Hyundai Tournament Of Champions Tips

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Steve Bamford's Tips for the 2016 Hyundai Tournament Of Champions. Follow Steve on twitter: @bamfordgolf

Happy New Year to you all and welcome to 2016 on the PGA Tour. After enduring no PGA Tour golf in December, we're back after scooping Kevin Kisner in the last tournament of 2015. Golf in 2016 will see some significant changes with the introduction of the Olympic Games golf competition having serious ramifications on the PGA Tour schedule. The highest profile changes include the WGC Bridgestone Invitational which will now start in June (in direct competition with the Open de France over on the European Tour), with the PGA Championship at Baltusrol GC being played only 2 weeks after the Troon-hosted Open Championship in July.

2016's PGA Tour action kicks off as ever on the island of Maui, Hawaii. The traditional winners-only event, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, is always an interesting affair on a spectacular and unique coastal course. Jim Furyk (wrist injury), Shane Lowry, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose are no-shows leaving a high quality field of 32 to slug it out for a well respected title. With 4 of the world's top 6 in attendance, namely Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler, expect a classy player to prevail (I know that's no wild statement!). The fact that 52 Official World Golf Ranking points are up for grabs at the Plantation Course highlights the strength of the field this week which is a definite improvement from recent renewals here.

The European Tour makes its 2016 re-start at Glendower GC for the BMW South African Open. The field is by no means stellar but Brendan Grace, defending champion Andy Sullivan, plus South African stalwarts Ernie Els and Retief Goosen are all in Johannesburg. Paul Williams has cast his eye over the action and you can read his thoughts on that event here.

Course Guide: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw these days are most famously known for their renovation masterpiece at Pinehurst Number 2, which of course hosted the 2014 U.S. Open. However their Plantation Course design at Kapalua, which was opened in 1991, is no ordinary golf course as it sits perched above the Pacific Ocean. A Par 73 format which is unique on the PGA Tour, the course is synonymous for long drives, aggressive play and impressively low scoring. Scratch a little deeper though and it becomes apparent that the course can be mastered just as well by shorter, accurate types who can putt the lights out over the 4 days of competition.

The Plantation Course at Kapalua, Lahaina, Hawaii: Designer: Coore & Crenshaw, 1991; Course Type: Coastal, Resort; Par: 73; Length: 7,452 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 0; Fairways Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2"; Greens: 7,120 sq.ft TifEagle Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 10ft. Course Scoring Average 2012: 70.44 (-2.66), Difficulty Rank 48 of 49 courses. 2013: 72.11 (-0.89), Difficulty Rank 32 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.58 (-2.42), Rank 47 of 48 courses. Course Scoring Average 2015: 69.93 (-3.07), Difficulty Rank 52 of 52 courses.

Course Overview: The scoring at Kapalua is always shaped by the strength of the local winds. For 2016 expect strong Kona (westerly) breezes which will make the course play longer than we have seen in the past couple of renewals. Plantation seems long at circa 7,450 yards but the course plays as a Par 73 via a unique 36/37 Par split and is famous for having 11 Par-4s and only 3 Par-3s. In total the layout features 6 sub-400 yard Par 4s. This makes it possible to score heavily with 14 of the 18 holes last term playing under Par. The course has the largest amount of elevation changes on the whole PGA Tour creating blind shots and plenty of uneven lies. Large greens feature extremely grainy TifEagle Bermudagrass with plenty of contours. This combination of elevation changes and large, contoured and grainy greens, puts a premium on accurate approach play from the fairway, allied to excellent lag putting to minimise the inevitable long distance 3 putts.

The Plantation Course at Kapalua is easy to misread. At 7,452 yards and with some of the widest fairways on the PGA Tour, it would be easy to look exclusively for bombers to dominate here. After all most people remember the closing, downhill Par 5 18th hole where brute power gives those that are blessed with length from the tee a real eagle opportunity. However although Dustin Johnson won here in 2013, brute force and high standard ball-striking are not enough to unlock the secrets of a format that demands a birdie or better on 1 in 3 holes to contend for victory. Indeed to highlight that point further, Kapalua featured the 2nd shortest Average Driving Distance on Tour last season.

Instead the key to this test tends to be top-class wind play allied to conquering the uniquely contoured and huge +7,000 sq.ft average green complexes that feature TifEagle Bermudagrass. Eagles and birdies are on offer to those who can putt well on greens where getting close to the hole is a particularly difficult task - indeed Kapalua has ranked inside the top 6 most difficult courses in terms of Fairway Proximity every year since 2010. Tie that difficulty in getting close to the pin in with the fact that greens feature plenty of undulations and huge variances in putting speed dependant on whether a putt is uphill, flat or downhill and it becomes clear that course experience is vital. Top quality putters who can compile low scores through astute birdie making in tandem with top-notch scrambling to minimise bogeys should undoubtedly be favoured.

