The SBS Tournament of Champions kicks off 2017 on the familiar confines of The Plantation Course at Kapalua with Jordan Spieth as the defending champion. Here is what you need to know to get off to a solid start in 2017.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua plays to a par of 73 and stretches out to a deceiving 7,452 yards. While the yardage and par value suggests this to be a bombers paradise, that’s really not the case. The yardage is deceiving because there are several long holes that play dramatically downhill. With only three par 3s, the yardage is further exaggerated.
The last six winners of this event offer a pretty telling comparison. They are Spieth (2016), Patrick Reed (2015), Zach Johnson (2014), Dustin Johnson (2013), Steve Stricker (2012) and Jonathan Byrd (2011). Absent DJ, who won a 54-hole tournament in extreme wind and wins just about every 54-hole tournament on TOUR, the remaining five are remarkably similar in terms of strengths.
With four par 5s, it’s important to score well on the par 5s. That’s a given. The real key to the course is wedging it close and converting birdie putts on the par 4s. That’s what guys like Spieth, Reed, ZJ, Stricker and even Byrd have the ability to do when on their game. The other often overlooked fact about Kapalua is that it is extremely forgiving off the tee. It’s almost impossible to miss most of the fairways from a width perspective, although you can drive it through some of the fairways. Guys like Spieth, Reed and Byrd all have the penchant for hitting the occasional foul ball. At Kapalua, it’s not punished.
While we are going 15 deep in this preview from a power ranking standpoint, there are really six legit studs before a fall to some weaker options. In fact, I would be shocked if one of the top six in this power ranking doesn’t win.
With that as the backdrop, here we go!
1. Jordan Spieth – Not unlike his first two Masters, Spieth has a win and a runner-up in two trips to The Plantation Course. He won the Emirates Australian Open during the silly season, so he’s checking all the boxes. The biggest question for Spieth will be if he is the choice in One-and-Done games.
2. Hideki Matsuyama – If you watched golf the last three or four months, you probably came to the conclusion that he was the hottest player on the planet. Throw in a T3 here in 2015 in his only attempt and you have a contender.
3. Patrick Reed – Ran out of gas at the end of 2016, but this should be where he gets back on track. Basically the opposite of Spieth, he’s gone Win-2 in his last two trips to Kapalua. If he doesn’t score a top five, it will be a bit of a yellow flag.
4. Jason Day – Three top 10s at Kapalua aren’t a surprise, but he’s not exactly been in the running for a win on The Plantation Course just yet. Still, he’s among the class of the field and is worthy of a hard look in any limited field.
5. Dustin Johnson – A nod to his class as much as his previous win here in 2013. A T3 in the Hero World Challenge should ease any potential fears leading up to this event.
6. Brandt Snedeker – Fits the mold of guys who could enjoy the forgiveness of the Kapalua fairways. Sneds has two T3s in his last three attempts at this week’s venue and his ability to fill up the cup with the flat stick when hot is well known.
7. Bubba Watson – Top 10s in the TOUR Championship and the Hero World Challenge come with the caveat that the largest field of the two was only 30 players, but then again that’s pretty much the case this week. He’s got three top 10s, including a T4, in his last three trips to Kapalua.
8. Daniel Berger – A rookie in this event, but a calculated flier. He should score well on the par 5s and will have a chance to drive several par 4s throughout the week. If his putter behaves, he could find this track to his liking.
9. Jimmy Walker – Interesting case, as he has some nice history here including a runner-up. Walker hasn’t done much since winning the PGA Championship, putting gamers on alert that this could be a hangover 2017.
10. Branden Grace – Top 20 player in the world is making his first start in this event. Top 30s in his last four starts, including a T3, so form is fine. He’s impossible to ignore in a limited field.
11. Justin Thomas – A T21 in his maiden voyage last year prevents a top-10 ranking, but he’s an intriguing option. He should have no problem with the par 5s and will enjoy plenty of green lights. Hopefully his four laps in 2016 were a learning experience that produce a better result this time around.
12. Pat Perez – Winner very late in 2016 to earn his spot. He tied for 10th here way back in 2010 and should be playing loose and free with house money.
13. Ryan Moore – Scored top 10s in two of his four previous trips, but without a top five. He’s a steady option this far down the board, but clearly hasn’t emerged as a favorite.
14. Fabian Gomez – Will fly under the radar here this week, but his T6 last year in this event should offer confidence to those looking for a solid option outside of the norm.
15. Jason Dufner – The putter will be the question, but he has the iron game to contend. A T18 in 2013 and a 5th in 2014 illustrate the likely spectrum.
Check back later this week to see how the Rotoworld staffers size up the various games. Best of luck to all, and Happy New Year!