that he was still getting to grips with the venue and he was playing here for the seventh time in 2014 so it's perhaps not surprising that Sergio Garcia and Daniel Chopra are the only debutants to win here. Course experience is clearly very important and I'd think very hard about backing a first-timer.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The last five winners have all been American but for nine years in-a-row before that we saw an overseas winner. I don't think that's in the least bit significant but the fact that defending champs fare well and that multiple event winners are relatively common almost certainly is.
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 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.
Five of the last 13 winners were already in front after round one so a poor start here is extremely detrimental. Last year's two play-off protagonists 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, reaffirming that Kapalua is a very hard place to make up ground. And that was with two people tying the course record on day four last year. Chris Kirk and Jason Day finished the week with 11-under-par 62s but both men had left themselves too much to do.
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. As was the case 12 months ago, the forecast suggests only light winds again and I suspect it will be almost impossible to make up ground in what is sure to be another birdie-fest so concentrate on the leaders from early on.
It's impossible to dismiss the chances of pre-event favourite and world number one, Jordan Spieth, and I wouldn't want to be laying him. He's only played here once before and he'll feel he should've won. He got very frustrated on the final day two years ago when edged out by Zach Johnson but he learnt a lot that day. He appeared inexperienced and inpatient in-contention that day but he's a whole different beast now.
Cool calm and collected whenever in-the-mix, and with a magnificent short game, Spieth finished 2015 well and he could very easily begin 2016 well too.
World number two, Jason Day, was in delicious form in the autumn, winning four events in six stars. Understandably tired-looking, Day finished the year with a 10th place finish behind Spieth at the Tour Championship in September and he's not been since. No doubt he'll be well prepared and he'll be keen to kick on again but after a long break, I'm not prepared to take a chance on him - especially as his form here isn't sparkling.
Day finished ninth here in 2011 and he was third last year but he needed a final round 62 on day four to get placed then and at the prices, others are preferred.
The 2013 winner, Dustin Johnson, is another that can't be dismissed lightly and I like the fact that he's been out in Hawaii for a while. He celebrated the New Year with Rickie Fowler out there and I suspect both have been playing the course regularly. Dustin had a horrid time at the majors last year and his in-contention reputation has taken quite a battering but he could very easily hit the ground running at a course he clearly likes.
Bubba Watson finished fourth here in 2013 but that's far and away his best effort and he's never broken 70 here on day one in four starts.
As one if the game's best scramblers, it was no surprise to see Patrick Reed take the title 12 months ago and it wouldn't be a huge shock if he were to make a successful defence but I'd have wanted a bit bigger to back him and the same goes for Rickie Fowler, who is simply too short given his strike rate.
I'd earmarked Fowler for this event when I read that he was going to travel to Hawaii early to prepare. He's a fabulous scrambler and he finished sixth here on debut in 2013. I can still see him going well but with Spieth, Day, Reed and both Dustin and Zach Johnson in attendance, to name just a handful, he just doesn't represent value and if the truth be told, I'm fractionally more tempted by Spieth at the prices now.
Further down the list, I was mildly tempted by last year's runner-up, Jimmy Walker, at a big price but he's been quite badly out of form and waiting to see how he starts may make sense, so I'm going to go to war with just one before the off - Graeme McDowell.
G-Mac shot a final round 62 here back in 2011 when he finished third in his only Kapalua appearance and he looks a decent price to go two better. He ranks third for Scrambling on the PGA Tour over the last six months and he should be full of beans after a great end to 2015.
After winning the OHL Classic in extra time, the experienced Irishman showed that to be no flash in the pan by finishing third at the RSM Classic the following week and if he hasn't lost his feel over the holidays, he looks a very fair price to me.
Graeme McDowell @ 30.029/1
I'll be back later with my BMW SA Open preview.
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