Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Sentry Tournament of Champions Tips 2021

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Happy New Year to you all and welcome to 2021 on the PGA Tour. Surely 2021 will be a little more traditional schedule-wise than we saw in 2020.

The PGA Tour begins as ever on the island of Maui, Hawaii. The traditional Tournament of Champions winners-only event is always a tricky betting heat on a spectacular and unique coastal course. To add to the plot in 2021, we have non-winners bolstering the numbers for this renewal – with those that made the 2020 Tour Championship also qualifying for Maui – with the likes of Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, Tony Finau, Harris English, Billy Horschel, Abraham Ancer, Kevin Kisner and Scottie Scheffler in the field.

Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Jim Herman are no-shows, leaving us with a boosted field of 42 (34 last year) to slug it out for this well-respected title. With 8 of the World’s top 10 in the field, namely World Number 1 Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, defending champion Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Webb Simpson, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, there’s plenty of intrigue as to how the first tournament of 2021 will pan out.

Before we go into the detail surrounding the Sentry Tournament of Champions, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System as the golfing year kicks off. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, 5,700+ strong private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

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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.

2020 saw Plantation open its doors to a fresh renovation, again managed by Coore and Crenshaw. A $12 million tee-to-green project, every part of the 28 year-old course has been re-worked including tee boxes, bunkers, fairways, drainage and green complexes. It played significantly tougher, with unreceptive greens and very strong winds for the final 54 holes last year.

The Plantation Course at Kapalua, Lahaina, Hawaii: Designer: Coore & Crenshaw, 1991, with 2019 renovation; Course Type: Coastal, Resort; Par: 73; Length: 7,596 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 0; Fairways Celebration Bermudagrass; Rough: Celebration Bermudagrass, 2.5″; Greens: 8,722 sq.ft average featuring TifEagle Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 10-10.5ft. 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. 2019: 70.92 (-2.08), Difficulty Rank 44 of 49 courses. 2020: 72.22 (-0.78), Difficulty Rank 20 of 41 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: 59 yards wide; 275:61; 300:65; 325:60; 350:62.
  • Seaside Course: 250 yards from the tee: 42 yards wide; 275:40; 300:34; 325:31; 350:23.
  • TPC Summerlin: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:30; 350:31.
  • CC of Jackson: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:28; 300:29; 325:28; 350:25.
  • Winged Foot: 19-23 yards wide.
  • Silverado: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:26; 300:24; 325:25; 350:24.

Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Coore/Crenshaw designs include:

  • Pinehurst Number 2 – 2014 U.S. Open
  • Trinity Forest Golf Club – 2018/19 AT&T Byron Nelson

Course Overview: Let’s start by headlining the Coore and Crenshaw renovation on the Plantation Course which we saw for the first time in competition last year. Firmer putting surfaces were undoubtedly the biggest carry away, with the winning score of -14/278 a significant shift from previous low scoring renewals. And those fast greens were mentioned by Bill Coore as he described the goal of the renovation project which finished in last 2019 as “to restore the playability of the golf course that it used to have and has diminished through the years. Anyone who played here in the early years knows that the course played much firmer and faster than it does and has been in the last decade. The fairways maybe hugely wide, but if the ground is firm and fast even the best players in the world have to pick a proper line to play, otherwise their ball is carried by the wind and the slope into some area they might not prefer.

Other key parts of the 2019 work included re-positioned tee boxes which take into account the fact that Maui now receives less wind than it did when the original course was designed. Hole yardages changed therefore with total yardage up 78 yards to 7,596 yards. Bunkers were re-positioned and the whole course was re-grassed with Celebration Bermudagrass from tee to green and TifEagle Bermudagrass on the green surfaces. Many greens were re-contoured as were green entrances. Quite significant changes all in all, which saw experienced Kapalua hands having to revisit their detailed course notes.

