Preview of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions from the Plantation Course, Kapalua, Hawaii with selections of Brooks Koepka and Scott Piercy.
For the third year in a row, despite being the first PGA event of the year, The Hyundai Tournament of Champions does not start the season, as the seaso began back in October at the Frys Open, won by Emiliano Grillo. Grillo was the first of five players in a row to shed their maiden title tag this season, until Graeme McDowell hit back for the old guard with his victory in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. The tide is certainly shifting towards many of the new stars, but this is one venue where winning on debut is extremely difficult and it may pay to side with experience.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii, has staged the Tournament of Champions now for over a decade. Perched along the seaside slopes of the West Maui mountains, the Plantation Course is known for both its breathtaking views and susceptibility to wind.
The beautiful par 73 course measures 7,452 yards in length and with wide firm fairways, it should be set up for the power hitters, with accuracy from the tee not of fundamental importance. However, it does seem that the Kona Wind will be prevalent throughout the week and although the Plantation course provides some of the largest greens on the PGA Tour, it is not just as simple as blasting from the tee in order to prevail with course management, sound putting essential.
Low scoring is generally a feature of this event and even in storm like conditions in 2013, Dustin Johnson managed to shoot -16 over 54 holes. Last year -21 by both Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker secured a playoff berth for them both, with Reed winning and Walker making up for this at the Sony Open the following week.
The course features 3 relatively short par 5s (leaving aside the 4th which is the 18th and is a 663 yard monster) and 6 Par 4s measuring less than 400 yards, coupled with only three Par 3s on the course and the ability to shoot birdies and eagles will be of paramount importance. Despite the forecast blustery conditions, we would expect a score in the region of -20 will be needed to provide a solid chance of victory.
Course & Requirements:
The Power Rankings on the PGA Tour are always an excellent guide to each event and as Rob Bolton outlines, the greens here average 7,120 sq ft and the Greens In Regulation Stat usually comes in around the 80% mark, which is among the highest on the Tour all year. However in each of the last 4 years, it is the player that ranked first (or joint first) in Strokes Gained Tee to Green that won the event. In addition scrambling has been important, with both Reed and 2014 victor Zach Johnson ranking 2nd in this category, while scoring heavily on the Par 5 holes will also be crucial.
Previous form at this course is certainly worth looking at, while form at the Sony Open is also worth examining. Despite being very different in layout, the wind factor is similar at both venues and many players, including Zach Johnson have stated that they venues have a similar feel.
Obviously Jason Day and Jordan Spieth will take plenty of beating this week and both have produced very good displays when they have played here, with Spieth finishing runner up on debut in 2014 and Day finishing 3rd and 9th in two appearances. Dustin Johnson is also respected with his win here and other placings, but his form was unconvincing at the end of the year and we want to see something from him before getting involved. Instead we are going for two players at bigger prices.
This is Koepka's debut, but despite that, we will have an interest at 28/1 which looks a very decent price each way, with 4 places being paid in a field of 32. Koepka signed off last year with a 7th in the Bahamas at Hero World Challenge and he has a solid bank of form at coastal venues, or where wind is a factor. He has been 2nd in the Alfred Dunhill Links, 5th in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, 3rd in the Dubai Desert Classic and 3rd in the Fedex St Jude Classic at TPC Southwind.
Koepka is a very powerful driver and he dominates the Par 5 holes, ranking 7th in Par 5 Scporing Average last year. He was also 34th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and `17th in Strokes Gained Putting. He should relish attacking these holes and despite the inexperience, he looks a little overpriced here. The concern is the change of clubs and we will keep stakes fairly low with that in mind.
1,25 points each way Brooks Koepka at 28/1 with Sportingbet
Scott Piercy was resurgent last year and he has been 13th and 12th at this venue on his two previous visits. He has also got some solid form in the Sony Open, where he was runner up to Jimmy Walker last year. He is now back in the Top 50 in the World thanks to his win in the Barbasol Championship and he was also 3rd in the BMW Championshiup and 7th in the CIMB Classic. Piercy has a habit of starting the year well and this 3 time Tour winner is a powerful driver, who can be an excellent putter when he is on his game. He also ranked 40th in Par 5 Scoring last year and can score low on these holes to put him in with a solid chance of the win. With Skybet paying 5 places each way he makes plenty of appeal at 60/1 and he might be worth a small interest in the first round leader market as well at 50/1, with 4 places being paid.
1 point each way Scott Piercy at 60/1 with Skybet (5 places each way)