Post by: Mike Philipps
The PGA Tour kicks off the 2018 calendar year with a return to Hawaii and the island of Maui for the Sentry Tournament of Champions, this being the first year under new sponsorship. For the 18th straight year, the event will be held at Kapalua’s Plantation Course (par 73, 7,452 yards) on Maui’s northwestern coast.
The Plantation Course (the only par 73 course on the PGA Tour) is known for its amazing views along the Hawaiian coast, trade winds and severe elevation changes that impact not only distances, but also putting.
Bet on the Sentry Tournament of Champions Online at:
One of the best examples comes on the 18th hole, as the downhill par 5 is often accompanied by a tailwind. Prestigious drives on that hole and other holes that are wind/contour-aided are far from rare. In 2004, Davis Love III blasted a tee shot 476 yards on the final hole, leaving himself under 200 yards to reach the 663-yard hole in two. A green that slopes severely from front to back makes holding long approach shots a challenge.
Last year, Justin Thomas kicked his season into high gear, winning his second event of the young season. He fired rounds of 67 in each of the first three rounds to build a comfortable lead, and cruised to victory over a late-charging Hideki Matsuyama.
The biggest reason for Thomas’s win was his domination of the par fours, playing them in 13-under-par for the week – eight-under was the next best. For the week, he ranked second in Greens in Regulations, third in Driving Distance and fourth in Total Putts. Thomas went on to win the next week at the Sony Open as well, completing the Hawaii sweep and laying the foundation for his Player of the Year campaign.
Sentry Tournament of Champions Betting Odds
Before we get to our tournament picks, let’s compare the odds for every golfer across three major international golf bookmakers and three US-friendly betting sites. The purpose here is to make it easy for you to find the best odds for your picks. You can follow the link at the bottom of any column to place your bets.
Odds According to the Best International Betting Sites
|Si Woo Kim||90/1||80/1||66/1|
Odds According to the Best US-Friendly Betting Sites
|Si Woo Kim||+7000||+5000||+8000|
The Top Picks
This year’s Tournament of Champions field consists of just 34 players. And as the event’s name indicates, everyone in the field has at least one PGA Tour victory under his belt, so every player has the capability of coming out on top. With every player knowing what it takes to win, and seven of the world’s top-10 ranked players in the field, it’s not an easy task to pick a winner to bet on this week. Here’s a list of the top 10 options to come out on top this week, along with some longer shots and a few players to avoid.
Each of these players has the betting edge according to the biggest international golf bookmakers. These are the players who are seen as most likely to win, with the betting odds to match.
1. Justin Thomas
- World Golf Ranking: 3
- Overview: The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year has firmly entrenched himself as one of the best players in the world after winning eight times (including his first major) and the FedEx Cup in 2016-17. He’s already added his first win of 2017-18, winning the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in October. He’s also the defending champ at Kapalua Plantation, so it’s pretty easy to see why he tops the list this week.
- At the Tournament of Champions: Thomas won the event last year, firing four rounds of 69 or better to control things almost immediately. For the week, he ranked second in Greens in Regulation, third in Driving Distance and fourth in Total Putts. A bit of foreshadowing for the dominant season he was about to produce.
- Last event: Thomas had a ho-hum effort at the Hero World Challenge last month, finishing in 11th place in the 18-man field. He was paired with his boyhood idol, Tiger Woods, for three of the four rounds, so that might have thrown him off his game a bit.
2. Rickie Fowler
- World Golf Ranking: 7
- Overview: Fowler is a very popular pick to have a breakthrough season in 2017-18. He’s played just two events this season, and he’s finished no lower than second so far. His statistical performance last year was off the charts, leading one to wonder why he won just a single event (Honda Classic). He’s excellent from tee-to-green, and was the only player ranked in the top 20 of the World Golf Rankings to be in the top 10 in Strokes Gained: Putting.
- At the Tournament of Champions: Fowler has played the event twice, last in 2016, placing in the top six both times. His last time at Kapalua, Fowler played the par-fives in 14-under-par – bested only by eventual champ Jordan Spieth – while finishing in solo fifth.
