Best bets for PGA's Sentry Tournament of Champions

January 5, 2021 10:47 PM
USATSI_15193589

This week begins the 2021 calendar year on the PGA Tour with the Sentry Tournament of Champions as the customary opener at Kapalua in Maui, Hawaii. As the event’s title indicates, this is a tournament consisting of PGA Tour winners over the last calendar year. This year there will be additional players (those that reached the Tour Championship but did not win an event last season) participating because of 11 PGA Tour events being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Eight of the Official World Golf Ranking top 10 are in Maui this week, including World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (6-1), who has two victories in this event (2013, 2018) and is fresh off his Masters victory in November. Defending champion Justin Thomas, the World No. 3, is also a two-time winner (2017, 2020) at Kapalua and shares an 8-1 tag with World No. 2 Jon Rahm, who was runner-up here three years ago and is breaking in new equipment this week as part of his new endorsement deal with Callaway. 

Xander Schauffele won here in 2019 and was part of last year’s playoff, won by Thomas. But Schauffele tested positive for COVID-19 the week before Christmas and has had less preparation time than the rest of the field. Schauffele shares a 10-1 price with World No. 5 and reigning U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau. Patrick Reed (16-1) also was part of last year’s playoff. Webb Simpson and Patrick Cantlay, ranked eighth and ninth, respectively, share a 20-1 slot with Hideki Matsuyama, who is winless on the PGA Tour since 2017 but has three appearances at Kapalua and has never finished worse than fourth. 

Two top-10 players, Rory McIlroy (No. 4) and Tyrrell Hatton (No. 8), are missing this event. So is Jim Herman, the 2020 Wyndham Championship winner, due to a positive COVID-19 test. Forty-two players are here for the opening event of 2021.

THE EVENT

The Sentry Tournament of Champions has been played at Kapalua Resort in Maui since 1999. The event was established in 1953 when it was hosted at the Desert Inn Country Club, now the site of the Wynn Las Vegas property. It moved to the Stardust Country Club (now Las Vegas National Golf Club) before spending the next 30 years at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif. It is typically restricted to players who won on the PGA Tour in the previous season, but the field will be expanded for the 2021 event to include the 30 qualifiers for the 2020 Tour Championship because of tournaments lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The list of event winners is a who’s-who of golfing legends and icons, including Jack Nicklaus (1963, 1964, 1971, 1973, 1977), Arnold Palmer (1962, 1965, 1966), Tom Watson (1979, 1980, 1984), Gary Player (1969, 1978), Phil Mickelson (1994, 1998) and Tiger Woods (1997, 2000). In all, 15 players have won the event more than once. Four players in the field have won multiple times at Kapalua: Stuart Appleby (2004, 2005, 2006), Geoff Ogilvy (2009, 2010), Dustin Johnson (2013, 2018) and Justin Thomas (2017, 2020). 

THE COURSE

The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort was designed in 1991 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who also designed and renovated Pinehurst No. 2 and Trinity Forest (home of the AT&T Byron Nelson). The track only has three par-3s and is a rare par-73 (36-37 split) that measures 7,596 yards. There are 11 par-4s, and six of them measure under 425 yards. No course on the PGA Tour has more elevation changes than Kapalua, so players will be facing plenty of uneven lies and some blind shots into the pins. The Celebration Bermudagrass fairways are the widest and most generous (over 50 yards wide) on the PGA Tour. The TifEagle Bermuda greens are large (8,700 square feet average) and slow (10-10.5 stimpmeter). The course underwent about $12 million in renovations, including tee boxes, bunkers, fairways, drainage and green complexes. The renovations did make the course more challenging as last year’s winning score was the highest since 2007. Coore had been quoted as saying he wanted to restore the playability of the course and make it play firmer and faster.