Plantation seems long at circa 7,600 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 8 sub-425 yard par-4s. This makes it possible to score heavily on the 4 shot holes, especially on the back-9. 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 2019-laid TifEagle Bermudagrass carpet, with less severe contours overall. Whether they’ll be more receptive 12 months on remains to be seen. 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 key to this test tends to be top-class wind play allied to conquering the uniquely contoured and huge 8,700+ sq.ft average green complexes. 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 traditionally ranks inside the top 10 most difficult courses in terms of Proximity to Hole every year. Tie the difficulty in getting close to the pin in with the fact that putts are tremendously difficult to read, with grain a huge feature and that there are huge variances in putting speed dependant on whether a putt is uphill, flat or downhill. Therefore 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.

The scoring at Kapalua is always shaped by the strength of the local winds. For 2021 the strong winds from last year do not look like they materialise. 15-25 mph Trade (easterly) winds look like the strongest we will see, but Friday and Saturday look calm enough, making me think that contending scoring will be towards the -20/272 mark.

sentry tournament of champions tips

Winners: 2020: Justin Thomas (-14); 2019: Xander Schauffele (-23); 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).

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 | Combined Stats.

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 Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Tony Finau, Webb Simpson, Harris English, Jon Rahm, Brendon Todd, Cameron Smith and Viktor Hovland.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the ZOZO Championship and Italian Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Brian Gay / Michael Thompson / Scottie Scheffler; 4) Webb Simpson; 5) Abraham Ancer; 6) Dustin Johnson / Jon Rahm; 8) Martin Laird; 9) Brendon Todd; 10) Ryan Palmer; 11) Viktor Hovland; 12) Patrick Cantlay / Hideki Matsuyama; 14) Jason Kokrak; 15) Joaquin Niemann; 16) Andrew Landry / Collin Morikawa; 18) Sungjae Im; 19) Cameron Smith; 20) Sebastian Munoz; 21) Daniel Berger / Kevin Na; 23) Sergio Garcia; 24) Kevin Kisner; 25) Xander Schauffele.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Dustin Johnson; 2) Viktor Hovland; 3) Xander Schauffele; 4) Abraham Ancer; 5) Patrick Cantlay; 6) Brian Gay; 7) Webb Simpson; 8) Hideki Matsuyama / Jon Rahm; 10) Collin Morikawa / Justin Thomas; 12) Carlos Ortiz; 13) Cameron Smith; 14) Robert Streb; 15) Joaquin Niemann; 16) Daniel Berger / Tony Finau; 18) Lanto Griffin / Billy Horschel / Kevin Na / Scottie Scheffler; 22) Jason Kokrak; 23) Cameron Champ / Harris English; 25) Kevin Kisner.
  • Scrambling: 1) Patrick Cantlay; 2) Cameron Smith; 3) Jon Rahm; 4) Harris English; 5) Ryan Palmer; 6) Brian Gay; 7) Daniel Berger; 8) Billy Horschel; 9) Kevin Na / Carlos Ortiz; 11) Abraham Ancer; 12) Hideki Matsuyama; 13) Justin Thomas; 14) Webb Simpson; 15) Collin Morikawa; 16) Bryson DeChambeau;  17) Kevin Kisner; 18) Patrick Reed; 19) Mackenzie Hughes; 20) Sungjae Im; 21) Dustin Johnson / Robert Streb; 23) Cameron Champ; 24) Sergio Garcia; 25) Adam Scott.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Adam Scott; 2) Ryan Palmer; 3) Brian Gay; 4) Patrick Reed; 5) Justin Thomas; 6) Bryson DeChambeau / Jon Rahm / Cameron Smith; 9) Dustin Johnson; 10) Kevin Kisner; 11) Robert Streb; 12) Viktor Hovland / Scottie Scheffler; 14) Patrick Cantlay; 15) Hideki Matsuyama; 16) Cameron Champ; 17) Tony Finau; 18) Xander Schauffele; 19) Daniel Berger; 20) Kevin Na; 21) Harris English / Richy Werenski; 23) Carlos Ortiz; 24) Lanto Griffin / Michael Thompson.