This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
SENTRY TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
Winner's Share: $1.34M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Course: Plantation Course at Kapalua
2020 champion: Justin Thomas
PGA play resumes this week with the Tournament of Champions (Plus Other Guys).
For the first and perhaps only time, non-winners were invited to Kapalua, giving the annual lid-lifter its largest and strongest field ever, one that includes eight of the top 10 golfers in the OWGR. PGA Tour officials feared the truncated 2020 calendar would leave an already-small field a bit too small, so they granted exemptions to anyone who reached the Tour Championship. It turns out they were right, as only 28 different golfers won tournaments in 2020. Seventeen more participants were added via East Lake for a total of 45. No. 4-ranked Rory McIlroy and No. 10 Tyrrell Hatton opted not to play, and Jim Herman tested positive for COVID-19 last week, leaving the field at 42 – eight more participants than last year.
Two-time winner Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, defending champion Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau headline the field. There are seven TOC first-timers, plus some guys not normally in attendance so early in the year, such as Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia, who will tee it up for the first time since 2014 and 2006, respectively. It's unclear why they decided to show up. Perhaps they are concerned that the schedule will be interrupted again, or maybe it's because the Tour is already more than a quarter of the way through its 2020-21 schedule. Sometimes it's hard to remember that the season is simply continuing at Kapalua, as 12 tournaments were already played during the longest fall season ever. A lot of points have already been doled out. 34 tournaments – not including alternate-field events and the Olympics in late July – remain.
First-timers don't usually excel and rarely contend at Kapalua, thanks largely to the enormous and undulating greens. On the other hand, with the course undergoing numerous changes the past couple years, the playing field could be leveled a bit. While Kapalua was annually one of the easiest courses on the calendar, it was middle-of-the-pack last year. Why? Well there is definitely one reason and maybe two. After the 2019 tournament there was a substantial renovation, maybe as big a makeover as any PGA Tour course has seen in just one year. In a nutshell, course representatives wanted to make it more challenging. Original architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were brought back, and no stone was left unturned. Tee boxes were moved, bunkers were reworked, holes were re-grassed and the greens were changed. It's still a bomber's paradise, but Coore and Crenshaw tried to add weight to the second shot, as golfers are now forced to play the angles more with their drives. So, last year, the Plantation Course ranked 20th hardest out of 41 tracks, and Thomas' winning score in a three-way playoff with former champs Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed was only 278 – 14-under par. That was a whopping nine shots below Schauffele's winning score in 2019. It was particularly windy over the final three rounds, though, so it's hard to know how much was the redesign and how much was the weather.
The reconfigured course checks in at nearly 7,600 yards, but as we know, it plays far shorter as a par-73 and with massive elevation changes buoying distances. We'll surely see some 400-yard drives again. Who could forget Johnson's 430-yarder on No. 12 three years ago that nearly resulted in mind-boggling hole-in-one on a par-4? Still, we have seen shorter hitters excel, with Jordan Spieth (2016), Zach Johnson (2014) and Steve Stricker (2012) taking home titles. In fact, golfers will absolutely need to bring their short-game acumen to succeed this week, as scrambling and putting have historically been critical. The bermudagrass greens average a whopping 8,700 square feet and run about 10-10.5 on the Stimpmeter. There are 93 bunkers. And even though they're playing on an island, there is absolutely no water in play.
Weather-wise, well, it's Hawaii, so it will be beautiful. Specifically, highs will be in the low 80s with no rain. Most importantly, the wind is not expected to be nearly as fierce as it was last year, blowing in the low double digits (10-15 mph) all four days.
A un non-golf-related factoid from the Golf Course Superintendents: "The leeward waters of Maui have the densest humpback whale population in the world during the winter months."
