SENTRY TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS PREVIEW
Welcome back golf fans! This week players head to the Island of Maui, Hawaii and The Plantation Course at Kapalua for the first event of 2020, the Tournament of Champions. As the title suggests, this event is comprised of winners from the 2018-19 season, making it a rather small field to kick off the New Year. Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari, Phil Mickelson and for some odd reason C.T. Pan are amongst last year’s winners not making an appearance here. But with the likes of Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, defending champion Xander Schauffele, U.S. Open Champ Gary Woodland, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay in the field, there is no shortage of firepower on the Island. Intriguing debutants like Cam Champ, Morikawa, Wolff and Niemann, all of whom I expect big things from this year, along with the primetime viewing given the time difference make this a fun kick start to 2020. With that said, let’s take a look at The Plantation Course!
If prior years are any indication, there will be no shortage of birdies in Hawaii this week. The Plantation Course is a resort setting, built for the casual vacationer tee to green. The setup is rather unique being a Par 73 and the winners have finished anywhere from 22 to 30 under the last 4 years. I do have to mention that last year my heart was broken here holding a Gary ticket as he was the 54-hole leader, shot a very solid round of 5 under only to be usurped by Xander behind a course record 11 under to win by 1. There is a somewhat unique aspect to the TOC this year. In February of last year, The Plantation underwent a $12 million renovation with the object being to, “to restore the playability of the golf course that it used to have and has diminished through the years.” WTF that means is anyone’s guess but other quotes suggest they want it to play more firm and fast with missed shots being more penal than years past.
To me, what has defined the Plantation prior to the remodel is the extremely vast, wide fairways. Keep in mind, this is a resort course and pace of play is considered for players of less skill. This has given bombers a huge advantage as errant drives were rarely penalized. Now, if the ground is firm and fast this may change, but given what we have seen in the past I will still favor guys who can move it off the tee.
The Plantation features Bermuda greens that have been re-contured with the remodel. In years past the greens featured a lot of slope. It will be interesting to see what the remodel does with one of the main defenses The Plantation offers. The course also offers the largest amount of elevation changes on the PGA Tour, leaving players with blind shots and uneven lies. This may be a reason that no debutant has won the TOC. Further, 10 of the last 11 winners here played in a competitive event in December and all winners had 2 or more victories before taking home this crown. The remodel MAY change that as quotes suggest it has become more of a 2nd shot course as opposed to a bombers paradise but if you’re looking to break some ties when considering plays that may be something to consider.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention the true key to Kapalua, the Trade Winds. At any given time, it can blow 40 MPH+ on the island, making a relatively easy course extremely difficult. Top class wind play is definitely preferred here and it will be important to check the weather prior to locking in any plays.
I’m looking for birdie makers this week and my model reflects that. Opportunities Gained (approach shots within 15 feet) and Par 5 scoring are featured along with the obvious Strokes Gained Approach. Given the winds tend to make the course play shorter than the 7500-yard measurement suggests, I’m looking supreme wedge players and have included proximity from 100-125 yards and 125-150 yards. Finally, given the penchant for strong winds here, I’ll include players who have scored well under such conditions.
Patrick Cantlay +1100 – The former #1 Amateur in the World exhibited that promise in 2019, winning The Memorial and notching top 10 after top 10. The next step for Cantlay is multiple wins in 2020 and legit major contention. He absolutely has the game for it and I love for him to get off to a fast start in his 2nd appearance at the TOC. Over his last 50 rounds Cantlay is first in this field in Total Strokes Gained. He’s coming off a solid President’s Cup showing, notching the December competitive golf requirement and if the course plays as more of a 2nd shot track as expected, Cantlay is 5th in Strokes Gained Approach and 6th in Opportunities Gained over his last 50. Ideally the TV coverage won’t show much of the absolute slowest player on Tour, but I’m happy to watch him rise up the leaderboard as one of the elite players in the small event.
Gary Woodland +1400 – It would be impossible for me not to go back to one of my favorites after what happened last year. Gary showed excellent form in the Swing Season with a 3rd and 5th in Asia and a 7th at Tiger’s Hero event. This is similar form to last year’s Swing Season and why I pegged him to have a big 2019. He fulfilled those lofty expectations with a win at the U.S. Open and had the inevitable slump afterwards to end the year. Now he is back in good form with a Major under his belt and I would be surprised if we saw less than 2 wins from him in 2020. Everyone knows he can bomb it, setting up perfect for the wide fairways at Kapalua, but Gary is also a superb wind player (have you seen his stinger?!), coming in 3rd in the wind portion of my model. All this combined lands me on Woodland for the 2nd consecutive year and he will likely be mainstay on my 2020 cards.
Collin Morikawa +2500 – I’m going to go against a couple of past winner trends and back Morikawa, who is my favorite of the elite Tour newcomers. As a pro, Morikawa has just over 50 rounds of Strokes Gained Data. If you take EVERY player on Tour’s last 50 rounds Morikawa is 2nd in Strokes Gained Approach. To reiterate, Collin is already in the elite echelon of iron players on Tour. The only player better over their last 50 recorded rounds? Just the Greatest Golfer of All Time. While his game should fit Kapalua perfectly, this is more of a FOMO backing than anything. This guy is going to win, and probably win a lot and I will not miss out while he is priced like this in a small field event.
That is it for this week’s breakdown! Thank you for reading and as always, feel free to shoot me any questions on Twitter @jmazzjd!