The PGA Tour is back! The first event of the 2021 calendar year will feature 42 of the game’s top players and tournament winners for the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Resort in beautiful Maui, Hawaii.
The Plantation Course has been known for low scores in the past, but reigning champion Justin Thomas only posted 14-under to win in a playoff last year following a course redesign in 2019, so we’ll see if the players get back to posting 20-under or better or if the reformatting of the course has made things a bit more challenging.
Forty-five players met the criteria to be in this event, but Rory McIlroy, Jim Herman, and Tyrrell Hatton will sit this one out. With 10 events taken off of the PGA Tour calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this even doesn’t just feature champions. It features the winners of tournaments during 2020 and also the 30 players that qualified for the TOUR Championship.
That means we have a little larger of a field to handicap than usual at Kapalua. Two-time champion Dustin Johnson is the +1100 favorite at DraftKings Sportsbook, but he has a lot of company. Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas are +1200. Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele are both +1400.
The odds for this tournament are set up in a way that depresses the price of the most likely winners and really jacks up the price for guys that won tournaments last year, but are not world-class players, like the long shot odds of guys like Nick Taylor and Hudson Swafford at 90/1. In other words, finding long shot value is very hard to do in this event.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua is actually a par 73, but there are some extremely long holes on this course. The par 5 18th finishing hole plays over 670 yards and there are some 500+ par 4s. Depending on how the winds kick up on the northwest side of Maui, some of the holes will play another club or two longer.
The length of the tournament has never really affected scoring all that much. DJ’s first win in 2013 was at 16-under. That was the lowest winning score since 2006 up until Thomas’s win at 14-under last year in a playoff over Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele.
The winds were a factor, but so, too, was the course redesign from Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore.
As we look at this tournament, there are a few things to know about the course. The first is that the fairways are like runways. They’re long and wide. There aren’t a lot of ways to get in serious trouble on this course. Distance will reign supreme off the tee. Accuracy will be secondary. Iron play on approach will depend on distance control, especially with the unpredictable winds. The run-off areas around the greens aren’t penal and the hazards protecting some of the holes should lead to a lot of straightforward sand shots.
A well-rounded game is important, but this is a course where putting isn’t overly critical. That’s why a guy like Hideki Matsuyama (+2000) has three top-five finishes in his three starts. He hits the ball a mile and can’t putt worth a lick. He hasn’t won, but he was runner-up in 2007.
That’s why a guy like Tony Finau makes a lot of sense at +2000. Finau is a better putter than Matsuyama and probably more consistent with the flatstick, but he, too, hits the ball a long way. Finau has only played this event once and finished ninth back in 2017, but he had a pretty decent season and the time off to tinker with some things could be beneficial.
Another dude that can really rip it is Cameron Champ at +3300. This will be Champ’s third straight trip to Kapalua. He’s finished 14th and 11th, which isn’t all that impressive when you consider the size of this field, but he is maturing into a much better player.
Patrick Reed falls just short of my list as a past winner here and a guy that played extremely well in Dubai with a third-place finish in the DP World Tour Championship just a few weeks back, but he’s a two-time runner-up to go with that dub in 2015. He’s +1800 this week.
When it comes to handicapping this tournament, most of these players are really good, but some are consistently great. When you have a loaded field, it gets harder and harder to look down the board. The reality is that one of the top players likely wins.
Fortunately, when you bet at a place like DraftKings, you can bet a variety of props. Like Champ is -110 to finish in the top 20. With his length, that is a solid bet. Marc Leishman is +300 to win his group with Jason Kokrak, Sebastian Munoz, Lanto Griffin, and Mackenzie Hughes. Leishman has been fourth and seventh in his last two starts.
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