- Last event: Fowler put on a show in the final round of the Hero World Challenge, making birdie on his first seven holes of the day and carding a ridiculous 61 to earn a four-shot win. The performance was so good it was able to draw some of the attention away from Tiger Woods’ encouraging return to competitive golf
3. Jordan Spieth
- World Golf Ranking: 2
- Overview: Spieth is coming off another outstanding season, and he finished on a hot streak. In his last eight starts on 2016-17, Spieth got two wins, including his third career major at the Open Championship, and four more top-10s. He finished second in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and led the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green and Scoring Average. Spieth has also fared very well in his career at Kapalua, winning with a record score of 30-under-par in 2016.
- At the Tournament of Champions: Spieth has played the event three times and has yet to finish lower than T-3. Of course the highlight was his dominant performance in 2016 when he became just the fourth player to hit 30-under-par in a four-round event. That week, he led the field in birdies, eagles and Total Putts while carding four rounds of 67 or better. Last year was more up-and-down, but he finished strong with a final-round 65.
- Last event: Spieth put together a solid week at the Hero World Challenge, finishing tied for third at 12-under-par. He was one of just two players to hit better than 70 percent of Greens in Regulation for the week, ranking second with 70.8%.
4. Hideki Matsuyama
- World Golf Ranking: 5
- Overview: Matsuyama was the hottest player on the planet entering last year’s Tournament of Champions, and while he doesn’t boast a four-wins-in-five-starts stretch this year, he’s still one of the favorites this week. He struggled through the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but he can get hot as quickly as anyone in the game, and he’s bounced back with top-five finishes in three of his last four starts.
- At the Tournament of Champions: Matsuyama has a second- and a third-place finish on his resume in two previous starts at the Tournament of Champions. Each time, he was in the final pairing on Sunday after a third-round 66, but carded rounds of 70 in the final round.
- Last event: Matsuyama finished T-5 at the Hero World Challenge last month, alternating mediocre rounds with strong ones. He was the defending champ, and looked like he might make a run on Sunday after holing out for eagle on the first hole, but he had to settle for a final-round 68.
5. Jon Rahm
- World Golf Ranking: 4
- Overview: The Spaniard has the total package, and with a full year as a professional under his belt, the sky is the limit. Looking at his stats from the 2016-17 PGA Tour season, there are no real weaknesses. He ranked in the top three on the PGA Tour in three Strokes Gained categories last year – Off-the-Tee (2nd), Tee-to-Green (3rd) and Total (3rd). He also has the ability to close the deal, winning three time already and earning eight more top-fives.
- At the Tournament of Champions: This will be the first time Rahm plays the Tournament of Champions.
- Last event: Rahm earned a one-shot victory at the DP World Tour Championship in November, holding off a red-hot Justin Rose in the process, collecting his third win in first full calendar year as a professional.
6. Dustin Johnson
- World Golf Ranking: 1
- Overview: It seems strange to have the No. 1-ranked player in the world this low, but there have been some chinks in DJ’s armor ever since his dramatic win over Jordan Spieth at The Northern Trust to kick off the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He was a non-factor in the BMW Championship or the TOUR Championship, and a meltdown at the WGC-HSBC Champions followed in October. He was mediocre at the Hero World Challenge in December, too, finishing T-14 in the 18-man field. All that said, Johnson is arguably the most physically imposing player in the world, and he can get things going in the blink of an eye. He cannot be overlooked
- At the Tournament of Champions: A consistent winner on the PGA Tour, Johnson has been a regular in this event for almost a decade. He won the weather-shortened version in 2013 and has three more top-10s, including a T-6 last year. He’s led the field in Driving Distance in five of the seven years he’s played at Kapalua Plantation.
- Last event: Johnson got off to a good start at the Hero World Challenge, carding a first-round 68, but struggled from that point. He failed to break 72 the remaining three rounds, finishing T-14.
