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PGA calendar year opens at Kapalua

By Wes Reynolds  (Point Spread Weekly) 

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Jon Rahm is the top-ranked player in the first PGA Tour event of the year.
© Imagn

The PGA Tour kicks off the calendar year as usual on Maui, Hawaii, for the Sentry Tournament of Champions. The first full-field event of 2020 will come this weekend, and only previous season winners on the PGA Tour are eligible. Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari, Phil Mickelson and C.T. Pan are sitting out the event at Kapalua, so the field of just 34 is smaller than normal. But there is still a great deal of class at the top. Jon Rahm — the top-rated player here, No. 3 in the Official World Golf Rankings and a winner of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai in November — is the favorite at 4/1. He’s followed closely by Justin Thomas (No. 4 OWGR), who was the leading point scorer for the victorious U.S. team at the Presidents Cup, at 5/1. Last year’s champion, Xander Schauffele, went off at 22/1 last year but is 8/1 this time around. Rounding out the top five choices are Patrick Cantlay and two-time champion Dustin Johnson, who won in 2013 and ’18.

 

The Event

The Sentry Tournament of Champions has been played at Kapalua Resort 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 30 years at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif. It is restricted to players who won on the PGA Tour in the previous season. The list of event winners is a who’s who of golf 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 been multiple winners. Three players have won multiple times at Kapalua: Stuart Appleby (2004, 2005, 2006), Geoff Ogilvy (2009, 2010) and Johnson (2013, 2018).

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, home of the AT&T Byron Nelson. The track has only three par-3s and is a rare par-73 (36/37) that measures slightly over 7,500 yards. The course has 11 par-4s, and six measure under 400 yards. The fairways are some of the widest and most generous on the PGA Tour, some over 50 yards wide. The TifEagle Bermuda greens are large and slowish. The course just underwent about $12 million in renovations, including tee boxes, bunkers, fairways, drainage and green complexes. Nevertheless, it should play fairly easily and is always one of the easiest tracks for scoring. In fact, 30 under par has won this event a couple of times.

Recent History/Winners

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 Jimmy Walker

** Weather-shortened event to 54 holes.

Selections

Dustin Johnson 10/1

DJ is double the price here than he was last season as the 5/1 favorite. That’s largely due to a down year, by his standards, and having knee surgery. He returned at the Presidents Cup in December and went 2-2 in his matches but did end on a high note with an easy 4-and-3 win in the singles over Haotong Li. He has won twice here and could be plenty motivated as his current ranking of fifth is his lowest since the 2016 U.S. Open. Johnson arrived in Hawaii the day after Christmas, so he looks to be raring to go in starting his season right.

Patrick Reed 14/1

A winner here in 2015, Reed has three top-six finishes in his last four starts at Kapalua, including a runner-up in 2016. Controversy followed him from the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, and he was called out by fellow touring pros for cheating. The two-stroke penalty cost him a chance to win, and he struggled at the Presidents Cup, losing all three matches before easily dispatching C.T. Pan 4 and 2 in his singles match. He has had a holiday break to get away from the drama, largely that he created. I’d expect him to be focused here.

Gary Woodland 14/1

Woodland has always been a strong player on the West Coast, including his first major championship victory with the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He was the runner-up here last year and has three top-seven finishes in the last five years at the Sony Open (next week’s event) at Waialae. Needless to say, he’s very comfortable on the islands. He was the 54-hole leader at Tiger Woods’ event in the Bahamas last month and had two top-fives on the Asian swing in October and November. Woodland was second in Strokes Gained: Tee To Green here last year, and it took Xander Schauffele shooting a final-round 62 to beat him by one stroke.

Corey Conners 50/1

The Canadian won his first PGA Tour event last April at the Valero Texas Open to qualify for this week’s tournament. Conners ranked in the top 10 last season in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee, Strokes Gained: Approach and Strokes Gained: Tee To Green. He was also first on the PGA Tour in Greens in Regulation (73.1%). This is his first trip to Kapalua, and that could actually be an advantage because he never saw this track before renovations. So a lack of course knowledge might not hurt him, while the changes could confuse veterans who have played here more frequently.

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