Best bets for PGA's 2023 Sentry Tournament of Champions

January 4, 2023 06:20 AM

After a six-week hiatus, the PGA TOUR returns to kick off 2023 in Hawaii on the island of Maui at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. A field of 39 players, including 17 of the OWGR Top 20, are here this week as this event at Kapalua has opened the PGA TOUR calendar year for the last 25 years.

Cameron Smith kicked off our profitable season last year by shooting the lowest 72-hole-to-par score in the history of the PGA Tour. He shot 34-under par to win the tournament wire-to-wire and nab our first future of the 2022 calendar year at 22/1. Smith has since joined LIV Golf and will not be in this week's field. OWGR No. 1 Rory McIlroy is skipping this event and will start his 2023 campaign on the DP World Tour in Abu Dhabi in a few weeks. 

Jon Rahm (8/1), OWGR No. 5, shot 33-under par here last year and still lost by one stroke to Smith. Scottie Scheffler (10/1) spent most of 2022 as the number one player in the world as he won four events, including his first major at the Masters Tournament, but begins 2023 at No. 2. Justin Thomas (10/1) and Xander Schauffele (10/1) are both former champions of this event as Thomas won here in 2017 and 2020 and Schauffele was victorious here in 2019 and lost the playoff to Thomas in 2020. 

Patrick Cantlay (11/1j has finished 4th here in two of the last three years (2019 and 2021). Tony Finau (18/1) broke through in 2022, as he won three times on the PGA TOUR. 

Jordan Spieth (25/1) won here at Kapalua in 2016. Matt Fitzpatrick (22/1) and Viktor Hovland (20/1) currently rank 9th and 10th in the OWGR respectively. 

Other than Scheffler, last year was anticipated to be the year that Will Zalatoris (30/1) cemented himself as a top player in the golf world. Mission accomplished. Zalatoris won his first PGA TOUR event in 2022 (FedEx St. Jude Championship) and finished runner-up in two majors (PGA Championship and U.S. Open). He was unable to finish the season due to two herniated disks in his back, but the recently married (December) Zalatoris is back and ready to go to start 2023. Speaking of recently married, Collin Morikawa (22/1) was wed just two weeks prior, and he is looking to get off to a good start in 2023 after failing to earn a victory in 2022. Morikawa has never finished worse than 7th in three appearances here.  

This year's breakthrough player, like Zalatoris and Scheffler last year, is expected to be Cameron Young (20/1). Young finished 2nd four times in 2022 including at The Open Championship, and he also had three 3rd-place finishes including at the PGA Championship. 

Sungjae Im (20/1) has finished in the Top 10 in his two appearances, while fellow South Korean and Presidents Cup International Team star Tom Kim (30/1), who won two PGA TOUR events last year, makes his debut at Kapalua. 

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 thirty years at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, CA. 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, fifteen players have been multiple event winners since the inception. Four players 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 39-player field is solely comprised of the different PGA Tour winners from last year along with any other players that finished in the Top 30 of the final 2022 FedEx Cup Playoffs and Eligibility Points List.

This year's Sentry Tournament of Champions is the first of the "elevated events" this season with more prize money on the PGA TOUR.  

The PGA TOUR announced record prize money for the 2022–23 season, with increased purses for elevated events including:

Sentry Tournament of Champions (from US$8.2 million to $15 million)

Genesis Invitational (from $12 million to $20 million)

Arnold Palmer Invitational (from $12 million to $20 million)

The Players Championship (from $20 million to $25 million)

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play (from $12 million to $20 million)

Memorial Tournament (from $12 million to $20 million)

FedEx Cup playoff events (from $15 million to $20 million)

On October 19, 2022, the Tour announced four additional events with elevated purses:

WM Phoenix Open (from $8.5 million to $20 million)

RBC Heritage (from $8.3 million to $20 million)

Wells Fargo Championship (from $9.3 million to $20 million)

Travelers Championship (from $8.6 million to $20 million)


The Field

Here is the 39-player field that will be playing at Kapalua this week:

