After a brief holiday recess, the PGA Tour returns to action. This week, winners from last season and qualifiers for the Tour Championship tee it up on the Plantation Course at Kapalua for the Sentry Tournament of Champions
Here’s everything to know about the event before placing a single wager on it.
Sentry Tournament of Champions Field
Per usual, all PGA Tour winners from last year’s Sentry Tournament of Champions through the 2020 Mayakoba Classic have qualified for the event. Notable winners who will play this weekend include Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, and Collin Morikawa.
Due to the pandemic that disrupted last year’s schedule, joining the winners are anyone who qualified for last year’s Tour Championship. This is a welcome invitation for Xander Schauffele, who excels in strong limited-field tournaments. The winner of the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions and runner up last year gets another crack at a win. He’s joined by Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler, and Hideki Matsuyama among those who qualified based on their appearance in the 2020 Tour Championship.
For the full field, click here.
The Golf Course
The Plantation Course at Kapalua was designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore in 1991. It has played host to the Tournament of Champions since 1999. Pros and amateurs alike rave about the course. From its breathtaking views overlooking Honokahua Bay and Molokai Island to its wide fairways, the course is both fun and challenging to play because of the elevation changes and the possibility the prevailing ENE winds wreck havoc on the golf course.
The round kicks off on the downhill 520 yard Par 4 running towards the bay. For a right-handed golfer, a draw off the tee should allow the winds to assist the golf ball towards the slope about 312 yards away and funnel the ball down the hill. Those who successfully navigate the ball down the slope will set up the perfect angle to a left-to-right sloped green with a mid-iron. Because of the helping wind and the downhill routing, almost everyone gets their tee shot to the bottom of the hill for a great look at the pin.
After taking on the Par 3 2nd, the golfers start the climb up the hill from the 3rd to the 5th hole. The total elevation change over this stretch is about 250 feet. If the wind isn’t up, these holes shouldn’t pose too big of a problem. But if it is, then tricky crosswinds will make the golfers uncomfortable, especially on the uphill approach shots. Once at the top of the hill, holes 6 through 8 take the golfer all the way back down the hill towards the bay and then wraps up the Front Nine uphill to the clubhouse.
The first half of the Back Nine loops around in a counterclockwise fashion at the bottom of the golf course, and features the dueling banjos of the 12th and 13th holes:
The golfers will have the wind at their backs at the downhill 420 yard Par 4 12th. They’ll lick their chops as they attack a 70-yard wide fairway with the driver. This hole routinely yields the longest drives of the year on the PGA Tour, as even the shorter hitters have little trouble sending their tee shot 375+ yards down the slope. As long as they avoid the centerline bunker short of the green, the 12th is a very good opportunity to card a birdie.
The 12th was the scene for one of the best drives ever on the PGA Tour:
Their feelings as world-beaters are short-lived as they step onto the tee at the uphill 407 yard 13th. The aiding wind from the 12th is now punching them right in the mouth, and if the winds are howling even the longest hitters will have trouble clearing the fairway bunker 230 yards out. Anyone who scrapes out a par at this hole will count their blessings.
After another three-hole stretch up the hill, the round concludes from the highest point of the golf course at the Par 4 549 yard 17th down to the 663 yard Par 5 18th. Despite their behemoth yardages, the holes play much shorter thanks to a helping wind and a 300-foot drop in elevation from the 17th tee to the 18th green.
The 17th is definitely reachable in two as a long Par 4. The 18th is reachable as long as players hit the speed slot down the hill. Otherwise, the ball can get caught up on a slide slope far away from the green. This makes reaching in two almost impossible, even with the wind and downhill assist.
Before the 2020 tournament, the golf course underwent a renovation. The golf course was replanted wall to wall with a different strain of bermudagrass that’s more durable. In addition, bunkers were reconstructed and greens were renovated to provide more tiering and pin locations. This made the greens play very firm, and scores were noticeably tougher than in years past.
Sentry Tournament of Champions Betting Strategies
As mentioned earlier, the golf course played tougher in prior years because of the firm conditions. Before last year, the winning score typically eclipsed -20. Because the greens weren’t dartboards in 2020, a score of -14 was good enough to get into a playoff. The golf course should still play firmer and tougher than in years past. However, the greens should be slightly more receptive as the sands of time soften them up. That should allow stronger iron players to fire at pins better than they could last year.
The Plantation Golf Course is one that suits a variety of skillsets. Bombers enjoy the golf course because of the wide corridors and big driving distances they can get. Short knockers also enjoy the extra roll down the fairways as well as the closely mowed areas around the green, giving them an edge scrambling.
It’s part of the reason why the relative skill set plot chart favors many types of play:
The great golf courses on the PGA Tour tend to allow golfers from all walks of life to contend. As such, two of the closest comparisons to Kapalua in terms of leaderboard composition are Augusta National and Riviera Country Club.
An examination of past winners bears this out. Dustin Johnson won this event in 2013 and 2018. Short knocking Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson also call themselves winners. Scrambling and putting wizard Patrick Reed is a past champion and finished as the runner up last year. And all-around quality players like Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele, who do a little bit of everything well, have great success at Kapalua.
To further drive home this point, the list of golfers in the field this week who have gained more than a shot per round on the field (minimum 12 rounds) is quite diverse:
- Xander Schauffele: +2.59
- Hideki Matsuyama: +2.51
- Jon Rahm: +2.26
- Dustin Johnson: +2.13
- Webb Simpson: +2.09
- Justin Thomas: +2.00
- Martin Laird: +1.83
- Patrick Reed: +1.72
- Adam Scott: +1.68
- Stewart Cink: +1.16
- Kevin Kisner: +1.01
All in all, this field is very wide open. Anyone from big-hitting Bryson to scrappy Kevin Kisner has a shot to win or contend on Sunday.
The problem, however, is that everyone is coming off a long layoff after the holidays. Most of the strokes gained data bettors will rely upon is old and outdated. Long term data like last 50 round performance is still useful, but it’s not quite as reliable this week. As such, bettors need to approach this tournament with a little more feel this week. Even imagining in your head players that Kapalua might fit best is a good strategy this week.
Bettors would do better hunting for opportunities at finding undervalued golfers in DraftKings and on the betting board. That strategy will be more successful than just looking at raw data to guide decisions.