The closest thing to an off-season in golf has come and gone, and the best in the world are back in action this week in Hawaii.
Justin Thomas returns as the defending champ at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, having emerged from a wild playoff a year ago over Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele. But they aren't the only stars kicking off their year in Maui, as world No. 1 Dustin Johnson headlines a field that includes eight of the top nine players in the world.
Johnson hasn't played since slipping into a green jacket nearly two months ago, but he has won twice on the Plantation Course and is riding an impressive streak of form both overall and at this event. He headlines the list of players to consider when crafting lineups for this week's event, while there are some other notable names in the 42-man field that may be worth keeping on the bench:
Dustin Johnson ($11,000 on DraftKings): He's the most expensive player available, and deservedly so. Let's not overthink things with this one: DJ has finished inside the top 10 eight straight times at Kapalua, and he closed out 2020 with seven straight finishes of T-6 or better. His length off the tee is an asset across the undulating hills in Maui, but his underrated wedge play and short game really shine. Among the top names in a strong field, the premium of a few hundred bucks is well worth having the undisputed best player in the world on your side for the first tournament of 2021, especially since he has shown a particular penchant for coming back from mini-layoffs with nary a sign of rust.
Hideki Matsuyama ($9,000): I like both Reed and Matsuyama as outright picks this week at +1600, so this is a situation where you can save the extra cash you spent on rostering Johnson by taking Matsuyama over Reed ($9,600). Both players have great potential this week, but Matsuyama's track record is especially compelling: three finishes of T-4 or better, with just one round over 70 on the par-73 layout. He ended the year on a quiet but solid run, with 11 of 12 finishes inside the top 30 and six top-25s out of his final eight starts. Matsuyama often struggles on and around the greens but appears to find his footing with ease on the large putting surfaces on the Plantation Course.
Proceed with Caution
Jon Rahm ($10,400): How much are new clubs worth? Rahm was the splashiest equipment change to ring in the new year, swapping the TaylorMade sticks he used to reach world No. 1 for a new agreement with Callaway. Rahm has some experience playing Callaway equipment from his college days at Arizona State, and he has three top-10s at Kapalua including a 2018 runner-up. But bag overhauls don't come without a cost, often in the short-term, as players attempt to adjust to new distances and spin rates on the fly. Justin Rose got to world No. 1 by winning in his second start with new clubs at Torrey Pines in 2019, but there are far more stories of top-tier players taking at least a few weeks to adjust to new gear. Don't be in a rush to get Rahm back in your lineup.
Collin Morikawa ($8,800): The reigning PGA champ has been relatively quiet since lifting the Wanamaker Trophy. He hasn't cracked the top 5 in any of his nine starts since, finishing T-7 against a limited field at East Lake and capping his year with a T-10 finish in Dubai. Morikawa finished T-7 at this event last year in his Kapalua debut, but in so doing he didn't have a single round lower than 3-under 70. He'll eventually get back to the form that netted him two victories last summer including a breakthrough major, but while his world ranking keeps him elevated in a salary range near the likes of Matsuyama, Tony Finau ($8,900) and Daniel Berger ($8,600), you may have some better comparable options to Morikawa when doling out your salary bucks.
Mackenzie Hughes ($6,800): The Canadian is one of a handful of players who qualified for this event without winning a tournament last year, punching his ticket to Hawaii by making the Tour Championship field. Hughes finished his year with four top-10 finishes in his last eight starts, highlighted by a third-place showing in Punta Cana, and he continues to be one of the best on Tour on and around the greens (sixth in SG: Around the Green and eighth in SG: Putting last season). Hughes largely struggled in his only prior appearance in Maui, finishing T-25 in 2017, but he did figure out the Plantation Course to the tune of a final-round 68.
Martin Laird ($6,400): The Scot was one of the last players to gain entry into this week's event, winning in surprise fashion in Las Vegas in October, but he has a penchant for going low on the Plantation Course. The veteran finished T-4 in his tournament debut back in 2010, followed it with a runner-up showing two years later and has compiled a 69.08 scoring average across 12 lifetime rounds. Laird isn't the most consistent option on the board, and he followed his Shriners victory with a pair of missed cuts. But he's a player who tends to play well at a handful of courses with great regularity, and Kapalua definitely makes the cut. You could do far worse when evaluating options for the final spot on your roster.