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the ZOZO Championship and Italian Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players’ rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Dustin Johnson; 2) Jon Rahm; 3) Viktor Hovland / Webb Simpson; 5) Scottie Scheffler; 6) Sergio Garcia; 7) Ryan Palmer; 8) Joaquin Niemann / Justin Thomas; 10) Abraham Ancer; 11) Cameron Champ; 12) Hideki Matsuyama / Cameron Smith; 14) Patrick Cantlay; 15) Collin Morikawa; 16) Jason Kokrak; 17) Harris English; 18) Xander Schauffele; 19) Marc Leishman; 20) Kevin Kisner; 21) Tony Finau; 22) Patrick Reed; 23) Andrew Landry; 24) Sungjae Im; 25) Lanto Griffin / Kevin Na.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Jon Rahm; 2) Xander Schauffele; 3) Patrick Cantlay; 4) Carlos Ortiz; 5) Adam Scott; 6) Daniel Berger; 7) Ryan Palmer; 8) Justin Thomas; 9) Dustin Johnson / Patrick Reed; 11) Cameron Champ / Hideki Matsuyama; 13) Cameron Smith; 14) Kevin Kisner; 15) Collin Morikawa; 16) Tony Finau; 17) Harris English; 18) Michael Thompson; 19) Lanto Griffin / Joaquin Niemann; 21) Abraham Ancer; 22) Andrew Landry / Richy Werenski; 24) Webb Simpson; 25) Viktor Hovland.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Kevin Na; 2) Carlos Ortiz; 3) Patrick Cantlay; 4) Cameron Champ / Billy Horschel; 6) Hideki Matsuyama / Scottie Scheffler; 8) Patrick Reed; 9) Collin Morikawa; 10) Harris English / Brendon Todd; 12) Jon Rahm; 13) Justin Thomas; 14) Kevin Kisner; 15) Andrew Landry; 16) Viktor Hovland; 17) Dustin Johnson; 18) Tony Finau; 19) Joaquin Niemann; 20) Marc Leishman / Robert Streb; 22) Abraham Ancer / Mackenzie Hughes; 24) Ryan Palmer; 25) Cameron Smith.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Dustin Johnson / Jon Rahm; 3) Patrick Cantlay; 4) Carlos Ortiz; 5) Cameron Champ; 6) Justin Thomas; 7) Hideki Matsuyama; 8) Collin Morikawa; 9) Viktor Hovland / Ryan Palmer; 11) Kevin Kisner / Joaquin Niemann / Patrick Reed; 14) Xander Schauffele; 15) Webb Simpson; 16) Cameron Smith; 17) Harris English; 18) Tony Finau; 19) Abraham Ancer / Scottie Scheffler; 21) Kevin Na; 22) Andrew Landry / Adam Scott; 24) Robert Streb; 25) Daniel Berger.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Daniel Berger; 2) Justin Thomas; 3) Cameron Smith; 4) Robert Streb; 5) Patrick Cantlay; 6) Ryan Palmer; 7) Kevin Na; 8) Brendon Todd; 9) Dustin Johnson; 10) Kevin Kisner; 11) Tony Finau / Mackenzie Hughes; 13) Harris English; 14) Jon Rahm / Patrick Reed; 16) Hideki Matsuyama / Adam Scott; 18) Viktor Hovland; 19) Cameron Champ; 20) Carlos Ortiz; 21) Scottie Scheffler; 22) Xander Schauffele; 23) Sungjae Im; 24) Lanto Griffin; 25) Abraham Ancer / Webb Simpson / Michael Thompson.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Patrick Cantlay; 2) Dustin Johnson / Jon Rahm / Justin Thomas; 5) Ryan Palmer / Cameron Smith; 7) Cameron Champ / Kevin Kisner; 9) Patrick Reed; 10) Robert Streb; 11) Hideki Matsuyama; 12) Daniel Berger / Xander Schauffele; 14) Tony Finau / Carlos Ortiz; 16) Webb Simpson; 17) Harris English; 18) Viktor Hovland / Joaquin Niemann; 20) Scottie Scheffler; 21) Kevin Na; 22) Collin Morikawa; 23) Adam Scott; 24) Abraham Ancer; 25) Brendon Todd.

Winners & Prices: 2020: Justin Thomas 11/2; 2019: Xander Schauffele 22/1; 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 7 Renewals Average: 14/1. Average: 16/1.

For a full summary of winner’s odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.