Winners: 2015: Patrick Reed (-21); 2014: Zach Johnson (-19); 2013: Dustin Johnson (-15, 54 holes); 2012: Steve Stricker (-23); 2011: Jonathan Byrd (-24); 2010: Geoff Ogilvy (-22).

Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.

Published Predictor Model: Our published Hyundai TOC predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Patrick Reed (No1), Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell and Jimmy Walker.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Dunhill Links Championship and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

Winners & Prices: 2015: Reed 22/1; 2014: Zach Johnson 14/1; 2013: Dustin Johnson 14/1; 2012: Stricker 17/2; 2011: Byrd 50/1; 2010: Ogilvy 9/1; Average: 19/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.

Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Maui is here. The main pointer in 2016 looks to be wind conditions that tend to prove pivotal here. The Plantation Course should see fairly strong breezes across all 4 days of play. This won't be like 2013 by any stretch, but the real key is the fact that Kona (westerly) winds will feature rather than the prevailing Trade winds. In essence this will make the course play slightly longer. However similar wind strength and direction for Round 1 in 2013 still saw Jordan Spieth, Webb Simpson, Chris Kirk and Michael Thompson all shoot -7/66. Sunshine will feature across the tournament and expect plenty of roll on the fairways as precipitation has been negligible.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

Tournament Skill Averages:

So let's take a view from players as to how the Plantation Course sets up and what skill sets the course favours:

Zach Johnson: "Well, I guess there was an intimidation factor there just because of the length of it. You know, score card length, and you get a few winds out here where the course does play long. You know, you get the trades, it doesn't feel like it plays that long. But I was intimidated, not necessarily just because of the yardage, though. Because of the greens. They're just so hard to putt. I mean they're big; they're undulating. A flat putt is pretty slow. The ones down grain are super fast. The ones in the grain are obviously super slow. So the greens are still intimidating. What I've grown to know is you're going to hit good putts and they're just not going to go in, because there's so much break. So once I embraced that fact, I think things have kind of settled down a little bit mentally. It's just hard. Everybody is going to hit it‑‑ you're going to hit a lot of fairways, you're going to hit a lot of greens and you're going to miss a lot of putts.

Geoff Ogilvy: "Does it help to hit it long around here? It helps, I think. I don't think I'm long anymore. I'm long enough. It gives longer hitters room to have at it, you know. There's a lot of holes here where you just hit it as hard as you can and have a little bit of concern for where it goes but a lot less than normal. So I guess it's an advantage to hit it long because you can, it's always an advantage to hit it long. There's a lot of holes here where it's probably a super advantage. Like 18 is unreachable for the non-long guys but the long guys, it's exponential. Every ten yards you hit it, you get an extra 20 yards. But a good wind player and a good putter is going to do the best out here I think."

Steve Stricker: "Yeah, you have to learn here. It takes a while to learn here. It's a little bit different than what we are typically used to. There's big undulating greens, a lot of slope in the fairways. But I think the biggest challenge is the greens and the wind once you get on the greens. The wind can blow and make putting very difficult, and even the roll out in the greens that we typically have, which we are not seeing as much here. So it's a challenge to hit some of these shots, and you expect that ball to roll out or release a lot, and it's not now. So that's a little different, too, and something to get used to. But it's a course where a lot of local knowledge helps you out a lot and the more times you play here, the better off you are."

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:

Kapalua is a course where Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation take something of a back seat. Instead the key to success here is accurate approach play and conversion of scoring chances with the putter. Course conditions for 2016 look faster and windier than 2015, but a lack of precipitation in the build up won't translate to fast greens purely on the basis that green complex undulations allied to a strong breeze will require the standard Plantation stimpmeter receptiveness. If anything I can still see circa -20/272 or lower being the target score required.

All winners here since 2009 have played the tournament at least once before securing victory and that highlights the quirky nature of the course and especially the vast, undulating, grainy TifEagle Bermudagrass greens. They are extremely difficult to read so look for excellent putters who are comfortable on Bermuda.

For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008. These numbers include both the 2014 and 2015 Hero Challenge events played on similar TifEagle putting surfaces:

It's also apparent that 6 of the last 7 winners here all played competitive golf in the previous December, be that in Australia, or at Tiger's Hero Challenge and/or the Franklin Templeton Shoot Out. Two more trends worth mentioning:

1) Only 2 reigning Major Champions since 2000 have won this tournament. Tiger Woods in 2000 who interestingly only triumphed once here in 5 attempts and Ernie Els in 2003. Worth thinking about if you fancy Jordan Spieth or Jason Day at skinny prices. Indeed since Vijay Singh in 2007, no player has won at Kapalua and gone onto take another PGA Tour title in the same year. Naturally trends are there to be broken but the Curse of Kapalua seems to have some legs at present.

