Happy New Year to you all and welcome to 2019 on the PGA Tour.
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The PGA Tour in 2019 begins as ever on the island of Maui, Hawaii. The traditional Tournament of Champions winners-only event is always a strong betting heat on a spectacular and unique coastal course. Justin Rose, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are no-shows still leaving what I think is the best quality field of 34 to slug it out for the well-respected title. We have all of the reigning Major Champions in Patrick Reed, Francesco Molinari and Brooks Koepka. Defending Champion Dustin Johnson plays on a course he thrives upon, with Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Jason Day and tournament debutant Rory McIlroy all adding to the mix. It’s serious stuff with players looking to make a fast start to 2019 and there’s a chunky OWGR points haul up for grabs.
Course Guide: From a course design perspective, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw these days are most famously known for their renovation masterpiece at Pinehurst Number 2 and the new inland links-style course at Trinity Forest in Dallas, Texas. 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 with 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 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. 2016: 69.81 (-3.19), Difficulty Rank 50 of 50 courses. 2017: 70.38 (-2.64), Difficulty Rank 50 of 50 courses. 2018: 71.22 (-1.78), Difficulty Rank 47 of 51 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for The Plantation Course and how they compare to recent courses that we’ve seen on Tour:
- Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 53 yards wide; 275:58; 300:63; 325:58; 350:62.
- Seaside Course: 250 yards from the tee: 39 yards wide; 275:38; 300:33; 325:29; 350:23.
- TPC Summerlin: 250 yards from the tee: 32 yards wide; 275:30; 300:26; 325:25; 350:24.
- CC of Jackson: 250 yards from the tee: 28 yards wide; 275:27; 300:28; 325:28; 350:24.
- Silverado: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:27; 300:24; 325:25; 350:24.
- East Lake: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:25; 300:24; 325:23; 350:22.
- Conway Farms: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:29; 300:29; 325:26; 350:28.
- TPC Boston: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:34; 300:32; 325:31; 350:32.
- Glen Oaks: 250 yards from the tee: 44 yards wide; 275:36; 300:33; 325:38; 350:40.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Coore/Crenshaw designs include:
- Pinehurst Number 2 – 2014 U.S. Open
- Trinity Forest Golf Club – 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson
Course Overview: The scoring at Kapalua is always shaped by the strength of the local winds. For 2019 expect moderate to strong Trade (easterly) breezes, across the opening 2 rounds, which will make the course play shorter. The weekend looks relatively calm, so expect easier scoring than 12 months ago. 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 9 of the 18 holes last term playing easier than their Par – that number was 12 of 18 in 2017 when lighter winds were in play. 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 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 over 7,400 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, despite a couple of wins for Dustin Johnson and another for Justin Thomas since 2013, brute force and high standard ball-striking alone aren’t enough to unlock the secrets of a format that demands at the very minimum a birdie or better on 1 in 3 holes to be able to contend for victory.
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 10 most difficult courses in terms of Proximity to Hole every year since 2011. Tie the difficulty in getting close to the pin in with the fact that putts are tremendously difficult to read, grain is a huge feature and that there are huge variances in putting speed dependent on whether a putt is uphill, flat or downhill. Therefore it becomes clear that course experience is a real advantage. 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: 2018: Dustin Johnson (-24); 2017: Justin Thomas (-22); 2016: Jordan Spieth (-30); 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).
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day, Webb Simpson, Brooks Koepka, Bubba Watson, Cameron Champ, Gary Woodland and Kevin Na.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 8-tournament window that stretches back to the CIMB Classic and British Masters, which includes PGA Tour, and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
- Driving Accuracy: 1) Satoshi Kodaira; 2) Bryson DeChambeau; 3) Matt Kuchar; 4) Jon Rahm; 5) Brice Garnett; 6) Paul Casey; 7) Scott Piercy; 8) Keegan Bradley; 9) Andrew Landry / Ian Poulter; 11) Ted Potter Jnr.; 12) Patrick Reed.
