This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
SENTRY TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
Winner's Share: $1.476M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Course: Plantation Course at Kapalua
2021 champion: Harris English
The holidays are over. It's 2022. But for many golf fans, Christmas morning does not come on Dec. 25, but rather the first Thursday of the new year. That's the start of the annual lid-lifter, the Sentry Tournament of Champions. The PGA Tour returns after a long six-week winter break. Granted, this offseason was a little different and seemingly not quite as long thanks to the "return" of Tiger Woods in the PNC Championship. While many fans would prefer to watch Tiger eat a ham sandwich rather than just about any golf tournament, we're all excited that the next eight months will feature non-stop golf.
The TOC often is plagued by some of big-name omissions, guys not quite ready to get back to work – not only for this tournament but also the second half of the Hawaii Swing, next week's Sony Open. This time around is no different, but with just one. Of the 40 tournament winners qualified to play this week, only No. 9-ranked Rory McIlroy took a pass. Even Phil Mickelson is back for the first time in more than two decades, no doubt realizing that this could very well be his final invitation to Kapalua, which was granted after his out-of-nowhere win at the PGA Championship.
The 39 golfers constitute the second-largest field in tournament history, behind only last year's 45, when the Tour expanded the field in a one-time pandemic-induced modification. Eight of the top-10 in the world rankings are here, led by No. 1 Jon Rahm and the guy hot on his heels, Collin Morikawa. There's also No. 4 Patrick Cantlay, No. 5 Bryson DeChambeau, No. 6 Xander Schauffele, No. 7 Viktor Hovland, No. 8 Justin Thomas and No. 10 Sam Burns, plus the defending champion, No. 12 Harris English. Jordan Spieth, ranked 14th and the 2016 TOC winner, makes his return to Kapalua for the first time in four years. There's another big name absent other than McIlroy, and that's two-time TOC winner and No. 3-ranked Dustin Johnson – that's right, he didn't win at all during 2021, only the second time that's happened in his career. No. 11 Louis Oosthuizen and No. 13 Scottie Scheffler were two other non-winners and therefore are not here.
There are nine first-timers, which really shows the depth of the Tour: Burns, Joel Dahmen, Cam Davis, Talor Gooch, Lucas Herbert, Garrick Higgo, K.H. Lee, Seamus Power and Erik van Rooyen. Normally, first-timers don't excel and rarely contend at Kapalua, thanks largely to the enormous and undulating greens that take time to figure out.
After the 2019 tournament, there was a substantial renovation of the Plantation Course, maybe as big a makeover as any PGA Tour course has had in just one year. In a nutshell, they wanted to make it harder. Original architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were brought back and they were, in a word, thorough. They moved tee boxes, reworked bunkers, re-grassed all the holes, made changes to the greens. To be sure, it's still a bomber's paradise, but Coore and Crenshaw tried to add weight to the second shot, as golfers are now forced to play the angles more with their drives. For one year, it appeared to work. In 2020, the Plantation Course ranked 20th hardest out of 41 tracks and Turner's winning score in a three-way playoff with former champs Schauffele and Patrick Reed was only 278 – 14-under par. That was a whopping nine shots worse than in Schauffele's 2019 win. Alas, it appears that had more to do with the extreme wind over the final 54 holes. Because last year, English, along with Joaquin Niemann, soared back to 25-under before English won on the first playoff hole. English wasn't a TOC first-timer, but kind of close after a seven-year absence since his one previous visit.
The course is nearly 7,600 yards, but as we know, it plays far shorter as a par-73 and with massive elevation drops buoying distances. We'll surely see some 400-yard drives again this week. Who could forget Johnson's 430-yarder four years ago that finally settled inches from the cup on No. 12, oh-so-close to a mind-boggling par-4 hole-in-one? Still, we have seen shorter hitters excel with Spieth (2016), Zach Johnson (2014) and Steve Stricker (2012) winning, not to mention the medium-range English. In fact, the golfers absolutely will need to bring their short-game acumen to succeed this week, as scrambling and putting have historically been critical. The bermudagrass greens average a whopping 8,700 square feet and run about 10-10.5 on the Stimpmeter. There are 93 bunkers. And even though they're playing on an island, there is absolutely no water in play. The course concludes with one of the longest holes in all of golf, the 668-yard 18th that plays not only downhill but downwind, making it a must-birdie hole.
A couple of final points before moving on:
- Sometimes it's hard to remember that the season is simply continuing this week after eight tournaments were played during the fall swing. A lot of FedEx Cup points have already been doled out, almost 20 percent of the 2021-22 season has been played. We'll go all the way till the TOUR Championship the last week of August.
- However unsettling, it would be remiss to not touch on COVID-19. With the new Omicron variant enveloping the globe, it's only a matter of time before golf is affected. So far, so good. But you surely should do a final check before lineups lock. Last year at this time, after golf was returning from a ravaged 2020 season, Jim Herman had to bow out after testing positive. We'll see whether the PGA Tour can get through Week No. 1 of 2022 unscathed.