Historical Weather:

  • 2020: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 80. Wind N/NE 16-22 mph. Friday: Heavy morning showers turning to a mixture of clouds and sunshine in the afternoon. High of 79. Wind NE 20-30 mph, with gusts to 35 mph. Saturday: Scattered morning showers with rain decreasing in the afternoon. High of 79. Wind NE 15-25 mph, with gusts over 30 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy and windy. High of 80. Wind ENE 20-30 mph, with gusts to 40 mph.
  • 2019: Thursday: Partly cloudy and windy. High of 79. Wind ENE 14-22 mph, with gusts to 31 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy and windy. High of 79. Wind ENE 15-25 mph, with gusts to 35 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy and windy. High of 79. Wind ENE 10-16 mph, with gusts to 25 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 80. Wind NNW 5-10 mph.
  • 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. I’m expecting a course with plenty of roll-out this week at Kapalua. Less rain in the build-up, allied to a renovation project that has built in better drainage with the aim of firmer conditions should bear fruit. The Plantation course at Kapalua is also one of the most wind-affected on the PGA Tour and for 2021 20 mph strong Trade (north easterly) winds are expected on Thursday and Sunday. That leaves tranquil, scoreable conditions across the middle Friday and Saturday 36 holes. Temperatures will be a pleasant 24 degrees throughout. As a result I’m expecting significantly lower scoring than we saw in 2020, with better weather allied to green complexes which are 12 months older.

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

  • 2020, Justin Thomas (-14). 272 yards (11th), 78.3% fairways (19th), 77.8% greens in regulation (3rd), 37’4″ proximity to hole (2nd), 43.8 % scrambling (32nd), 1.66 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2019, Xander Schauffele (-23). 280 yards (14th), 78.3% fairways (15th), 81.9% greens in regulation (5th), 40’0″ proximity to hole (20th), 69.2 % scrambling (8th), 1.66 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 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: 17th, Greens in Regulation: 9th, Proximity to Hole: 10th, Scrambling: 8th, Putting Average 3rd.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 2020, Justin Thomas (-14). SG Off the Tee: 6th, SG Approach: 2nd, SG Around the Green: 8th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 13th.
  • 2019, Xander Schauffele (-23). SG Off the Tee: 5th, SG Approach: 4th, SG Around the Green: 4th, SG Tee to Green: 3rd, SG Putting: 3rd.
  • 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: 4th, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 6th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 5th.

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

Justin Thomas (2020): “The thing is the pins were front on 1, 2 and 4, and if they’re downwind, you can’t get close to the hole unless you get lucky and land it short or make a long putt. I mean, I landed it literally two inches on the green on 2 and I had about a 45-footer from past the hole. That’s just how it is. Everyone has to play in those conditions, not just me. I understood that those were not really holes I was going to attack and make birdie unless I made a long putt, and I know the back nine you can make a lot of birdies, and I could have birdied nine of the last ten holes today really. I played really, really solidly the last half of the round.”

“Yeah, it was tough all day (Friday). It was windy all day. That rain was annoying a little bit in the start and not even remotely close to yesterday, but it was still enough in the beginning off and on to make it tough. I mean, it’s just tough out there. It’s tougher. I mean, it makes an easy golf course play harder. It’s the protection of the course. It’s meant to play that way, and with the newer, firmer greens, the scores are obviously a lot higher, and I think the wind and the weather is the cause of that.”

Xander Schauffele: “Yesterday I made a lot of mistakes on the back nine and being in San Diego, it’s hard to practice in a whole lot of wind. So we got a little more comfy today versus yesterday. Wind wise, it was pretty much east to, northeast, so it was the same direction. So the lines and everything else was the same for the most part. As a comfort aspect that definitely helped. Yeah, it’s an uncomfortable walk, but it will never get old and the views also won’t get old. So the more times you can play on a piece of property like this the more it will help.”