Key Stats to Winning at Kapalua
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
2020 - Justin Thomas
2019 - Xander Schauffele
2018 - Dustin Johnson
2017 - Justin Thomas
2016 - Jordan Spieth
2015 - Patrick Reed
2014 - Zach Johnson
2013 - Dustin Johnson
2012 - Steve Stricker
2011 - Jonathan Byrd
What we saw last year was evidence that there's more than one way to win at Kapalua. Sure, the longer hitters have a distinct advantage. But let's look at the three guys in the playoff. Thomas and Schauffele excelled tee-to-green and Reed displayed his usual short-game mastery. Specifically, Schauffele ranked first in all of SG: Off-the-Tee, SG: Around-the-Green and greens in regulation and was fourth in SG: Approach. Thomas was second in SG: Approach and proximity to the hole and third in GIR. Reed ranked first in putting and second in SG: Around-the-Green, making an astounding 400-plus feet of putts during the week. Reed is the perfect example of being able to solve Kapalua by negotiating all the nuances around and on the expansive greens. Because of all the challenges on the putting surfaces, placement on approach shots is critical. That's why course knowledge is viewed with such importance here. No TOC rookie has won since Daniel Chopra claimed victory in 2008. Still, with such a small field and no cut, it's certainly possible a first-timer could secure a high finish, as Jon Rahm did three years ago and Joaquin Niemann did last year. The fairways are some 50-60 yards wide, roughly double what the golfers see most of the year, so it's still bombs away ,and the past four winners were long hitters.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Justin Thomas - $10,700 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 8-1)
Bypassing the best player in the world in Dustin Johnson at a track where he's won twice might not seem like a rational move, even when turning to another two-time TOC champion in Thomas. But in a 42-man field we're limiting ourselves to two golfers in each tier. While DJ was on a level by himself in the fall, Thomas was pretty darn good in his own right, finishing no worse than 12th in any of his five fall starts and finishing solo fourth at the Masters. It's not like we don't like Johnson; we just like two guys a bit more. If that sounds like we're actually picking three guys in this tier...um...no comment.
Xander Schauffele - $10,000 (10-1)
Schauffele won this tournament two years ago and hasn't won anywhere since. That's pretty remarkable. However, he came as close as possible last year, losing in a playoff to Thomas. Schauffele was slowed after contracting COVID-19 in mid-December, but he indicated he's back at full strength.
Tier 2 Values
Patrick Reed - $9,600 (16-1)
Reed won here in 2015 and has finished second twice since, including last year. It's all because of his exceptional short game. Reed is vastly improved in other areas, though, and he finished last season ranked 42nd in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee – by far the best mark of his career.
Cameron Smith - $8,400 (40-1)
Smith qualified for his second TOC by winning last year's Sony Open just one week after the last edition of this event. He didn't have another top-10 all season but still reached the Tour Championship. He did end 2020 with a flourish, recording two top-10s – including a co-runner-up at the Masters – in the fall.
Tier 3 Values
Adam Scott - $8,100 (50-1)
It was a bit of a surprise to see the Riviera champion take his place at Kapalua for the first time since 2014, when he tied for sixth. Now 40, Scott still finds himself among the longest hitters. To go along with a better-than-perceived putting game, he also ranked in the top-10 in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green the past two seasons.
Billy Horschel - $7,600 (80-1)
Horschel was a bit of an enigma last season. He ranked top-40 in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and top-30 in SG: Putting yet truly contended only once, when he finished runner-up at the Wyndham Championship. But he made it to the Tour Championship, and here he is. Horschel has had two quality finishes in four visits to the Plantation course, tying for 11th in 2018 and for sixth in 2014.
Ryan Palmer - $7,000 (100-1)
At age 44, Palmer had a quietly-terrific season that carried him all the way to East Lake. He had 11 top-25s in 19 starts, including runner-up at the Memorial and a T8 at The Northern Trust. At No. 30 in the OWGR, he's not far off his personal best of 23rd. Palmer is far from the best putter, but he finished out 2020 on a pretty good run. He tied for 17th at Kapalua last year in his first visit since 2011.
Brian Gay - $6,100 (300-1)
There are only 42 guys in the field. Everyone makes the cut. Let's take a flyer on a guy at a bargain-basement price who could be one of the best putters this week. Gay is at a severe disadvantage off the tee, but he's played this track several times and knows the greens. He last appeared here in 2014 and tied for 13th.