Sentry Tournament of Champions Preview
Fordy's Golf Tips - @tomford9931
Golf is back!
We are back, and it feels good. For some reason this year it feels better than ever, but maybe I feel like that every year with the holiday season out the way. With the mess of the LIV tour and losing some great talent to that tour, you would have thought it would be all doom and gloom coming into this year. However, the excitement is raw as ever and to see the generational talent coming through, the likes of Tom Kim, Sahith Theegala, and Cameron Young putting their skills against the seasoned pro’s of the likes of Rory, JT and Scheffler, it looks like a really good prospect for the year ahead.
Plantation Course, Kapalua.
The plantation course, which we saw getting teared up by Cam Smith (-34) and John Rahm (-33) last year, is an unusual par 73 and runs at 7,596 yards. It’s very undulating, with large fairways, (think a poor mans Augusta) it really does look the part for hosting the top players this year and a strong 39 man field. We, of course have all the previous winners from last year mixed in with those who made the end of season Tour Championship, so finding value for our picks can be harder than usual, not just with the strength of the field but also the element of such a small field with there being no cut, and hence why all the odds will be shorter than usual.
2022: Cameron Smith (-34); 2021: Harris English (-25); 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:
So as you may have noticed above in the yardage, Kapalua looks long, but that isn’t really telling the real story here; that’s not to say hitting it long isn’t a real advantage, but look at our previous winners. The likes of Zach Johnson 8 years ago winning this you don’t have to hit it long to win this tournament. I think mainly the answer to this is because of the size of the fairways. The average size of the fairway here is 60 yards wide, which is huge, if you compare this to the likes of East Lake where we last saw a field of this quality that averages 30 yards wide, so this is over double the size in terms of fairways. For this reason, I put most of my research and picks down to wedges, irons and putting this week.
You may also notice within the previous winners above that we have quite a big difference between Justin Thomas winning with (-14) under 3 years ago and Cam smith winning with (-34) last year. I think it’s important here to reference that we have seen this course put up a bit of a bigger test in previous years, mainly due to higher winds and the course going through different renovations. I am expecting this week the winning score to be around the middle of those two numbers, around (-25), I think we are going to see plenty of birdies but not the likes of what they found last year. The wind across all 4 days looks relatively low as we speak, and the real defence of the course this year I see being in and around the greens and on undulating lies.
With all that being said my view is that the guy that wins this week is going to be in the top 3 for putting, something we’ve seen nearly every year at this course. The way around this of course if you are not as good a putter as most of the field, would be dialling your wedges and irons in to around 10ft of the hole and really making it easy for yourself; something Harris English did really well a couple of years ago. These Bermuda greens have big areas where the grain crosses over and big slopes so if you find yourself on the wrong side of the hole, 2 putting becomes very difficult and bogeys here will be hugely detrimental to falling behind the rest of the field.
Recent form is obviously a tricky one, we haven’t seen a lot of these players for a long time, and some of these players haven’t even played in the fall season at all, so it’s hard to look at recent form and even strong course form for that matter. If you are looking for some bigger value this week or likewise you are trying to fill your last few picks in your draftkings/fantasy line ups, I would look towards some of those players who have gone out in the fall season and put up some good numbers, the likes of Theegala, Finau, Hughes, Harman, Power these are the types of players this week that could shoot low numbers based on their maintained form and practice.
My model to help with my picks this week is as follows;
Proximity to the hole
Birdies per round
SG Around the green
Birdie or better %
Top 10 players based on that model;
1. Patrick Cantlay 12/1
2. Tony Finau 16/1
3. Justin Thomas 11/1
4. Xander Schauffele 11/1
5. Jon Rahm 13/2
6. Collin Morikawa 18/1
7. Seamus Power 40/1
8. Sungjae Im 22/1
9. Russell Henley 40/1
10. Sam Burns 28/1
My early feelings for this week
Firstly looking at my model I have put up for this week, I feel like it would be the exact types of players I was expecting to be near the top of the model. This leaves me a lot clearer than i would be in usual weeks with much bigger fields.
We are used to the likes of Cantlay and Schauffele shooting low low scores so they both fit the profile and are great putters. Justin Thomas and Morikawa will as ever dial there irons and wedges in close making them potentially right up there this week, although I haven’t seen enough good putting from the latter to put him up as a pick.
Power and Finau are interesting because, within that model, they have probably been the two best players in the fall season of what we have seen. Tony Finau seems to be a monster when he gets in the groove and I have put him up so many times on weeks where he hasn’t played well, so not putting him up this week leaves me with more fear of missing out. Burns and Sungjae Im, more evidence of great putters at the top of the model this week, Burns is another birdie monster when he gets going, someone, I cannot avoid looking at this week.
Jon Rahm is someone I briefly want to talk about as well, because he is the favourite this week, ahead of the likes of Scheffler and Cantlay, mainly because of his run to runner-up last year. With Jon Rahm I still don’t see his putting is as good as it was last year, even though there was some evidence of this at the likes of Valderrama in September, I think there are others I favour here with the flat head in their hand.
Patrick Cantlay – 3pts to win 11/1
Being brutally honest, there will not be many times I put Patrick Cantlay up this year, mainly because he’s not fun, but maybe this week that’s exactly what we need. Cantlay will not bogey many holes, he keeps himself together, and we know from previous, he can very quickly shoot -7, -8 per round without you even knowing it. At the top of my model it was him or his mate Xander and I just see a putting display from Cantlay which I can’t ignore. Get what you can on him before he hits single figures.
Tony Finau – 3pts to win 15/1
If you looked at these odds on Finau a year ago you would run a mile, for a guy who just couldn’t get the job done. Bridesmaid turned winning machine, 15/1 is value. For me the guy playing the best golf out of anyone bar Rory right now, worth every dime you’ve got in my opinion and even if he is a bit rusty and doesn’t get the job done this week, then I’m not to disheartened because missing him on a week like this and then him being even shorter the next time he turns out would just not be worth thinking about.
Sam Burns – 2pts each way 28/1
28/1 for 5 places in a 39 man field is amazing for a guy who won 3 times on tour last year. Burns’s performances last year at the Valspar and Charles Schwab crushing greens and putting like his life depended on it, if he’s right this week and has put the practice in, he is wonderful value. Last year at Kapalua if it wasn’t for a poor first round he would have been right up there with Smith and Rahm and something tells me this year he can shoot low on all 4 rounds.
Seamus Power – 1pt each way at 55/1
Seamus now 29th in the world is just someone that stands out here. He loves this course more than anyone and, in recent form has actually the best strokes gained data of anyone. Not only that but if you look at the other players in this field around 50/1 then Seamus Power just doesn’t compare. If you did the odds just purely down on form he would be around Finau’s price of 15/1. Shoots low, hits great wedges and has a sensational birdie or better %, everything points towards a great chance for Power, LFG.