7. Brooks Koepka
- World Golf Ranking: 8
- Overview: Koepka is another player that looks primed to take the step from excellent young player to a dominant force on the PGA Tour. His performance at last year’s U.S. Open showcased a complete game that should allow him to compete for the win every time he tees it up. He’s been on a hot streak since that win at Erin Hills, finishing outside of the top 20 just once in his last 10 starts, including a nine-shot win at the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament over the likes of Hideki Matsuyama and Xander Schauffele.
- At the Tournament of Champions: Koepka has made just one appearance at the Tournament of Champions, but it was a good one. He finished T-3 in 2016, climbing up the leaderboard after a third-round 63.
- Last event: Koepka entered the Hero World Challenge on a real hot streak, but he laid an absolute egg in Albany. He failed to break 70 in a single round, and his second-round 78 eventually left him in last place in the 18-man field.
8. Marc Leishman
- World Golf Ranking: 12
- Overview: The big Aussie is coming off easily the best season of his career, racking up personal-bests in wins, top-fives and top-25s. In his last six starts, Leishman has placed in the top four four times, including a win at the Dell Technologies Championship in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He’s one of the more overlooked stars on the PGA Tour.
- At the Tournament of Champions: Leishman finished T-23 in his only appearance in the Tournament of Champions back in 2013.
- Last event: Leishman finished T-4 at the Australian PGA Championship, but it could have been even better, as he held a share of the 36-hole lead. After rounds of 67 and 65, Leishman sat at 12-under, but his third-round 74 knocked him down the leaderboard. A final-round 68 got him back into the top five and tied his best career finish in the event.
9. Xander Schauffele
- World Golf Ranking: 25
- Overview: It’s been a wild ride for the relatively unknown Schauffele ever since the U.S. Open. After finishing T-5 at Erin Hills, the former San Diego State Aztec got his first win as a professional at the Greenbrier Classic, then put a cherry on top of his rookie season by winning the TOUR Championship. Since then, he’s added two more top-three finishes to kick start his 2017-18 season. He looks like the real deal.
- At the Tournament of Champions: This will be the first time Schauffele plays the Tournament of Champions.
- Last event: Schauffele finished T-2 at the Dunlop Phoenix Open – though it was a distant second – nine shots behind Brooks Koepka. He opened the event with three straight rounds in the sixties before a final-round 71.
10. Daniel Berger
- World Golf Ranking: 28
- Overview: The 24-year-old Berger continues to ascend the ranks on the PGA Tour. Since winning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year for 2014-15, he has added a pair of PGA Tour wins and a Presidents Cup team berth to his resume. Along with a win at the FedEx St Jude Classic last season, Berger earned six top-10s.
- At the Tournament of Champions: Berger looked poised to finish in the top-10 last year in his first Tournament of Champions appearance – ranked in the top eight after each of the first three rounds – but a final-round 72 pushed him down into a tie for 14th.
- Last event: Berger got off to a slow start in his first Hero World Challenge, finding himself near the bottom of the leaderboard. He fired a round of 70 on Saturday – tied for the best round of the day in tough, windy conditions – and another 70 on Sunday to move into a tie for 14th in the 18-man field
Some Longer Shots
These players are certainly capable of winning any golf tournament at any time, but it is also clear these players are a step down in in likelihood compared to the first batch of players discussed above. However, these players also have better Sentry Tournament of Champions betting odds.
- World Golf Ranking: 38
- Overview: Since returning to professional golf in February after a 28-month hiatus, Cantlay has made good on the promise he showed as an amateur. He’s yet to miss a cut (12 events), and he earned his first win at the Shriners Hospitals Children Open nine weeks ago. In 2016-17, he ranked in the top-14 on the PGA Tour in three Strokes Gained categories – Total (9th), Off-the-Tee (10th) and Tee-to-Green (14th), and he’s improved his standing in each of those categories so far this season, ranking in the top six.
- At the Tournament of Champions: This will be the first time Cantlay plays the Tournament of Champions.
