The PGA Tour’s wraparound season returns from the winter break on Thursday with the traditional first event of the New Year, the Sentry Tournament of Champions. This invitational event is open only to players who won on the PGA Tour in the preceding calendar year. That is always a high calibre list and many of the biggest names will be in attendance at Kapalua Resort, Hawaii.
Dustin Johnson is one of those players who usually takes up his invitation to play at the Tournament of Champions. He does so because he likes getting his year going as early as possible and because he has a very good record at Kapalua. Johnson is a two-time winner and looks well priced to secure a third at 10/1 with Ladbrokes.
The first thing to say about the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort is that the official yardage of 7,518 needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt. The par 73 course is so hilly that it is often called a caddie’s nightmare and the severe changes in elevation mean that holes often play much shorter or longer than the yardage on the scorecard suggests. The Plantation Course is also exposed to the elements so the strength and direction of the wind can also force players to hit different clubs than they usually would for a given yardage.
Previous winners have shown that length off the tee is a very useful attribute to have at Kapalua. However, players such as Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson have proven that plodders can also find a route to score well at Kapalua. Those shorter hitters can really gain strokes on the field with their approach shots. The Plantation Course features larger than average greens so merely hitting them is not enough. Players who rank well for the proximity of their approach shots to the hole will put themselves in a position to climb the leaderboard.
|Plantation Course, Kapalua Resort||Kapalua, Hawaii||7,518 Yards||$6,700,000|
Getting to 23 strokes under par would usually be enough to win a PGA Tour event fairly comfortably. Not so at the Tournament of Champions where -23 was just enough for Xander Schauffele to win by one stroke last year. Scoring at the Plantation Course can be very easy for players of this calibre when the wind lies down as Jordan Spieth showed in 2016 when he won with -30 (and that’s not even the tournament record!). Given the quality of the field it’s little surprise that the winners list includes so many big names but it is still notable how often the cream has risen to the top in recent renewals of the Tournament of Champions.
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2019||Xander Schauffele||-23||1 Stroke|
|2018||Dustin Johnson||-24||8 Strokes|
|2017||Justin Thomas||-22||3 Strokes|
|2016||Jordan Spieth||-30||8 Strokes|
Analysis: High Class Americans the Way to Go
You have to go back to 2010 and Geoff Ogilvy for the last time that the Tournament of Champions was not won by an American. The PGA Tour is increasingly international and plenty of top class players from outside of the USA have competed at Kapalua over the last nine years but American golfers have a lengthy shut-out which may well continue with this year’s renewal.
Of course, it’s not as simple as picking out a couple of Americans to back at Kapalua. 26 of the 34 man field are American and recent renewals have shown that it makes sense to side with those who have won at the highest level and who have a game that is suited to the Plantation Course.
Johnson to Set Up a Strong Year
Dustin Johnson has wasted no time getting back to action in 2020. Despite playing plenty of golf in the latter stages of last year including the Presidents Cup in Australia, he is returning to the Tournament of Champions. Indeed, he posted videos of himself playing the Plantation Course the week before the tournament began, suggesting that he is raring to go.
Johnson’s 2019 would be a standout year in the careers of most PGA Tour players but it was a little subdued for a player of his calibre. His early wins in the Saudi International and the WGC Mexico Championship suggested that he would spend the bulk of 2019 contending for major honours but he just fell off the pace a little, earning only a handful of top 10 finishes in the remainder of the year.
At 35, Johnson should have many more years competing right at the top of the world. He will need to put in more hard work and make the most of that incredible physique and technical ability that he possesses if he is to regain the number one ranking in the world though. That work has already begun and he can start winning again in Kapalua at fairly generous odds of 10/1 with Ladbrokes.
Hard Working Reed Can Challenge Again
Patrick Reed does not do himself any favours when it comes to his public perception. He gave the International Team fans in Australia a great reason to jeer him and get on the backs of the Americans in the Presidents Cup when already far from a fan favourite. Whatever you think of Reed, you cannot question his work ethic. Few elite players compete in as many tournaments as Reed and it is no surprise to see him get back to work at the first possible opportunity.
As a world class golfer, Reed has the quality to win pretty much every tournament he tees it up in. He’s already proven that he has what it takes to hack the relentless pace of scoring required in the Tournament of Champions with his win in 2015 and is another former champion whose chances look well treated by the bookies at 14/1 with bet365.
Final Verdict: Dustin Johnson to Win
Dustin Johnson knows all about the challenge of the Plantation Course. He has played the course in good weather, bad weather and everything in between. Johnson can get his quest to regain top spot in the world rankings off to the perfect start by utilising his experience at Kapalua to win this year’s Sentry Tournament of Champions at 10/1 with Ladbrokes.
About the Tournament of Champions
Winning an event on the PGA Tour can be life changing. The amount of money that the world’s best golfers are playing for at the moment is only going upwards but there’s more than just money to play for.
Each PGA Tour win comes with all important FedEx Cup points, exemption for the PGA Tour for two years and a place in other huge tournaments such as the major championships and the Players Championship. Every player who wins on the PGA Tour is also awarded a place in the field for the following year’s Tournament of Champions which takes place in the first week of January every year at Kapalua Resort in Hawaii.
A Tough Week for the Caddies
The life of a professional golfer’s caddie isn’t always an easy one. They have to do a huge amount of work but their earnings potential is tied entirely to the performance of the player for whom they work. Fortunately for every caddie working at the Tournament of Champions, there is no cut so they are assured a pay cheque, but they certainly earn it.
Kapalua is an incredibly hilly part of the world. The effects of the dramatic changes in elevation on the Plantation Course are serious in terms of the way the tournament plays. The course is, in effect, much shorter than its official yardage of 7,596 for a par of 73. That only makes life more difficult for the caddies who have a hell of a job choosing the right clubs for their players to hit, all the while having to endure one of the most challenging walks in golf.
The Champion of Champions
By its very nature, the Tournament of Champions guarantees a strong field every year. It takes a great deal to win any PGA Tour event and also to win the Tournament of Champions so it is no surprise to see such a high calibre of players in the list of multiple winners.
Tiger Woods, Gary Player and Phil Mickelson each won the Tournament of Champions twice. Five men have won it three times but it is Jack Nicklaus who stands alone with an incredible five tournament wins against this elite field (see the table below for the full list of multiple winners up to and including the 2020 tournament.)
Players with the Most Wins at the Tournament of Champions
|Number of Wins||Players|
|Five Wins||Jack Nicklaus|
|Three Wins||Gene Littler, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Stuart Appleby|
|Two Wins||Frank Beard, Don January, Gary Player, Lanny Wadkins, Tom Kite, Steve Elkington, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Geoff Ogilvy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas|
Nicklaus is a fitting man to be the so-called champion of champions. After all, he holds the record for having earned the highest number of major championship wins. The Tournament of Champions was the perfect setting for Nicklaus to show the competitive spirit for which he was famed and it allowed him to become the man many believe to be the best golfer of all time.
The Golden Bear showed why he was ahead of the competition with comfortable wins in 1963 (when he scored victory by five shots), 1964 (by two shots) and 1971 (by a whopping eight shots). It was a very different story for his other two wins though. In 1973 he had to hold off an almighty challenge from Lee Trevino to win by one shot and in 1977 it went all the way down to the third hole of a sudden death playoff against Bruce Lietzke.