Hyundai Tournament of Champions Previews, Picks and Analysis
Post by Sports Writer, Derek Clements
AFTER the shortest of breaks, the PGA Tour kicks off again with the Tournament of Champions, played at the fabulous Plantation Course at Kapalua. Scarcely can there ever have been a more inappropriately named tournament - it is reserved for tournament winners and even when you take into account the multiple winners last year, it still means that 35 players should be teeing off on Thursday.
And, of course, as is usual in this event, the best of them have chosen to sit it out. There is a way around this - the PGA Tour could announce stiff penalties for all those players who decide to give the event a miss, and I am talking about ranking points, which mean something, rather than a meaningless fine. But they won't do that for fear of upsetting the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. These are two of the top three players in the world rankings and neither will play at Kapalua. Thankfully, Jason Day, the world No2, has taken up his invitation, and for that the organisers will be truly thankful.
It is a sorry state of affairs. After all, there is no halfway cut, the first prize is more than $1m and because of the reduced field it is a fairly easy tournament to win. Bizarrely, Justin Thomas Emiliano Grillo, Smylie Kaufman, Peter Malnati, Russell Knox, Graeme McDowell and Kevin Kisner all qualified for the event as winners of the first seven tournaments of the 2015-16 PGA Tour season. Presumably the logic behind this is that if you are a first-time winner (as six of them were) then you are more likely to bowl up for an all-expenses-paid junket in one of the most beautiful parts of the world than if you are a seasoned pro who has seen and done it all before. Those of us who live a less privileged life have problems getting our heads around this.
Jason Day is our pick to get 2016 off to a winning start
Nevertheless, there is the prospect of a great season opener, with Day going head to head with Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson on a course upon which it is quite possible to shoot the lights out.
Fowler may have missed out on the majors in 2015, but he won the Players Championship and the Scottish Open and has become a player for the big occasion. Watson, the world No 4, is always good value for money, whether he is shooting a 63 or an 83. And to be fair to him, the 83s have been few and far between in recent seasons. He now always seems to find a way to get the ball round and has clearly woken up to his responsibilities to the spectators who pay their money to watch him. It goes without saying that if he drives the ball well here, he will be very difficult to beat.
That also applies to Johnson, who promised so much but whose abiding memory of 2015 will be of three-putting from nowhere on the final green at Chambers Bay in the US Open when one putt would have won him the title and two would have secured a place in a playoff with Spieth. He also suffered a meltdown at St Andrews. Thankfully, the Dustinator, who is a previous winner of this tournament, finds it easy to brush off these disappointments and starts 2016 with a clean slate and huge expectations. Some pundits rather unkindly suggest that the reason for this is that he is not blessed with too much grey matter. Will be deliver this time?
Padraig Harrington is also taking part. Astonishingly, it will be his first appearance, gained on account of his victory from nowhere at the Honda Classic. Many of us hoped it would mark the start of a return to form for the popular Irishman. Sadly, that has not turned out to be the case. It's odd how a change of fortunes can alter one's outlook - Harrington has been eligible to play in this event several times previously but has never taken up the option. He clearly sees it as an opportunity to pick up a big cheque.
Justin Thomas remains hungry enough, thank goodness. He is an immensely talented young player who went close many times before getting the monkey off his back towards the end of 2015. It will be fascinating to see how he progresses now. You may remember that a certain Jordan Spieth had an awful lot of close-run things after his first victory before finally securing his second. I expect Thomas to repeat the trick very soon.
Defending champion Patrick Reed is also in the field. You may remember that he sparked controversy not so long ago by saying that he regarded himself as a top-five golfer. Well he has now ascended to 10th in the world rankings and he will surely climb still higher this year and have the last laugh. He loves this place and is likely to be there or thereabouts again.
All eyes will be on Day, however, as he seeks to continue his stellar rise. He played some consistently brilliant golf throughout July, August and September. People are in awe of the distance that Johnson strikes the ball, but Day is also a big hitter and is capable of bringing Kapalua to its knees. He is my pick
Hyundai Tournament of Champions Betting Picks
To win - Jason Day. Will be fascinating to watch him in 2016
Each way - Justin Thomas. Has become a money-making machine
Each way - Rickie Fowler. Now a proven winner
Hyundai Tournament of Champions Fantasy Picks
Jason Day. Mr Consistency
Justin Thomas. Desperate to win again as soon as possible
Rickie Fowler. This could be a big year for him
Russell Knox. Now bristling with confidence
Graeme McDowell. Back to his best
Dustin Johnson. Get ready for some fireworks
Bubba Watson. Crash! Bang! Wallop!
Patrick Reed. Loves this place
Brooks Koepka. Needs to find a more consistent touch but at his best is as good as anybody out there
Brandt Snedeker. On the way back
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Tags: PGA Tour