RECENT HISTORY/WINNERS

2020: Justin Thomas (-14/278), 11-2*

2019: Xander Schauffele (-23/269), 22-1

2018: Dustin Johnson (-24/268), 15-2

2017: Justin Thomas (-22/270), 22-1

2016: Jordan Spieth (-30/262), 5-1

2015: Patrick Reed (-21/271), 22-1**

2014: Zach Johnson (-19/273), 14-1

2013: Dustin Johnson (-16/203), 14-1***

2012: Steve Stricker (-23/269), 17-2

2011: Jonathan Byrd (-24/268), 50-1

2010: Geoff Ogilvy (-22/270), 9-1

* playoff win over Patrick Reed & Xander Schauffele

** playoff win over Jimmy Walker

*** weather-shortened event to 54 holes

 

TRENDS AND ANGLES

Over the last five years, the event winners have averaged field rankings of the following:

Strokes Gained Off the Tee: 4th, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 6th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 5th.

Strokes Gained Off the Tee Leaders

1. Bryson DeChambeau (1) 1.297 strokes/round

2. Jon Rahm (3) 1.138

3. Sergio Garcia (6) 0.976

4. Scottie Scheffler (9) 0.887

5. Dustin Johnson (10) 0.879

6. Viktor Hovland (11) 0.767

7. Joaquin Niemann (12) 0.745

SG Approach Leaders

1. Bryson DeChambeau (6) 1.331

2. Dustin Johnson (7) 1.315

3. Martin Laird (12) 1.040

4. Patrick Reed (20) 0.934

5. Tony Finau (21) 0.932

6. Collin Morikawa (35) 0.692

7. Jon Rahm (39) 0.643

SG Around the Green Leaders

1. Xander Schauffele (10) 0.694

2. Bryson DeChambeau (14) 0.622

3. Patrick Cantlay (15) 0.621

4. Collin Morikawa (17) 0.604

5. Justin Thomas (18) 0.596

6. Hideki Matsuyama (28) 0.522

7. Webb Simpson (T29) 0.496

SG Tee to Green Leaders

1. Bryson DeChambeau (1) 3.250

2. Dustin Johnson (2) 2.640

3. Jon Rahm (7) 1.853

4. Tony Finau (10) 1.611

5. Xander Schauffele (11) 1.567

6. Hideki Matsuyama (12) 1.549

7. Justin Thomas (13) 1.473

SG Putting Leaders

1. Jason Kokrak (3) 1.332

2. Brendon Todd (8) 1.200

3. Xander Schauffele (13) 1.074

4. Patrick Reed (18) 1.006

5. Cameron Smith (21) 0.931

6. Daniel Berger (32) 0.814

7. Robert Streb (T34) 0.800

Note: Parentheses indicate overall Tour ranking in each category.

SELECTIONS

Patrick Reed 16-1

“Captain America” won at Kapalua in 2015. Reed also has two runner-up finishes here in 2016 and 2020, when he was part of last year’s three-way playoff with Xander Schauffele and winner Justin Thomas.

Reed has had a little shorter layoff than most of this week’s field considering he went to Dubai and finished third in the DP World Tour Championship just four weeks ago. He ranked first in Strokes Gained: Around The Green that week, and the larger greens this week allow for different angles to the pins, bringing his creativity and superb short game into play.

Hideki Matsuyama 20-1

Matsuyama is winless since 2017, so he has not been a participant in this event for a while, but he gets in this year as a top-30 qualifier for last September’s Tour Championship. In three starts at Kapalua, Matsuyama has never finished worse than fourth. Of his six career PGA Tour wins, three have come at no-cut events.

Collin Morikawa 30-1

The reigning PGA champion is priced a bit higher than I thought he would be. After nabbing his first major at Harding Park, he fell a bit out of form, but that is understandable when you win your first major at age 23.

Morikawa was fourth heading into the final round in his debut here last year before settling for a seventh-place finish. Like most players, the 2020 heavily back-ended schedule may have worn him down a bit and the winter break could have him ready to fire quickly out of the gate.

Cameron Smith 50-1

Aside from playing in the QBE Shootout with fellow Aussie Marc Leishman, the last time we saw Smith he was posting his best major finish with a tie for second at the Masters.

Smith has strong incoming form (11-4-2) and usually plays his best golf of the season over the winter and into the spring. In fact, he is the reigning champion of the Sony Open in Hawaii, where he will be defending his title next week.

 

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