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We often make fun of the short PGA TOUR offseason but the true break is over the holidays.
With that hiatus out of the way, it's full speed ahead for the 2022 campaign. Things will pick back up this week on Maui, for the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
As the name indicates, this is an exclusive event for champions. Historically it was only for PGA TOUR winners but last year they added on any golfer that made it to East Lake from the previous season. They have kept that rule in place for 2022 and it does a good job of padding the field size. At press time, we've got 39 golfers lined up to play this week.
Everyone who starts the week will also be guaranteed four rounds of action at Kapalua. There is no cutline to sweat this week.
Let's jump right in and talk about the layout.
This week's host venue is The Plantation Course at Kapalua. It's played this role since the 1999 edition, so there is plenty of history to lean on.
The Coore and Crenshaw design stretches out to a whopping 7,596 yards and plays as a par 73 on the scorecard.
Having just three par 3s and plenty of elevation changes can explain a lot of that yardage. It's a course where big hitters can mash away but it's also not a course where you need to be one of the longest hitters on TOUR just to contend.
Off the tee, golfers will see very wide fairways with lots of room to roll. Some of their drives will be heavily aided by the elevation changes. We see plenty of 400+ yard drives at Kapalua, thanks to those slopes. Even if you miss the wide fairways, you aren't heavily penalized. Golfers will land around 70% of greens in regulation at Kapalua when missing the fairway.
Eight of the par 4s sit under 425 yards so in that sense it does become a bit of a wedge-heavy course.
When you look at the history of winners here, five of the last six winning scores have been 22-under or better. This is a nice resort setup to help these pros ease back into the grind after putting their clubs away over the holidays.
The birdie-or-better rate over the last eight years at Kapalua is 26% which behind only the PGA WEST courses when it comes to ease of scoring over that same time frame. Golfers that like to grind out the tough courses may find it tough to keep up in a shootout like this.
For grasses, they'll see Celebration Bermuda from tee to green and TifEagle Bermuda on the greens. The surfaces are huge (8,722 square feet on average) and freshly laid ahead of the 2020 edition so still relatively young by turf standards.
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Quotes on the Course
Brooks Koepka: "You’re not going to find a slopier golf course than this. There’s so many awkward little lies, ball above your feet, below your feet and then downhill and then you’re hitting up the hill. Things like that you just don’t find anywhere besides maybe here and Augusta or at least that I’ve played."
Patrick Reed: "I think the thing is you have all these awkward lies, heavy winds, huge elevation changes, so you have to be creative. You can't just step up there and make a driving range swing because you never really have a flat lie besides off the tee boxes."
Geoff Ogilvy: "I do well with a wedge and it’s a real wedge-based course. The greens putt like Melbourne greens with big sweeping putts, 30-foot putts that break 12 feet."
Rickie Fowler: "I feel like this golf course also allows you to use your imagination. Obviously with the amount of up and down and side slopes, and in the wind you've got to have some imagination on shot shape and hit your windows... so judging that properly is always fun for me."
Using historical data from this week's venue, we can look for other courses across the PGA TOUR schedule with crossover success (or failure). Here are the courses that pop up frequently:
Muirfield Village GC
The main theme is generous landing areas off the tee but also just courses that get trickier as you get closer to the pin.
Thursday: Chance of light rain with a high of 80 degrees. Winds at 6 to 10 MPH.
Friday: Partly Cloudy with a small chance of rain. High of 81 degrees. Winds at 6 to 10 MPH.
The threat of rain looks to be present all week at Kapalua but nothing looks severe or heavy.
When you factor in the 12 inches of rain the course got in December with touches of rain this week, we should probably expect to see relatively soft conditions which are not uncommon here.
Golfers to Watch
He's a two-time winner at Kapalua and generally has no troubles shaking off the rust after a layoff. Thomas has six wins over the course of his career where he reached 20-under or better so it's easy to see why he likes the resort layout here on Maui.
The World No. 1 ended his year with missed cuts in two of his last three worldwide starts but is still the top talent on TOUR when looking at any time period of six months or longer. He's going to be a tournament favorite in most events he enters in 2022 and this week is no exception as he starts the week as a +750 outright option, just ahead of Thomas (+800).
He looked rough all summer but really tuned up his game ahead of The Match and Hero World Challenge. It will be interesting to see which version we see early in 2022. As for this week, Koepka is known for excelling in majors which is usually played in tough scoring environments. That is the opposite of what he'll see this week at Kapalua. If he manages to come out firing on a course like this then lookout for big things to come this year.
Schauffele has family ties in Hawaii so he circles this event every year. After a rough debut (22nd place in 2018) he has returned to post a WIN, runner-up finish, and 5th-place finish in three tries. He didn't post a top 10 in the fall but has a good chance to build some momentum this week.
If you noticed the quotes section, Geoff Ogilvy compared the greens to heavily undulating greens that are common back in Australia. Who is the top Aussie in the field? That would be Smith, in my opinion. The youngster is already making his third appearance at the course and hasn't made any waves quite yet (17th in 2018 debut and 24th last year).
Ranking the Field
1. Jon Rahm
2. Justin Thomas
3. Collin Morikawa
4. Patrick Cantlay
5. Xander Schauffele
6. Viktor Hovland
7. Bryson DeChambeau
8. Jordan Spieth
9. Cameron Smith
10. Daniel Berger
11. Sam Burns
12. Sungjae Im
13. Hideki Matsuyama
14. Harris English
15. Abraham Ancer
16. Tony Finau
17. Talor Gooch
18. Jason Kokrak
19. Patrick Reed
20. Brooks Koepka