After taking a brief holiday hiatus, the PGA Tour is back in action this week in Hawaii.
A total of 42 players will tee it up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which is somewhat larger than past fields at Kapalua given that the Tour opted to include all qualifiers from the Tour Championship in addition to every tournament winner from 2020. World No. 1 and Masters champ Dustin Johnson heads into the first tournament of the new year as a betting favorite according to PointsBet Sportsbook, followed by defending champ Justin Thomas who emerged last year in a dramatic, three-man playoff.
While unexpected recent winners like Stewart Cink, Robert Streb and Brian Gay present longshot potential, this is a long, undulating course that typically favors longer hitters off the tee. What's more, there has been a recent pattern showing that if you have success once here, you're likely to replicate it in the near future: Johnson and Thomas have both won here twice, while both playoff runner-ups last year (Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed) were former champs.
The current 50-cent gap isn't enough for me to nudge Thomas ahead of Johnson, as DJ's torrid close to 2020 far outweighs Thomas' recent run on the Plantation Course. But they're both priced a little short for my liking in the first event of the year, so I'll look elsewhere in an attempt to unearth some value on the island of Maui:
To Win (odds via PointsBet Sportsbook)
Patrick Reed (+1600): Reed presents a particularly attractive combination of factors. First, he's had great success at this event: a win in 2015, runner-up the following year as defending champ and last year's overtime loss. Reed's masterful short game can be put on full display across the undulating slopes of the Plantation Course, while the relatively wide setup allows him to get away with more foul balls off the tee than a typical Tour layout. He also closed the year in quiet but noteworthy fashion, notching six straight top-15 finishes including a pair of majors and a T-3 result in Dubai in the European Tour finale. While some players may view this week as something of a well-earned vacation to ease into the year, Reed will be all business from the first shot and has what it takes to top a field of this caliber.
Hideki Matsuyama (+1600): Matsuyama's winless drought now stretches nearly three and a half years, as his last victory came at a course that no longer hosts a Tour event (Firestone in 2017). But in recent months he has begun to show signs of returning to the form that got him to world No. 2 that summer, closing out the year with six top-25 finishes in his final eight starts. That included a runner-up showing in Houston and a T-3 finish amid difficult conditions at the BMW. Like Reed, he boasts a successful run at this event: three prior appearances have led to finishes of second, T-3 and T-4. He has shot over 70 just once in 12 prior rounds while compiling a 68.58 scoring average, a stellar number considering the par-73 layout. Matsuyama hasn't been getting as much attention in recent months as others who have been lifting trophies with regularity, but he could turn that around in a big way this week.
Top-10 Finishes (odds via PointsBet)
Jason Kokrak (+400): Kokrak isn't the most consistent player on Tour, but he's long off the tee which should aid him this week and he can get hot in a moment's notice. His final 10 starts of the year were a mix of missed cuts and top-20 finishes, where he either slammed the trunk Friday or contended well into Sunday. That included his breakthrough win at the CJ Cup, also against a strong but limited field. No longer fielding questions about when he'll win on Tour, Kokrak could surprise this week with some strong play and won't need to do too much to crack the top 10 in a 42-man field.
Martin Laird (+900): Laird came out of nowhere to win in Las Vegas in November, his first victory on Tour since 2013. And while he's priced up as one of the biggest longshots on the board this week at +15000, there's reason to think he might over-perform on a course he knows well. The Scot has broken par in all 12 of his prior competitive rounds on the Plantation Course, finishing second at this event in 2012 and T-4 during his 2010 debut. He hasn't played since a 20th-place showing in 2014, and he followed that Vegas breakthrough with a pair of missed cuts to close the year. But this is still an appetizing price on a veteran who is playing with house money this week and has previously demonstrated the skills to contend on this particular track.
Head-to-Head Matchups (odds via PointsBet)
This line pits the two playoff runners-up for a year ago, but I was surprised to see Schauffele installed as such a heavy favorite (-189) in a matchup that I view as much closer to 50-50. Yes, Schauffele's track record at Kapalua is inspiring: a win in 2019 that remains his most recent on Tour to go along with last year's second-place showing and a T-22 finish in 2018. But Reed's record here is equally stout as outlined above, and their year-end results were nearly identical across the last three or four months. Both have been consistent, and both could absolutely challenge this week. But I'll take +140 on a coin flip every time.
Hovland left with the trophy the last time the Tour staged an official event, coming from behind to win last month in Mayakoba. But just like with the Reed-Schauffele matchup, this is driven by price as I'm not sold that Hovland (-150) deserves to be quite such a heavy favorite in his debut trip to Kapalua. English has only been to this event once before, finishing T-11 in 2014, and is one of a handful of players who qualified despite not winning on Tour last year. But he had a resurgent season and has become one of the Tour's most consistent all-around players, finishing seventh last season in total Strokes Gained and ranking 21st this season. Hovland's ball-striking was good enough in Mexico to lift up his short game which tends to be his weak link, but he might not be able to dial up a similar recipe for success this week on a far different track.
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