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 a go 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 11 Tournament of Champions winners:

  • 2020 – Justin Thomas: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2019 – Xander Schauffele: Round 1: 19th, Round 2: 6th, Round 3: 4th.
  • 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.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 11 winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2020 – Justin Thomas: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2019 – Xander Schauffele: Round 1: 6 back, Round 2: 5 back, Round 3: 5 back.
  • 2018 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 2 ahead.
  • 2017 – Justin Thomas: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 2 ahead.
  • 2016 – Jordan Spieth: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 4 ahead, Round 3: 5 ahead.
  • 2015 – Patrick Reed: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2014 – Zach Johnson: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 3 ahead, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2013 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: level, Round 2: 3 ahead.
  • 2012 – Steve Stricker: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 5 ahead, Round 3: 5 ahead.
  • 2011 – Jonathan Byrd: Round 1: level, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: level.
  • 2010 – Geoff Ogilvy: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 1 back.

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

  • Justin Thomas: 5th WC/17th ZOZO/1st CJ Cup / 4th Safeway.
  • Xander Schauffele: 8th WC/16th DPWTC/1st HSBC/48th CJ Cup.
  • 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’ 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. Full First Round Leader stats are here.

  • 2020 – Niemann – Group 5/17 -7/66 – 30/1
  • 2019 – Tway – Group 2/17 -7/66 – 50/1
  • 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:

  • 7 – Dustin Johnson
  • 5 – Justin Thomas.
  • 4 – Brian Gay, Patrick Reed.
  • 3 – Sergio Garcia, Billy Horschel,  Ryan Palmer.
  • 2 – Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner, Marc Leishman, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Cameron Smith, Robert Streb.
  • 1 – Cameron Champ, Harris English, Lanto Griffin, Mackenzie Hughes, Sungjae Im, Martin Laird, Andrew Landry, Sebastian Munoz, Carlos Ortiz; Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Brendon Todd, Michael Thompson.

Kapalua is a course where Driving Accuracy and pure 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. Of the last 5 winners here on the Plantation Course, in terms of Strokes Gained, Off the Tee slightly outweighs Approach in terms of importance, but that is by a slight margin. Ultimately though Tee to Green ranks of 2nd (Thomas), 3rd (Schauffele), 1st (Johnson), 1st (Thomas) and 1st (Spieth), highlight that control of the golf ball from Tee to Green will be essential this week. But be aware that the last 11 winners of the Tournament of Champions have averaged 3rd spot across the Putting Average (Putts per GIR) category. You simply have to take your chances here to win.

11 of the last 12 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, bar 2019 champion Xander Schauffele, had shot -19 or lower to win a PGA Tour tournament previously in their career.

Justin Thomas 3.5pts Win 15/2 with Unibet

4 players dominate the top of the market. All have their merits as you would expect and in reality it’s like splitting hairs in terms of decision making if you’re that way inclined. Statistically 5 of the past 11 Tournament of Champions winners have been at single-digits and that becomes 3 of the past 5 winners in Spieth (2016), Dustin Johnson (2018) and Justin Thomas (2020). With 3 victories and a couple of runner-up finishes in his last 6 outings, World Number 1 Dustin Johnson is the rightful favourite, especially as he has won this title twice in 2013 and 2018. Jon Rahm arrives with form of 17/2/7 and is a 15/2 shot, with Bryson DeChambeau next up at 11/1. It’s well worth remembering that Bryson was the 8/1 favourite on his last appearance at Augusta National, so 11/1 will tempt plenty on a course where bombers seemingly have the advantage.

But of those at the top of the betting this week, I’m onside with Justin Thomas. I’m rarely of the volition to back defending champions, but in the case of Thomas and here at Kapalua I’m more than prepared to make an exception. Justin’s first PGA Tour title was the 2015 CIMB Classic which he then successfully defended in 2016, so JT has delivered before in that regard. And here at the Tournament of Champions Stuart Appleby won 3 renewals straight across 2004-06, with Geoff Ogilvy winning in both 2009 and 2010.  It’s kind of understandable with the Plantation Course being such a specialised track and also the fact that the tournament comes after the month of December, where the vast majority of the field don’t play competitive golf.

That can’t be said for Justin Thomas, who after finishing 5th at the mid-November Masters, in December finished 12th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and then went on to win the father and son tournament, the PNC Championship, in Florida on the 19th December. Justin and his father Mike scored an emotional victory, shooting 57 in the Sunday scramble format to jump 5 positions on the leaderboard and take the title from Team Singh by a single shot. In summary, JT has had a minimal break from competitive action.

