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Sentry Tournament of Champions: Finau to Begin 2022 with A Bang

Tony Finau

Tony Finau

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

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New year, new us? The time for dieting, consistently hitting the gym, and participating in dry January is upon us. Also, upon us and likely throwing our new year resolutions into a tizzy before they even get off the ground is the first event of 2022, the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

A staple on the PGA Tour over the past couple of decades, those winners from last season – and gold medalist Xander Schauffele (+1300) – are set to take on the Plantation Course at Kapalua. While 40 men were scheduled to play this week, only 39 will as Rory McIlroy will once again be forgoing the Sentry Tournament of Champions and will instead begin his year in Abu Dhabi in a few weeks’ time.

This is a bit different than last season when those who qualified for the TOUR Championship were also invited to play due to the COVID-19 super season, thus expanding the field by 16 players. This led way for Harris English (+3300) to claim victory over Joaquin Niemann in a playoff, both of whom had not won in 2020.

In fact, non-winners occupied four of the top six spots on the leaderboard with Justin Thomas (+800) and Sungjae Im (+2200) being the lone 2020 victors to capture top-5 results. Thomas will be a name floated around often this week as the Players Champion has a sparkling playing record at the Plantation Course at Kapalua.

Finishing in solo third-place last year amid some on-course turmoil, Thomas added to his Sentry Tournament of Champions résumé which includes victories in 2017 and 2020. Behind only Jon Rahm (+750) on the odds board at PointsBet Sportsbook, the 28-year-old appears primed for a 2022 resurgence as he underachieved in the 2021 season.

Rahm, Thomas, Collin Morikawa (+1000) and co. will be a difficult crop of favorites to skirt past, but outside of Bryson DeChambeau (+1200) and Patrick Cantlay (+1400) the prices were too low for my liking. I am not entirely sure what DeChambeau has been up to in addition to his content creation side hustle and the standard offseason steroid testing which we all can relate to. Cantlay will be an interesting one to watch this week as well as the reigning Player of the Year did not participate in the fall swing and was last seen at Jessica Korda’s wedding presumably tearing up the dance floor to “Ice Ice Baby.”

They are hardly the only players with some question marks surrounding their incoming form. Jordan Spieth (+2000) finished dead last in the Hero World Challenge in the beginning of December shortly after welcoming his first child into the world. Perhaps some perspective will trickle into 2022 as he typically fares well in Kapalua having had a record-setting victory here in 2016.

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All those mentioned above will be passed on as the duo of Daniel Berger (+2200) and Cameron Smith (+2200) immediately caught my eye. While I would love to invest in both off the bat, I will instead take the wait and see approach. Smith has historically been a fast starter, so he will be given the nod in our pre-tournament selections. Hopefully there will be a time during the tournament to buy low on Berger, but if not, I am still comfortable going solely with the Australian in this range.

Having teed it up three times during the swing season, Smith did just about everything but win. Finishing T-9 at THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT, T-15 at the HPE Houston Open, and T-4 at the RSM Classic, Smith was exquisite with his irons. One of the best short-game players in the world, the wide-open nature of the Plantation Course should be to his liking as he is known to get tangled up off-the-tee from time to time.

Drawing similarities to Augusta National and Riviera Country Club, the vast elevation changes and uneven lies of the Plantation Course are something Smith has proven to be comfortable with. Boasting a stellar record at Augusta National – finishing runner-up in a softened November Masters – as well as finishing solo-fourth in last year’s Genesis Invitational, the 28-year-old should improve on his Kapalua record this week.

A winner in Hawaii not all too long ago, Smith only has finishes of T-17 and T-24 in his Sentry Tournament of Champions career. Having had close calls at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and The Northern Trust, Smith was unable to collect a solo victory on the PGA Tour in 2021, something I am comfortable in saying will not be the case this season.

Whenever Smith is on my radar, Tony Finau (+2500) is as well. Truthfully not in love with his price at PointsBet, BetMGM has him in a much more favorable spot at +3300. While at first glance this may be a head scratching pair to draw parallels to, their results warrant such.

As Smith was the one who gifted Finau his Northern Trust victory last year having blown his tee shot into the water on the first playoff hole. Couple this with Finau losing in a playoff at Riviera and connecting on three straight top-10 results at Augusta National (in the month of April) since 2018 and the correlation becomes rather apparent.

The swing season was somewhat of a mess for the 32-year-old, collecting a pair of top-50 finishes and a missed cut in his three starts. However, since he has shown some signs of life. Tying Rahm’s course record at Silverleaf with a 59 and subsequently finishing in a tie for seventh at the Hero World Challenge, one has to assume the putter was cooperative in those outings. If so, the tee-to-green game is among the best in the world and should warrant him a chance to factor.

With wagers on Smith, who did not win last season, and Finau, who was the former poster child for not winning, I would be remiss to not add the only other player in the field to not win in 2021, Marc Leishman (+3300). Invited via his team victory alongside Smith at the Zurich Classic, the Virgina Beach resident is slowly, but surely returning to his former self.

Admittingly having not played much golf during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian’s form suffered early and often. Inching his way back to relevance ever since, a strong swing season in the fall of 2021 was a welcomed sight for someone like myself who invests in him on a regular basis.

On the shoulders of blistering final round performances, the 38-year-old finished in a tie for third at the Fortinet Championship and a tie for fourth at the Shriners Children’s Open. He since backed up such efforts with a top-40 result at THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT and a top-20 finish at the HPE Houston Open.

Having gained strokes on approach, around-the-green, and putting in each of those tournaments, it is clear Leishman is beginning to turn the corner. The only bugaboo appears to be in his inaccuracy off-the-tee, but as mentioned, if there is a course where he can get away with that, it is in fact the Plantation Course at Kapalua.

Opening at +3500, Leishman has since dropped a touch to +3300, but his initial price is still available elsewhere for any interested parties.

Outright Selections:

Cameron Smith +2200 (1.5 units)

Tony Finau +3300 (1 unit)

Marc Leishman +3500 (0.94 units)

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