Out of the Rough: Sentry Tournament of Champions (2023)
It’s been a long few weeks without golf but the new year is finally here!
With a full slate of golf ahead of us, 39 of the world’s best take to the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Lahaina, Hawaii for the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
The Sentry Tournament of Champions is celebrating its 25th year with a field that features 17 of the world’s top 20 players.
Invites include 2022 tournament winners and the top 30 from last year’s final FedEx Cup points list.
Current World #1 Rory McIlroy will not be in attendance as World #2 Scottie Scheffler is the highest ranked golfer in this week’s field.
Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort is the tour’s lone Par 73 and plays at a distance of 7,596 yards.
Although the distance appears daunting on paper, the course plays annually as the easiest track on Tour.
The only defense the course offers is the coastal winds and if the winds are halted, expect some staggering low scores.
The course features just three par threes with 11 par four and four par fives.
Golfers will see extremely wide fairways with rough that doesn’t offer much defense for those who miss the fairways. When missing the fairway a year ago, golfers still managed 70-percent greens in regulation. Greens in regulation from those who hit the fairway was 84-percent.
In other words, gripping-and-ripping off the tee will be a common practice.
As previously mentioned, this tournament offers very low scores as Cameron Smith won at -34 last year.
As the course plays at just under 7,600 yards, which appears daunting on paper, there is still a large amount of elevation changes. That offers a lot of rolling opportunities for additional distance.
Greens too are large, making approach shots much more important than greens in regulation at large.
We’ll see a large amount of lengthy putts. Limiting the number of three putts will go a long way this week.
As for weather this week, highs are expected to be in the low 80’s. There is little to no precipitation in the forecast and winds are set to range between 11-to-14 MPH.
Important statistics to consider this week include Strokes Gained: Approach (SG: APP,) Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (SG: OTT,) Par 5 Scoring, Proximity to the Hole from 100-125 Yards, Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermuda (SG: PUTT,) Three-Putt Avoidance and Birdie or Better Percentage.
Typically I would suggest two golfers per price range but with only two golfers in this respective price range, I will only offer one this week. Jon Rahm ($10,000) has played in this tournament the past five years, placing top ten in each year. Last year he took second to champion Cameron Young and took second in 2018 to Dustin Johnson. Rahm has played in two tournaments thus far this season as he took T4th at the CJ Cup in South Carolina and T8th at the Hero World Challenge. Across those two tournaments he’s currently second on tour in birdie or better percentage, third in SG: OTT, 30th in average par five scoring, 43rd in SG: APP, 74th in SG: PUTT on Bermuda and 94th proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards. This could be the year that Rahm breaks through and claims that $15 million purse.
As I suggested just one golfer for the $10,000 price range, I have three golfers in the $9,000 price range. First off, we have Patrick Cantlay ($9,700) who happens to be my favorite per this week’s module. Cantlay has played in the Sentry Tournament of Champions the past three years where he placed fourth in 2022 and 2020. Outside of the Presidents Cup, Cantlay has played in just one tournament on the season placing T2nd at the Shriners Children’s Open. He’s currently tops on tour in birdie or better percentage, second in both SG: OTT and average par five scoring, tenth in proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards, 33rd in three-putt avoidance and 88th in SG: APP. Also consider Tony Finau ($9,300.) There is arguably no hotter golfer on tour than Finau. He’s played in three tournaments in this early season and despite missing the cut in his first tournament of the season, he bounced back with a victory at the Cadence Bank Houston Open. He also placed seventh at the Hero World Challenge. He’s currently fifth on tour in SG: APP, SG: OTT and birdie or better percentage. Additionally, he’s 12th in average par five scoring and 18th in three-putt avoidance. At +1500, I think Finau is a pretty good bet this week. Also consider Xander Schauffele ($9,500.) In the two tournaments Schauffele has played this season he has placed fourth at the Hero World Challenge and T9th at the Zozo Championship. Schauffele has competed at this tournament for the last five years, winning it all in 2019. He also placed fifth in 2021 and third in 2020. He has a proven track record at this course and at +1100, I like those odds. He’s also 33rd on tour in both SG: PUTT on Bermuda and three-putt avoidance. Last season he finished sixth in proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards and seventh in SG: APP.
My second favorite this week is Will Zalatoris ($8,900) who can be found in this price range. He is making his debut at this event which gives him a bit of a knock and is also making his first appearance since withdrawing from the BMW Championship due to a back issue. That was clear back in August. The 26 year-old should be fully recorded and a ball striker of his caliber should have a good result this week. He finished the year tops on tour in SG: APP last year as well as ninth in birdie or better percentage, 11th in SG: OTT, 28th in proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards, 32nd in average par five scoring and 77th in three-putt avoidance. I’m expecting big things from him this week. Also consider Brian Harman ($8,000) who is positioned at the bottom of this price range, allowing for great lineup flexibility. The last time Harman played at the Sentry Tournament of Champions he placed third in 2018 but hasn’t played since. Although a small sample size, he’s proven he can provide some good rounds in Hawaii. He’s already played five tournaments this season, placing T23rd as the worst. In his last three events he’s gone T8th at the QBE Shootout, T2nd at the RSM Classic and second at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba. He’s currently tenth on tour in birdie or better percentage, 22nd in average par five scoring, 27th in SG: APP, 47th in SG: OTT, 49th in SG: PUTT on Bermuda and 83rd in three-putt avoidance. Harman is in some great form as of late.
It’s been a few years since Keegan Bradley ($7,500) competed at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Dating back to 2013, Bradley took T4th at this event. On the season, we’ve seen Bradley three times; placing T21st at the CJ Cup in South Carolina, first at the Zozo Championship and T5th at the Sanderson Farms Championship. Bradley is currently first on tour in three-putt avoidance, 15th in birdie-or-better percentage, 38th in SG: APP, 39th in SG: OTT, 46th in average par five scoring and 50th in proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards. Also consider Billy Horschel ($7,900.) Although inconsistent, Horschel has played in this tournament several times before with a T6th place finish in 2014. We’ve seen Horschel four times this year where he has three top 13 results and two top tens. His best finish of the season was back at the CJ Cup in South Carolina where he placed T7th. Right now on tour he’s tops in SG: APP, 48th in birdie or better percentage, 49th in proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards, 50th in SG: PUTT on Bermuda and 52nd in average par five scoring. In this price range, I’m liking both of these options.
Tom Hoge ($6,500) continues to appear in these articles and that's for good reason. He will be making his Sentry Tournament of Champions debut. Hoge has already played in seven tournaments thus far this season. He had a run to start the season with four straight events not placing worse than T13th. In that stretch he went T12th at the Fortinet Championship, T4th at the Shriners Children’s Open, T9th at the Zozo Championship and T13th at the CJ Cup in South Carolina. He also just recently went T1st at the QBE Shootout. On the season he’s currently fourth in SG: APP, 11th in proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards, 28th in birdie or better percentage, 66th in SG: OTT and 100th in average par five scoring. Also consider Mackenzie Hughes ($6,900.) Hughes has played in the tournament twice before but never had a quality result. However, He’s having a great start to this ‘22-’23 season. He claimed his second career tour victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship with three other top 25s in five events. He’s currently 17th on tour in proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards, 20th in SG: PUTT on Bermuda, 57th in birdie or better percentage, 76th in SG: APP and 93rd in three-putt avoidance.