- Last event: Cantlay overcame a four-shot deficit and two players in a sudden-death playoff at the Shriners Hospital for Children Open to get his first professional victory. Cantlay led the field in birdies for the week with 20, and his play on the par fives, proved to be the difference, playing them in nine-under, best in the field.
- World Golf Ranking: 27
- Overview: Harman showed that he can hold his own with the best in the game last season, besting World No. 1 Dustin Johnson to win the Wells Fargo Championship and holding the lead of the U.S. Open on the back nine on Sunday before Brooks Koepka left everyone in the dust. Harman has gotten off to a great in 2017-18 as well, finishing in the top eight of all three of his starts thus far. The 30-year-old former Georgia Bulldog is really coming into his own.
- At the Tournament of Champions: Harman mostly struggled in his only appearance in the Tournament of Champions back in 2015, but a final-round 65 helped him finish in the middle of the pack (T-17).
- Last event: Harman improved his score each round, finishing with a final-round 65 – the best round of the day – to place T-4 at The RSM Classic in November. It was his 10th top-10 of 2017.
- World Golf Ranking: 61
- Overview: Smith is playing the best golf of his career right now, finishing in the top five in four straight starts, including a victory at the Australian PGA Championship. The 24-year-old Smith became eligible for the Tournament of Champions by teaming up with Jonas Blixt to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last season, his first career victory as a professional.
- At the Tournament of Champions: This will be the first time Smith plays the Tournament of Champions.
- Last event: Smith won the biggest event in his native Australia – his first professional win as an individual – earning the top spot in the Australian PGA Championship in December. Smith entered the final round three shots behind Jordan Zunic, but he made up the difference with a 68, forcing a playoff. After each player parred the first hole of sudden death, Smith captured the Joe Kirkwood Cup with a par on the second hole.
- World Golf Ranking: 121
- Overview: Kizzire is the surprise early-season leader in the FedEx Cup Points Standings, collecting three top-10s, including a win in three starts this season. After opening with a blistering round of 62, Kizzire held off Rickie Fowler by one shot to win the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, his first win on the PGA Tour.
- At the Tournament of Champions: This will be the first time Kizzire plays the Tournament of Champions.
- Last event: Kizzire got off to another strong start at The RSM Classic, carding a first-round 66, good for 8th But he couldn’t keep up that pace, carding a higher score each day, eventually finishing in a tie for 45th.
Players to Avoid
These players may have very attractive betting odds for the Tournament of Champions, but I do not believe there is any value to be found in these picks for various reasons.
- World Golf Ranking: 189
- Overview: Stroud had an extraordinary couple of weeks in August, winning the Barracuda Championship and earning a top-10 at the PGA Championship. He rocketed up 264 spots in the World Golf Rankings and earned his way into the Tournament of Champions, but since that time, Stroud has come back to earth. He’s missed the cut in five of his last eight events and hasn’t finished better than T-47 in that span.
- At the Tournament of Champions: This will be the first time Stroud plays the Tournament of Champions.
- Last event: Stroud finished T-49 with a total of five-under-par at The RSM Classic in mid-November.
- World Golf Ranking: 70
- Overview: Horschel remains a big name thanks to his 2014 FedEx Cup championship, but the truth is, he has not been very good since. He got into the Tournament of Champions by winning the AT&T Byron Nelson, but in the 13 events since, he’s missed the cut five times and has just one top-25 finish.
- At the Tournament of Champions: Horschel has a T-6 finish in 2014 to his credit in two previous starts in the Tournament of Champions. He played the weekend in 12-under-par to jump up from the middle of the pack. He finished T-22 in 2015, his last start at Kapalua.
- Last event: Horschel had to withdraw from the Shriners Hospital for Children Open due to a shoulder injury. The injury does not appear to be anything serious, so he should be healthy for the Tournament of Champions.
Past winners in the field: Thomas, Spieth, D. Johnson
Major winners in the field: Jason Dufner, D. Johnson, Koepka, Spieth (3), J. Thomas