After the Christmas break, the PGA Tour returns at what must be one of the player’s favourite stops on Tour, the Tournament of Champions. Not only is this a celebration of a player’s win(s) in the previous season, but it is also a great place for a vacation.
The Tournament of Champions is hosted by the Kapalua Resort, in Kapalua Hawaii. A trip to Hawaii is enough of an incentive to play here, but the prize money on offer, along with the bragging rights available makes it even more worthwhile.
37 players qualified for the event this week, but three (Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods) have opted for a week elsewhere, as they prepare for 2019.
The World’s No.1 and No.3 players, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson play this week, as do; Justin Thomas (4), Bryson DeChambeau (5), Jon Rahm (6), Francesco Molinari (7), Rory McIlroy (8) and Xander Schauffele (10), so the top-10 is well represented here, with Justin Rose (2) practicing elsewhere and Tony Finau (9) failing to qualify.
The Course and what it will take to win here
Plantation Course, 7,452 yards, Par 73
Not only are the incredible views and surroundings unique here at the Plantation Course, but its also the only Par 73 played on the PGA Tour.
With only three par 3’s on the course, there is an opportunity for some incredible scoring, especially if the wind, which is the course’s only real defence, remains calm. Jordan Spieth recently shot 30-under-par here in 2016, but some 13 years earlier, South Africa’s, Ernie Els went one better, shooting an incredible 31-under-par.
There is no need to get hung up on driving stats here, as the already generous fairways are bordered by very little rough and whilst bombers could have an advantage as they do most weeks, shorter hitters have won here in the past.
Typically good Green in Regulation numbers are rewarded each week, but they alone are not going to be enough here either, as these Bermuda greens are larger than the average Tour stop, so it will be what you elsewhere that counts.
Instead a strong short game both on and around the greens here is imperative, so look to those who scrambled well in 2018, and have the ability to sink enough putts to make the high number of birdies required here.
A razor-sharp wedge game is often rewarded, as you can see from recent winners such as Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson. This makes sense given the amount of birdie chances that need to be setup and converted to win here.
The wind is expected to blow over the first two days, but settle down by the weekend, so we should see typically low scores on moving day, and some low numbers on the final day as well. Those that are in the hunt going into the weekend should have a chance to put their foot down in calmer conditions, whilst others may have played their way out of it, in tougher conditions.
In summary, those that are capable of getting on a run with their putter, especially when on Bermuda greens should have an advantage here. Side hill lies and elevation changes will have to be taken into account, which are two reasons why debutants don’t always succeed at this layout, with those experienced heads having seen it all before.
Jon Rahm 15/2 (General) 3pts win
Whilst I don’t love the price, sometimes you have to go with your gut and just take the person you believe is most likely to win. Rahm won last time out, at the limited-field, Hero World Challenge, and he faces a similar test here, amongst elite competition once again.
He was 2nd on his course debut here last year, and whilst he along with everyone else, got nowhere near a rampant, Dustin Johnson in the end, he could fare better on his second look.
As noted already, debutants can struggle here, but Rahm was impressive on his opening effort and appeared more comfortable as the week went on, opening with rounds of 71-70-66. A final-round 69 meant he was left behind, but he will look to start stronger here this time around, now he knows his way around the Plantation Course.
A major winner in waiting, and a player that should feature atop PGA Tour leaderboards for years to come, Rahm should remain someone you can rely on for the foreseeable future.
He may only be 15/2 this week, but he’s finished T4 and 1st on his last two starts, so its a chance to strike whilst the iron is hot, at a course that really suits his game. Powerful off the tee, and a solid all-round game, it’s admittedly tough to find somewhere where Rahm cannot contend, but I particularly like his chances here.
Webb Simpson 22/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w:
Webb Simpson got back to his brilliant best in 2018, highlighted by his dominant victory at the Players Championship in May. He was unlucky to not add a second victory before the year was out, finishing T2 at the Wyndham Championship, before placing T6 and T4 at the BMW and Tour Championships respectively, to end his 2017/18 season.
Not content with the work he’d already done on the year, Simpson started his new season in similar fashion, finishing T15 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, followed by a T3 finish at the RSM Classic last time out.
In three starts here, Simpson has twice finished 3rd in 2012 and 2014, as well as 11th in 2013. His 11th in 2013 could have been even better, were it not for the first round being cancelled and all scores made on that day scrapped. Simpson was -3 thru his first 7 holes during his opening round, and looked set for a strong start. When asked about it, he simply stated “It stinks for me”. He clearly felt a score was there for him to make, despite horrendous weather, so it may well have been a “what if” week for the former U.S. Open champion.
A better player now, especially when it comes to putting, this challenge should suit him more than it ever has before, especially as he led the Tour in Scrambling last season.
He has always been capable tee-to-green and now he’s found a way to convert chances on the green, Simpson is one to keep an eye on, most weeks and especially on courses he’s performed well at in the past.
A stellar bank of course form in limited starts, and some red-hot form at the end of last season and the start of this one, Simpson is worth backing at 22/1 in a small, but strong field, as he looks for his sixth win on Tour.
Brandt Snedeker 55/1 (Betfair) 1pt e/w:
Brandt Snedeker is a serial winner on the PGA Tour, finding another one towards the tail-end of last season at the Wyndham Championship. Two disappointing efforts in the FedEx Cup Playoffs followed, meant his season was over abruptly.
After 54-holes at the Safeway Open, his first event of this new season, Snedeker was in pole position for a 10th PGA Tour title, but a final-round 74 saw him fall into a three-man play-off, one that Kevin Tway emerged victorious.
No better than 30th in four starts since, it appears Snedeker may have gone off the boil in recent weeks/months, but he tends to start the calendar year fast, and there’s no real reason to suspect 2019 will be any different. Two wins at Torrey Pines across January and February, as well as two wins at another February event, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am, it is clear Snedeker wastes no time in finding form at the start of a year.
A healthy Snedeker is a fine PGA Tour talent, especially strong on the putting surfaces, and that will serve him well on a course where he’s already finished 3rd on two occasions. Additionally, Snedeker has broken par in all 19 rounds that he has played at the Plantation Course, which is some feat, no matter how easy the course.
The wind that is due to blow on Thursday and Friday will suit Snedeker who has overcome tough conditions many times before, most notably in the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open in 2016, where he shot 69, when the next best effort that day was 73, with many failing to break 80.
55/1 in a 34-man field, at an event that he’s clearly enjoyed before looks too big to me, especially given his recent foray back into the winner’s circle, and his solid effort at the Safeway to start the new season.
Total points staked this week: 8
Profit/Loss for 2019: N/A