With a new year and a loaded field for the first tournament of 2021, things are looking up for golf right now. Storylines abound with eight of the top 10 in the world present, and there have been some gems over the past six years with Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed all taking home titles here. Big-boy winners for the genesis of golf’s calendar year.
Let’s take a closer look at this week’s contest, with odds and prop bets provided via William Hill Sportsbook.
What: Tournament of Champions
When: Jan. 7-10
Where: Plantation Course at Kapalua — Maui, Hawaii
Three things to know
1. Big field: We discussed this in some detail on Monday, but this event normally has around 35 participants as it includes everyone who won a golf tournament in the previous calendar year (including the winner of this event). This year, because of the pandemic, the field includes winners as well as golfers who made it to the Tour Championship even though they didn’t win an event last season — guys like Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler and Hideki Matsuyama. This makes for a bit of a deeper field than normal and a fuller broadcast (which is a win for all of us).
2. J.T. owns small fields: Of Justin Thomas’ 13 PGA Tour wins (13!), 10 have come in limited-field events while two have come here. There’s been a lot of buzz around Jon Rahm (new equipment deal) and Dustin Johnson (because he’s been winning everything he’s looked at of late), but the best player of the next decade might actually wear a horse on his shirt and root for an elephant on Saturday afternoons.
3. Length and … width: It’s going to be an interesting week for the distance conversation. Kapalua is one of the longest courses on the PGA Tour all year, and of course includes some of the longest players in the world. But will the beltway-wide fairways play into (or out of) the hands of guys like Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm? I’m especially intrigued by DeChambeau after his destruction of a mega-narrow track like Winged Foot. Conventional wisdom might say that he would be even better with his driver at a place like the Tournament of Champions, but that might be short-sighted. The advantage for him with his length might be greater when there’s a ton of rough rather than when there’s hardly any rough at all.
Grading the field
This field includes eight of the top 10 in the world and 11 of the top 14 with only Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Brooks Koepka ranked in the top 15 but skipping the festivities. This is normally a pretty quality field, but it’s enhanced this year because of the wider net cast around who was invited. It might not include the very biggest names (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler will join McIlroy on the sidelines), but it does include the guys playing the best golf. Grade: A-
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1. Joaquin Niemann over Daniel Berger (+100): I love a lot of things about this one (which almost certainly means it’s going to go poorly). Niemann placed T5 here last year and finished 2020 playing relatively well. Berger quietly cooled off a bit at the end of the year but remains the favorite in this matchup.
2. Xander Schauffele to finish in the top 5 (+200): Of golfers who have played at least 12 rounds at Kapalua, he’s historically the best player in the field this year.
3. Hideki Matsuyama over Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson (+260): Good end to last year for Matsuyama, and he plays tremendously at Kapalua. The bet here is that Rahm will struggle with an equipment change and D.J. hasn’t touched a club since the Masters.