2) Working forward from Vijay Singh in 2007, all winners here at Kapalua had shot -19 or lower to win a PGA Tour tournament previously.

My selections are as follows:

Patrick Reed 3.5pts EW 12/1 with betfred NEW OFFER! Bet £10 get £30 available via this link and promo code SPORTS60: betfred

To see Patrick Reed atop my 10 week trend analysis for Greens in Regulation in tandem with a top 4 spot in the corresponding Putting Average countdown is the green light for me to back the 4-time Bermudagrass winner and reigning Kapalua champion. At a short field event where the average price of the winner - excluding Jonathan Byrd - since 2010 is a touch under 14/1, Reed looks like a credible option this week. Naturally of the short prices, Jordan Spieth has an obvious chance on a course where putting is key, as does Rickie Fowler who's been in Maui for a while prior to the tournament with Justin Thomas (both clearly taking this event seriously). However I'm siding with defending champion Reed who we scored with here 12 months ago to at least go very, very close in an event where Stuart Appleby and Geoff Ogilvy have gone back-to-back in recent history and where competing defending champions have all finished in the top 7 since 2010 (1 Win + 2 full each-way payouts from 5 renewals).

Late summer tweaks to the 25 year-old's swing have produced more consistency from both his tee shots and irons and that makes him a hugely dangerous proposition on green complexes upon which he clearly thrives. Those swing changes have generated a real purple patch with his recent form reading 12(FT Shootout)-2(Hero Challenge)-10(DP World Tour)-2(BMW)-7(HSBC)-10(CIMB)-3(Hong Kong) and he now sits at an all-time high of 10th in the OWGR. As we know from his win here 12 months ago plus his 2013 triumph at PGA West, Patrick loves these resort scoring tests and his record across TifEagle Bermudagrass tracks such as PGA National (7th - 2015, 2nd after 54 holes), Doral (1st - 2013), Copperhead (2nd - 2015), Isleworth G&CC (3rd - 2014) and Albany (2nd -2015) is virtually unrivalled in this field. When it comes to the quality of his wind play, check out his WGC victory in 2014 at an incredibly gnarly Doral and remember that all of Reed's 4 PGA Tour titles have been on Bermudagrass greens. His great play on the European Tour may well have boosted his OWGR, but the 2014 Ryder Cup star hasn't benefited from that when it comes to qualification for Hazeltine so he'll undoubtedly be looking to start 2016 in exactly the same vein as he finished last year. RESULT: 2nd

Graeme McDowell 2pts EW 28/1 with Paddy Power NEW OFFER! Bet £/€10 get £/€30 free: Paddy Power Free Bet

You wouldn't necessarily link Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell with this kind of resort test, but an in-form G-Mac is a real danger this week at this specialised coastal course. McDowell, who shares the course record here with a closing round 62 (-11) on his debut in 2011, is clearly revitalised after coastal performances of the highest order in November. His 3rd PGA Tour victory at El Camaleon was immaculate and he followed that up with a solid 3rd place finish behind Kevin Kisner and Kevin Chappell at Sea Island a week later. Graeme, who is deliberately focusing on the PGA Tour at this point of the golfing calendar, also played the Franklin Templeton Shootout in December (finishing 6th with Gary Woodland) so he's had plenty of competitive action of late. Motivation-wise he still sits outside of the OWGR Top 50 and naturally we're looking for players who start quickly in January, so the fact that he's finished in the top 9 four times in the past 5 years in his first January outing is particularly attractive. Those fast starts include his 3rd here in 2011 and another 3rd place in Abu Dhabi in 2012.

Graeme ticks all of the boxes statistically this week and although PGA Tour stats are very much embryonic at this stage, 10th in Bogey Avoidance, 1st in Scoring Average, 13th in Par 4 Birdie or Better, 4th in Par 5 Birdie or Better, 12th in Fairway Proximity, 22nd in Scrambling and 8th in Putting Average skill categories speaks for itself. His love for TifEagle Bermudagrass putting surfaces is also undoubted as 5th in Dubai (2008), 6th at PGA National (2011 - amongst 3 Top 10s), 3rd at Doral (2013 - amongst 3 Top 10s) and 1st at Harbour Town (2013 - TifEagle Bermuda Poa Trivialis) clearly highlight. At a tournament where putting and low scoring is key, G-Mac delivered here in 2011 when his 3rd place was helped along by a hot putter (2nd in Putting Average) which yielded a field leading 27 birdies and although G-Mac is often thought of as a grinder he's won with winning totals of -24, -19 and -18 as recently as El Camaleon. RESULT: T29

Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel

Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 14:30GMT 4.1.16 but naturally subject to fluctuation. Author Steve Bamford, Find us on Google+

             

 

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