- Greens in Regulation: 1) Patrick Reed; 2) Bryson DeChambeau / Dustin Johnson / Matt Kuchar; 5) Jon Rahm; 6) Jason Day / Marc Leishman; 8) Brooks Koepka / Gary Woodland; 10) Billy Horschel; 11) Charles Howell III; 12) Ian Poulter
- Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Aaron Wise; 2) Keegan Bradley / Bryson DeChambeau; 4) Jason Day; 5) Xander Schauffele; 6) Patton Kizzire; 7) Marc Leishman; 8) Webb Simpson; 9) Cameron Champ; 10) Scott Piercy / Justin Thomas / Gary Woodland.
Winners & Prices: 2018: Dustin Johnson 15/2; 2017: Justin Thomas 22/1; 2016: Spieth 5/1; 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. Past 5 Renewals Average: 14/1; Overall Average: 17/1.
- 2018: Thursday: Partly cloudy and breezy. High of 77. Wind ENE 15-25 mph, with gusts to 30 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy and breezy. High of 78. Wind ENE 15-25 mph, with gusts to 30 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy and breezy. High of 77. Wind ENE 15-25 mph, with gusts to 30 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy and windy. High of 77. Wind ENE 18-28 mph, with gusts to 35 mph.
- 2017: Thursday: Mostly clear skies with an isolated shower in the afternoon. High of 73. Wind NNE 5-10 mph. Friday: Sunny. High of 75. Wind NNE 10-15 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny. High of 75. Wind NNE 10-15 mph. Sunday: Sunny. High of 76. Wind ENE 10-15 mph.
- 2016: Thursday: Sunny and warm. High of 81. Wind N at 6-12 mph. Friday: Sunny and warm. High of 81. Wind WSW at 6-12 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy. High of 80. Wind SW at 10-20 mph. Sunday: Sunny. High of 81. Wind at W 6-12 mph.
- 2015: Friday: Partly cloudy and warm, with temperatures in the high-70s. ESE wind shifting W at 10-12 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 80. ENE wind at 10 mph. Sunday: Sunny. High of 80. Wind WSW at 10 mph. Monday: Mostly sunny. High of 80. Wind WSW at 10 mph.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Maui is here. Scoring on the Plantation Course is always dictated by not only the strength of wind but also the direction of the wind: whether it’s Trade (easterly) or Kona (westerly) makes a significant difference. 2019 will see strong Trade winds in-play across Thursday and Friday, easing significantly across the weekend. For me, therefore, scoring should be better than what we saw in 2018. Turf conditions are likely to be standard, with no significant rain received since 37mm on 28th December or forecast in tournament week. The challenge here tends to be putting on slow, undulating greens in the blustery wind.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of winners since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2018, Dustin Johnson (-24). 296 yards (2nd), 65.0% fairways (18th), 77.8% greens in regulation (8th), 45’8″ proximity to hole (23rd), 68.8 % scrambling (6th), 1.63 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2017, Justin Thomas (-22). 302 yards (3rd), 73.3% fairways (17th), 87.5% greens in regulation (2nd), 32’8″ proximity to hole (3rd), 66.7 % scrambling (12th), 1.68 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2016, Jordan Spieth (-30). 284 yards (17th), 73.3% fairways (12th), 83.3% greens in regulation (11th), 34’11” proximity to hole (3rd), 83.3 % scrambling (3rd), 1.62 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2015, Patrick Reed (-21). 282 yards (4th), 66.7% fairways (27th), 80.6% greens in regulation (15th), 44’8″ proximity to hole (25th), 85.7 % scrambling (2nd), 1.69 putts per GIR (5th).
- 2014, Zach Johnson (-19). 267 yards (23rd), 83.3% fairways (8th), 77.8% greens in regulation (17th), 35’5″ proximity to hole (3rd), 81.3 % scrambling (2nd), 1.73 putts per GIR (9th).
