It feels like it's been ages but the PGA TOUR is back in action as they head to Hawaii for the Tournament of Champions.
This is an invite-only event with the invitation being extended to anyone that won an official event over the last 12 months on the PGA TOUR.
Everyone that accepted the invitation will get four guaranteed rounds of stress-free golf at a Hawaiian resort. Not a bad way to kick off the new year.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua will play host for the 21st year in a row. It's a Coore and Crenshaw design that is unusual in that it plays to a par of 73. There are four par 5s and just three par 3s.
While the par 73 setup is unusual due to the scorecard, it's not what it is known for. Kapalua is known for the constant elevation changes. There are tricky lies wherever you go on this course (uphill, downhill, sidehill). That characteristics often draws the comparison of Augusta National but more about that in the correlated course section.
Off the tee it is not a course where you need distance but even big hitters will feel comfortable here as the fairways are some of the most generous on TOUR and they allow everyone in the field to use the big stick, early and often. You know it is driver-friendly when a big hitter like Koepka says "it's nice to just get up there and let it rip, knowing you got a hundred yards of fairway." Obviously that is not the case on every tee shot here but overall the fairways are extremely wide and generous.
Regardless of your length off the tee, this is a course that will yield A LOT of wedge opportunities. Even the shortest of hitters will get a chance from inside 140 yards on at least 1/3 of their holes played. Some years/rounds it is way higher than that so it's no surprise to see names on Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker on the list of past champs at Kapalua.
Handling the windy, coastal conditions is always a factor here but dealing with the slow, grainy bermuda greens is also a requirement. They have a lot of slope in them. Last year they were dealing with a bit of disease on some of the green surfaces which limited some of their pin position options but otherwise played as normal. They typically play as some of the slower greens on TOUR, ranging from 8.75 feet to 10 feet on the stimp. For comparison's sake, the TOUR average is close to 11.75 feet.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how they will play...
Carl Pettersson: "I think the Australians do well here because they have their season in their off-season. They go back to Australia and play a few events, so they’re sort of — they’re not quite as tournament rusty as the rest of us are."
Jonathan Byrd: "It has plenty of space off the tee, you can make plenty of birdies if you play well and you’re watching whales breech off the coast. It’s an incredible place. I don’t know why I’ve done well there but it suits what I do well. I do well with a wedge and it’s a real wedge-based course. The greens putt like Melbourne greens with big sweeping putts, 30-foot putts that break 12 feet."
Brooks Koepka: "You’re not going to find a slopier golf course than this. There’s so many awkward little lies, ball above your feet, below your feet and then downhill and then you’re hitting up the hill. Things like that you just don’t find anywhere besides maybe here and Augusta or at least that I’ve played."
Patrick Reed: "Any time I can come out, set up with wide fairways, large greens and be able to just kind of shape the golf ball and do whatever I want with it and be creative, it kind of fits into my wheelhouse."
Brooks Koepka: "The best putters are going to win. They’re so grainy and it kind of like, it reminds me a little bit of Augusta on the greens. You can have six feet and it might break a foot, foot and a half. And it’s all about speed on these greens. That’s kind of what it reminds me of a little bit. Just a little bit slower."
Overview: Carl P brings up a good point about tournament rust. Guys that have played in the Hero World Challenge, QBE Shootout, or any recent international events are coming in with a big of an edge, versus the guys that haven't pegged it competitively since The RSM Classic or even before that. The talk of the town is the undulation on the course (on the fairways and on the greens).
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Augusta National GC
East Lake GC
Pebble Beach Pro-Am
The correlation talk of the players is generally about Augusta National here and that shows up in the data, as well. Others that show up are generally courses where you can pound driver or courses that generate lots of wedge and short-iron chances.
Thursday: Mostly sunny with a high near 79 degrees. Winds ENE at 17 MPH with gusts at 20-to-25 MPH.
Friday: Partly sunny with a high near 79 degrees. Winds ENE at 20 MPH with gusts at 20-to-25 MPH.
Weekend: Temps remain in the upper 70s with winds around 15 MPH.
It looks like a WINDY one this week.
Golfers to Watch
He's a two-time champ here, including last year where he ran away from the field with an 8-shot victory. The highlight was that drive on the par-4 that he nearly aced. The worst score he's posted here at Kapalua is a 13-under 279 so there is a strong chance he's in the mix once again this weekend.
It wasn't that long ago that Kapalua was considered a paradise for Aussies to show up and contend. Geoff Ogilvy talked about the greens putting like Melbourne greens with big sweeping putts. Day is always one of the best putters but if he has that added comfort than it could be a great week for him. This will be his fifth appearance at the event with a T3 in 2015 being the highlight.
Made his debut here last year and said Hawaii feels like home due to his father's connections to the state. His father was an assistant pro in Princeville, Hawaii, and his boss at the time is now the GM here at Kapalua. He lost 5.8 strokes on approach here last year but the X-Man is someone that doesn't back down if he gets a sniff of contention. Should improve on his second time around Kapalua.
He was already a monster off the tee but he bulked up over the offseason, adding 25 pounds of (presumably) muscle. All he does is win at every stage and he generally improves very quickly at every level. Won during his rookie campaign last year so I'm excited to see what he does for an encore.
You are not supposed to contend as a first-timer here at Kapalua but Rahm has been doing it his whole career. He bucks all the course experience trends. He was solo second here last year and arrives off a win at the Hero World Challenge. Should be one of the favorites as he looks to rebound from a "down year".
This course is known to produce some of the longest drives of the year, due to the elevation of some of the tee boxes. Champ will certainly add his name to some of those lists by weeks end. Will he actually contend? I suspect it will come down to his putter. He was en fuego with the flat stick during some of the fall events and will likely need another stellar putting week to contend on a course like this where everyone in the field has a boatload of wedges.
He's always had the tee-to-green tools but his improved confidence with the putter is doing wonders for his game since the summer. Woodland should also be relatively sharp having played the Hero World Challenge and QBE Shootout.
If you talk about a wedge-heavy course then you probably don't want to overlook someone like Snedeker. He can go lights out with a wedge in hand and he's a prolific winner. He may fly in a little under the radar but I like his chances as a boom-or-bust option here at Kapalua.
Ranking the Field
1. Dustin Johnson
2. Jason Day
3. Jon Rahm
4. Patrick Reed
5. Justin Thomas
6. Webb Simpson
7. Rory Mcilroy
8. Brooks Koepka
9. Gary Woodland
10. Marc Leishman
11. Brandt Snedeker
12. Matt Kuchar
13. Bubba Watson
14. Xander Schauffele
15. Bryson DeChambeau
16. Charles Howell III
17. Francesco Molinari
18. Paul Casey
19. Keegan Bradley
20. Ian Poulter
21. Cameron Champ
22. Billy Horschel
23. Aaron Wise
24. Scott Piercy
25. Kevin Na
26. Kevin Tway
27. Andrew Putnam
28. Troy Merritt
29. Brice Garnett
30. Satoshi Kodaira
31. Michael Kim
32. Patton Kizzire
33. Andrew Landry
34. Ted Potter, Jr.
Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our DFS Dish and Wednesday morning for the Expert Picks.