Current Tournament Winners

Keegan Bradley

Ryan Brehm

Sam Burns

Patrick Cantlay

Tony Finau

Matt Fitzpatrick

Russell Henley

Tom Hoge

Max Homa

Billy Horschel

Mackenzie Hughes

Tom Kim

K.H. Lee

Luke List

Hideki Matsuyama

Trey Mullinax

J.T. Poston

Seamus Power

Jon Rahm

Chad Ramey

Chez Reavie

Xander Schauffele

Scottie Scheffler

J.J. Spaun

Jordan Spieth

Sepp Straka

Adam Svensson

Justin Thomas

Will Zalatoris

Top 30 on Prior Season's FedExCup Playoffs and Eligibility Points List

Sungjae Im

Aaron Wise

Viktor Hovland

Cameron Young

Collin Morikawa

Brian Harman

Adam Scott

Corey Conners

Sahith Theegala

Scott Stallings

The Course

The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort was designed in 1991 by the duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who also designed and renovated Pinehurst No. 2 and Trinity Forest. The course is laid out over an immense area of terrain on the lower slopes of the volcanic West Maui Mountains. It was constructed on an old pineapple plantation. The track only has three Par 3s and is a rare par 73 (36/37 split) that measures 7,596 yards—the 13th longest course on tour, but played as the 2nd easiest in 2021. 

There are 11 Par 4s on the course and eight 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, but the ball will carry more than usual. The Celebration Bermudagrass fairways are the most wide and generous (over 50 yards wide) on the PGA Tour. The TifEagle Bermuda greens are the largest on tour (8,700 sq ft average) and slow (10-10.5 stimpmeter). 

There are 93 bunkers, the 6th most on tour, but zero water holes on the layout. Coastal winds, elevation changes, and uneven lies are the course's main defense. The wind did not blow last year, and 34-under was the winning score as a result. 

Kapalua, which means "arms embracing the sea", was last renovated in 2019 which included rebuilding all greens. New bunkers were added at No. 3, 5, 15, and 16, and new tees were added on No. 3, 7, 9, 10, and 15.

Recent History/Winners

2022: Cameron Smith (-34/259); 25/1

2021: Harris English (-25/267); 33/1**

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 Joaquin Niemann - *

Playoff win over Patrick Reed & Xander Schauffele - **

Playoff win over Jimmy Walker - ***

Weather-shortened event to 54 holes - ****

Trends, Stats, and Angles

​Courtesy of @PGASplits101 on Twitter, here are some winning trends for the Sentry Tournament of Champions:

·       11 of the last 13 winners were aged 33 or younger.

·       12 of the last 13 winners were ranked 29th or better in the OWGR.

·       12 of the last 13 winners had at least 3 career PGA Tour victories.

·       14 of the last 16 winners had previously won on the PGA Tour with a 19-under or lower score.

·       13 of the last 13 winners had played in at least one previous Tournament of Champions event.

·       9 of the last 13 winners had finished 11th or better in a previous Tournament of Champions event. 

·       12 of the last 14 winners had played in a competitive tournament in December prior to their victories.

·       11 of the last 12 winners were born in the United States.

·       9 of the last 11 winners finished 7th or better in the previous year's event (This year: Rahm, Cantlay, Thomas, Morikawa).

·       5 of the last 7 winners finished 4th or better in the previous year's event (This year: Rahm, Cantlay).


Patrick Cantlay 11/1 Circa Sports

Cantlay has two Top 4 finishes here in the last three years.

Along with Schauffele and Finau, Cantlay is on the shortlist for "best player never to win a major". 

He ranks 5th in this field for Proximity to the Hole and 3rd in Par 5 Scoring.

Cantlay has finished in the Top 10 in six of his last seven starts.

Collin Morikawa 45/2 Circa Sports

Morikawa's game did not exactly fall off a cliff in 2022 with nine Top 10s including Top 5s at the Masters and U.S. Open, but he failed to win last year. 

2023 should be a bounce-back year for him as he looked to be comfortable with his equipment changes at the Hero World Challenge. 

Morikawa has ties to Maui with his grandparents living there. Plus, he was recently married in the winter, so he should be in a good frame of mind on this course considering he has never finished worse than 7th in three events here. 

Sungjae Im 20/1 BetMGM

Im has finishes of 5th and 8th here on two appearances. He led the field in SG: Tee To Green on debut two years ago. 

He is also 3rd in this field for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and 4th for Strokes Gained: Putting over the last 36 rounds. 

Sam Burns 30/1 Superbook Sports

Burns sometimes struggles with accuracy off the tee, but those are mitigated with the wide fairways at Kapalua.

He is also the # 1 putter for Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermudagrass over the last 36 rounds. 

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