- 2013, Dustin Johnson (-15). 280 yards (2nd), 51.1% fairways (30th), 88.9% greens in regulation (2nd), 36’6″ proximity to hole (2nd), 50.0% scrambling (18th), 1.75 putts per GIR (3rd).
- 2012, Steve Stricker (-23). 268 yards (15th), 66.7% fairways (11th), 81.9% greens in regulation (13th), 35’8″ proximity to hole (4th), 69.2% scrambling (1st), 1.68 putts per GIR (2nd).
- 2011, Jonathan Byrd (-24). 273 yards (21st), 80.0% fairways (11th), 86.1% greens in regulation (10th), 34”11″ proximity to hole (10th), 70.0% scrambling (1st), 1.69 putts per GIR (8th).
- 2010, Geoff Ogilvy (-22). 274 yards (19th), 71.7% fairways (16th), 84.7% greens in regulation (12th), 37’10” proximity to hole (10th), 63.6% scrambling (2nd), 1.64 putts per GIR (1st).
Tournament Skill Averages:
- Driving Distance: 12th, Driving Accuracy: 18th, Greens in Regulation: 9th, Proximity to Hole: 9th, Scrambling: 5th, Putting Average 3rd.
Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:
- 2018, Dustin Johnson (-24). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 4th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 6th.
- 2017, Justin Thomas (-22). SG Off the Tee: 3rd, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 13th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 4th.
- 2016, Jordan Spieth (-30). SG Off the Tee: 6th, SG Approach: 6th, SG Around the Green: 1st, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 1st.
Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:
- SG Off the Tee: 3rd, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 6th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 7th.
So let’s take a view from players as to how the Plantation course sets up and what skills the course favours:
Dustin Johnson: “The first time you play it, maybe it’s a big golf course, the greens are really slopey and you kind of – and, too, when you’re playing practice rounds, the pins are always in some funny spots. But the more you play this golf course, the more you get used to it, the more you kind of know how to get yourself around it. Because sometimes it’s one of those courses where you really got to be on right side of the pin, whether you’re on the green or off the green, if you’re on the right side you know you can still make pars. But there’s a lot of opportunities for birdie. You got two holes that are somewhat drivable, four par-5s that you can reach. So it just all depends really. The greens are rolling pretty good, they’re a little slow, you can be a lot more aggressive. But I’m kind of with them though, I didn’t see that many under the first time I came here either. A big key with these greens with them being grainy and that is putting a good roll on it. I feel like I’m doing that. Just trusting the lines you got to hit them on. The greens are tricky to read. I had a few putts today that really – good birdie putts where I thought I had a good read on it and just the ball went opposite of what I thought, it’s just going to happen out here. So for me I just got to stay patient and try not to get too frustrated.“
Justin Thomas: “Today was the hardest for sure. It was a little windier. The greens are getting a little faster. They are still not, I’m sure, up to the pace that they would like with all the rain, but they are starting to get a little firmer, a little faster. The wind just makes it a lot harder to putt. And yesterday was pretty calm. It was about as easy as you could get this golf course. Then Thursday, it was, you know, a normal Kapalua wind, ten to 15. They have been similar but a little different, if that makes sense. Just kind of different versions of a little windy. It’s a course where you can just get so hot. You can realistically, 11 can be a tough hole, and 17 is a tough hole. But other than that, you’ve got a wedge in your hand or you’re looking at a lot of birdie holes and potentially eagle holes. I was just trying to tell myself that even though I made a bad bogey on 7, I hit a good putt on 8, just missed, and then just missed a wood over a 3-footer on 9 to birdie. Could have been 5-under on the front, but still being 2-under, I could still shoot 6-, 7-under on the back and post a low one. That was kind of my mind frame just going through the back nine.“
Jordan Spieth: “Whether it’s a short putt, or long, you just really got to hit it. I played a couple putts today – trickiest reads for me were ones where the entire mountain and grain is going one way, but you’re on the back side – like putts like I had on 17. I had one where that back side of that green’s pitched back the other way. You want to play gravity, but you know there’s an effect from the hill, from the slope and you know there’s an effect from the gradual slope down the mountain and the grain. And each time I try to almost out smart it and play it towards the water and it actually turned back into the hill. So I’ll keep a note of that. But for the most part, if you’re hitting anything from really five feet out into the grain uphill, it is just tough to hit hard enough. Especially in the last group because they get a little spiked up and they’re even slower.“
Patrick Reed: “The golf course fits my eye really well. A lot of the holes, seems like I can work it right-to-left and I’ve worked really hard this off-season on not only working the ball right-to-left but also working it left-to-right, so I can have both shots.“
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 9 Tournament of Champions winners:
- 2018 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
- 2017 – Justin Thomas: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2016 – Jordan Spieth: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2015 – Patrick Reed: Round 1: 3rd, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 3rd.