Weather-wise, duh, it's Hawaii, it will be beautiful. Upper 70s, sunny, little chance of rain, moderate wind.
Fun non-golf-related factoid from the Golf Course Superintendents sheet: "The leeward waters of Maui have the densest humpback whale population in the world during the winter months."
Key Stats to Winning at Kapalua
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
2021 - Harris English
2020 - Justin Thomas
2019 - Xander Schauffele
2018 - Dustin Johnson
2017 - Justin Thomas
2016 - Jordan Spieth
2015 - Patrick Reed
2014 - Zach Johnson
2013 - Dustin Johnson
2012 - Steve Stricker
Last year, nearly 20 percent of the field, nine golfers, reached at least 20-under. We saw English putt out of his mind. He ranked 1st in Strokes Gained: Putting and sank nearly 400 feet worth of putts, which was second in the field. But runner-up Joaquin Niemann, third-place finisher Thomas and others on the first page of the leaderboard went a different route, excelling tee to green. English ranked only 13th in SG: Tee-to-Green. Even though it's first tournament of the year, we'll say what we always say: While approach play rules on the PGA tour, putting can cure so many wrongs. Neither English nor Niemann was among the driving-distance leaders, and that was also the case the year before, when Thomas beat Schauffele and Reed in a playoff. Thomas and Schauffele excelled tee to green while Reed displayed his usual short-game mastery. Reed is the perfect example of being able to solve Kapalua by negotiating all the nuances on and around the expansive greens. Because of all the trickiness of the putting surfaces, placement on approach shots is important. That's why course knowledge is viewed with such importance here. No TOC rookie has won since Daniel Chopra in 2008. But with such a small, no-cut field, it's certainly possible for a first-timer to secure a high finish, as Jon Rahm did four years ago and Niemann did two years ago. The fairways are some 50-60 yards wide, roughly double what the golfers see most of the year, so for most guys it's still bombs away.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Justin Thomas - $10,600 (Winning odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook: +800)
In the past five years, Thomas has won this tournament twice and finished third twice. And now he's $100 cheaper than last year. Sure, he had largely a down 2021, but he started to rebound toward the end of the year – and that was even before adding Bones Mackay as his caddie.
Bryson DeChambeau - $10,200 (+1200)
What could set DeChambeau apart this week is not his length but is his short game, which, when on, is quite good. For all the talk of 400-yard drives at Kapalua, scrambling – and especially putting – can be difference-makers. DeChambeau has played only once since the TOUR Championship, and that was at the Hero World Challenge. Twice if you want to include The Match. He finished seventh here his past two visits, including last year.
Tier 2 Values
Xander Schauffele - $9,500 (+1200)
Schauffele keeps playing Kapalua even thought he hasn't won a Tour event in what is now three full years – since the 2019 TOC. But he got back last year thanks to expanded field and then again this year thanks to capturing a gold medal at the Olympics – which the Tour counts. Schauffele has played this tournament four times and has gone 5-2-1 the past three years. So he kinda has figured it out.
Jordan Spieth - $8,900 (+2200)
This pick comes with an "if." Spieth clearly wasn't ready to play the Hero World Challenge just days after becoming a first-time father. So the "if" is, has he found time to practice just one month into fatherhood? Spieth hasn't played here since 2018, but he won it in 2016, has two other top-threes and has not finished worse than ninth.
Tier 3 Values
Patrick Reed - $7,900 (+2800)
Reed did not have a great 2021 by any estimation, but did finish third at the Hero World Challenge. We're not putting much weight in that, except for that fact that Reed will try to beat you anytime, anywhere – even in a semi-exhibition where not everyone is truly trying. Not everyone is in tip-top form in the TOC right after the holidays. But Reed has won it once and finished second twice. Of course, his A-plus short game (when on) helps a lot.
Marc Leishman - $7,500 (+3000)
Leishman did not qualify for the TOUR Championship and did not win in 2021. But he surely found his form as the year went on and had a pair of top-5s in the fall swing. This will be his fifth visit to Kapalua, with a best of T4 in 2019.
Phil Mickelson - $6,500 (+13000)
Of the 17 guys priced $7000 or less, there's not a lot we like. We certainly don't expect anyone in this group to win this week. Mickelson is here for the first time in more than two decades and, in all likelihood, for the last time. Because of that, we think he will be prepped and ready to go, taking this tournament very seriously. Mickelson's short game is not what it once was but still capable at times, so we're hoping for a top-15 out of him.
Branden Grace - $6,300 (+13000)
Grace is ranked 70th in the world but could be better if he could only hit the ball farther. He got here by winning in Puerto Rico, which doesn't say much. But he's managed to put together some other high finishes in tougher fields – top-5s at the Memorial and Wyndham and a top-10 at the ZOZO. Grace is pretty good around the greens, better than average on the greens. He got a taste of Kapalua in his lone visit back in 2017.