And then we get to his record in no cut events. 9 of his 13 PGA Tour victories have come in no-cut tournaments and his last 5 consecutive victories have all come in these short field formats. Thomas is a 2-time winner here at Kapalua, with a 3rd thrown-in for good measure in 2019, and has also won the Sony Open over on O’ahu at Waialae Country Club, in Honolulu. Arriving with a confident putter, for me he’s primed and more than ready to contend again this week. RESULT: 3rd

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Viktor Hovland 2.5pts EW 22/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Next up is Viktor Hovland who undoubtedly had a breakout 2020. 2 wins in his first full season as a professional on the PGA Tour was a superb effort and the 23 year-old became just the fifth European player (since 1945) to earn multiple Tour titles before turning 24. The list includes Rory McIlroy, Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm – esteemed stuff. And I think that the Plantation Course will suit the Stillwater, Oklahoma-based World Number 14.

This 7,600 yard Par 73 format undoubtedly suits those with tee-to-green finesse and as we know Hovland is a fantastic driver and approach player. Across last season he ranked 18th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee and 7th for on Approach all adding up to 20th for Tee to Green. Yes chipping is his bug-bear, but that’s undoubtedly work-in-progress and slowly but surely is improving. Plus the putter right now is more than compliant. 19th for Putting Average (Putts per GIR) at Houston, his latest 2 outings have seen that number improve to 10th at Mayakoba and 4th last time out at the Earth Course. Those 3 appearances have netted 15th, 1st and 3rd with the latter two naturally being played in December. He’s making chances and converting them.

Making his debut on the Plantation Course this week, we’ve seen the likes of Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm go very close to victory across recent renewals on their course debuts – something that Daniel Chopra achieved when winning here in 2008. And in Hovland we have a player who broke out at the 2019 U.S. Open played at Pebble Beach and has won both of his PGA Tour victories on coastal courses at Coco Beach Golf & Country Club and El Camaleon with winning totals of -20/268 and -20/264. That mark this week won’t be far away at all in my opinion. RESULT: T31

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Cameron Smith 1.5pts EW 40/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Backing a hot hand is no bad play in the season opener at Kapalua and Cameron Smith is certainly that. He ended 2019 with 11th at the CJ Cup, 4th at the ZOZO, a career-best Major finish of 2nd at The Masters and partnered Marc Leishman to 8th at the QBE Shoot Out in December. Undoubtedly great form and nothing untoward when you look at the results pattern of the World Number 27. Now we landed Cam at 80/1 each-way at Augusta National and a cornerstone of my reasoning was that the 27 year-old Queenslander plays well from October through to early January.

5th (CIMB Classic), 3rd (CJ Cup), 4th (Australian Open) and 1st (Australian PGA Championship), in 2017, 2018 saw him finish 7th (CJ Cup), 10th (Australian Open) and 1st (Australian PGA Championship) late in the season. 2019 was no different with 13th (Shriners Open) and 3rd (CJ Cup). Throw in 2020 where he won the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in January and right now he sits with inbound form of 11/4/2/8 and it’s crystal clear that Smith makes hay in the northern hemisphere winter months.

Now Australian’s have always had a great record around the Plantation Course with Stuart Appleby winning here 3 times and Geoff Ogilvy twice. Adam Scott finished runner-up in 2007 and Marc Leishman was 4th here in 2019 – so it’s clear that Aussies like this time of year on Maui. Smith finished 17th here on his only visit to Kapalua back in 2018, shooting a 3rd Round -5/68 which was T3 best score of the day. Safe to say that Smith is far more comfortable on the PGA Tour 3 years down the line.

So I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that Cameron will go well this week. He defends his Sony Open in Hawaii title next week, so will be keen to keep the forward momentum going and another fact I noted is that all of his professional wins – 2 on the PGA Tour and 2 on the European Tour – have been on Bermudagrass putting surfaces. RESULT: T24

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 12:10GMT 4.1.21 but naturally subject to fluctuation.