- 2014 – Zach Johnson: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 4th.
- 2013 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st.
- 2012 – Steve Stricker: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2011 – Jonathan Byrd: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
- 2010 – Geoff Ogilvy: Round 1: 11th, Round 2 3rd, Round 3: 2nd.
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
- Dustin Johnson: 14th WC/2nd HSBC/17th Tour Championship/33rd BMW.
- Justin Thomas: 5th Templeton S/4th Dunlop Phoenix/23rd HSBC/1st CIMB.
- Jordan Spieth: 4th WC/2nd Aus Open/7th HSBC/1st Tour Championship.
- Patrick Reed: 10th Shark Shoot/3rd WC/22nd HSBC/26th CIMB.
- Zach Johnson: 1st WC/16th McGladrey/ 40th Shriners/7th Tour Championship.
- Dustin Johnson: 7th Shark Shoot/13th WC/39th HSBC/47th Dunhill Links.
- Steve Stricker: 4th Shark Shoot/16th WC/15th Tour Championship/WD BMW.
- Jonathan Byrd: 1st Shriners/30th Fry’s.com/66th McGladrey/5th Viking.
- Geoff Ogilvy: 7th Aus PGA/31st Aus Open/4th Dubai/32nd Australian Masters.
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010.
- 2018 – Leishman – Group 15/17 -6/67 – 20/1
- 2017 – Walker – Group 12/16 -8/65 – 25/1
- 2016 – Reed – Group 16/16 -8/65.
- 2015 – Henley – Group 13/17 -8/65.
- 2014 – Kirk (8/15), Simpson, Spieth (both 13/15), Thompson (4/15) -7/66.
- 2013 – D Johnson (7/7), Wilson (4/7), Watney (6/7) -4/69.
- 2012 – Jonathan Byrd – Group 14/14 -6/67.
- 2011 – Byrd (4/17), Pettersson (7/17) -7/66.
- 2010 – Glover – Group 10/14 -7/66.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
- 6 – Dustin Johnson.
- 4 – Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas.
- 3 – Billy Horschel, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker.
- 2 – Marc Leishman, Scott Piercy.
- 1 – Keegan Bradley, Paul Casey, Cameron Champ, Charles Howell III, Patton Kizzire, Satoshi Kodaira, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Aaron Wise, Gary Woodland.
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 2019 sees pretty strong Trade wind (north-easterly) breezes which sees the course play shorter and still very scorable for the opening 2 days. From there relatively tranquil conditions should see scoring improve further. Slow greens here at 10 on the Stimpmeter are the norm as green complex undulations demand receptiveness. I can see circa -24/268 or even slightly lower being the target score required.
9 of the last 10 winners here all played competitive golf in the previous December, be that in Australia or at Tiger’s Hero World Challenge and/or the QBE Shoot Out. Working forward from Vijay Singh in 2007, all winners here at Kapalua had shot -19 or lower to win a PGA Tour tournament previously in their career.