This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
SENTRY TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
Winner's Share: $1.34M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Course: Plantation Course, Kapalua
2019 champion: Xander Schauffele
The PGA Tour season resumes this week with the annual lid-lifter, the Tournament of Champions. For many golfers and golf fans, especially those of a certain age, this is when the season really starts. Of course, the 2019-20 regular season has been going on for months and, in fact, is almost 25 percent complete. Yes, 10 of the 41 events were played in the longest fall season we've ever had (not counting opposite-field tournaments). The winter break does not seem as long as in past years because the Presidents Cup was just a few weeks ago. But now we'll have golf every week through the Tour Championship in late August. That includes the Olympics beginning at the end of July.
As the name of the tournament indicates, you have to be a champion to qualify this week. There were 42 different tournament winners last year, beginning with Xander Schauffele, who is this week's defending champion. The field will be only 34, however, as most of the top names predictably are no-shows. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Shane Lowry and Francesco Molinari are taking a pass, while C.T. Pan pulled out citing illness.
Only one major winner is here – Gary Woodland. There are four former Kapalua champions in the field – Schauffele plus 2017 winner Justin Thomas, 2015 champ Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson, who won in 2013 and '18. Fifteen of the 34 golfers are in the field for the first time (and a few others have been gone for almost a decade, or more). Normally, first-timers don't excel and rarely contend at Kapalua, thanks largely to the confounding greens, which are enormous with lots of undulations. On the other hand, with so many changes to the course – more on that in a moment – that may give it a new feel to just about everyone. One golfer who did do quite well in his maiden visit also happens to be the hottest golfer in the world. That would be world No. 3 Jon Rahm, who finished second in his Kapalua debut in 2018 and currently has two wins and two runners-up in his past five worldwide starts. That would include the Hero World Challenge a few weeks back. So Rahm is relatively fresh, as are the eight members of the U.S. Presidents Cup team in the field.
While Kapalua annually is one of the easiest courses on the golf calendar, there was a substantial renovation since we saw the track a year ago, maybe as big of a makeover as any PGA Tour course has had in just one year. In a nutshell, they wanted to make the course harder. Original architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were brought back and they left no stone unturned. They moved tee boxes, reworked bunkers re-grassed the entire course, made changes to the greens. To be sure, it's still a bomber's paradise, but Coore and Crenshaw have made Kapalua into more of a second-shot course, as golfers will be forced to play the angles more as they approach the holes. Will it all make the week less of an extreme birdie-fest? We shall see.
The course has ballooned to nearly 7,600 yards, but as we know, it plays far shorter with massive elevation drops buoying distances. We'll surely see some 400-yard drives again this week. Who could forget Johnson's 430-yarder two years ago that settled just inches from the cup on No. 12, oh-so-close to a mind-boggling par-4 hole-in-one? Still, we have seen shorter hitters excel with Jordan Spieth (2016), Zach Johnson (2014) and Steve Stricker (2012) winning. In fact, the golfers absolutely will need to bring their short-game acumen to succeed this week, as scrambling and putting have historically mattered more than anything else. We will revisit that in the key stats and Champion's Profile below.
Weather-wise, duh, it's Hawaii, it will be beautiful. Specifically, it will be warm and windy, especially the final three rounds with breezes blowing around 20 mph (therefore, the best scoring may come on Thursday).
Key Stats to Winning at Kapalua (in order of importance)
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Proximity to the hole/strokes gained: approach
• Birdie or better percentage
2019 - Xander Schauffele
2018 - Dustin Johnson
2017 - Justin Thomas
2016 - Jordan Spieth
2015 - Patrick Reed
2014 - Zach Johnson
2013 - Dustin Johnson
2012 - Steve Stricker
2011 - Jonathan Byrd
2010 - Geoff Ogilvy
History shows that shorter hitters have thrived, and won, by negotiating all the nuances around and on the expansive greens. We're talking proximity to the hole, scrambling and, especially, putting. The fairways are some 50-60 yards wide, roughly double what the golfers see most of the year, and the greens average more than 7,000 square feet. Larger greens normally weed out the poor putters. Golfers shouldn't miss many greens this week, but when they do, getting up-and-down is far from a sure thing, given the size and undulations of the putting surfaces. Schauffele finished second in putting average a year ago, while Johnson, Thomas and Spieth were first the three prior years. Going back 10 years, the winner has finished top-3 in scrambling six times. With all the trickiness of the greens, placement on approach shots is critical. That's why course knowledge is viewed with such importance here. No TOC rookie has won since Daniel Chopra in 2008. But with such a small, no-cut field, it's certainly possible for a first-timer to secure a high finish, as Rahm did two years ago. Americans dominate here; you have to go back 10 years to find the last international winner, Ogilvy.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Jon Rahm - $11,400 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 4-1)
This tournament historically has seen high-ranked golfers excel, and the top four guys in our mind are the top four guys on the DraftKings board – Rahm, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Dustin Johnson. But we will take only two, as offering the four highest-priced guys does not help anyone formulate a lineup. So we begin with Rahm, who has a real shot at breaking the decade-long run of American champions. He's the hottest golfer going, up to No. 3 in the world. He cannot advance to No. 2 this week, but a win would bring him quite close to Rory McIlroy, setting up a three-man dogfight with Brooks Koepka. Rahm was runner-up to Dustin Johnson two years ago and was eighth last year.
Xander Schauffele - $10,600 (8-1)
It's hard to bypass former champs Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson, but we're going with Schauffele, who stormed from far back a year ago to win with a closing 11-under 62. He has two runners-up in his past five starts, at the Tour Championship and WGC-HSBC Champions. Schauffele excelled at the Presidents Cup with partner Patrick Cantlay.
Tier 2 Values
Gary Woodland - $9,300 (14-1)
Woodland was overtaken on Sunday a year ago by the fantastic finish of Xander Schauffele. He ended up second in his first visit to Kapalua in five years. Woodland had two top-5s during the fall in Asia, then was T7 at the Hero World Challenge before the Presidents Cup. His putting is usually not great, but this will be his fourth go-round at Kapalua, enough time to get a good handle on the nuances of the greens.
Brendon Todd - $8,100 (40-1)
Beginning the year in the 2000s in the OWGR – yes, that's three zeros – Todd put on a show late in the fall season, winning twice in a row before closing with a solo fourth at the RSM Classic. He's now 63rd in the world. The weakest part of Todd's game is off the tee, something he can overcome on the wide-open fairways of Kapalua. He's played this tournament once before, impressively tying for eighth in 2015.
Tier 3 Values
Kevin Kisner - $7,700 (50-1)
As we head to the lower-price golfers, we find most of the Kapalua rookies. We talked earlier of the experience factor here. Even though Kisner has only ninth- and 17th-place finishes in two visits, he's got 144 more holes under his belt than most of his comparably priced golfers. And of course Kisner is among the better putters on Tour.
Kevin Na - $7,500 (60-1)
Na is back for the first time since his debut in 2012 debut, when he tied for 12th. He qualified by winning the Charles Schwab Challenge in the spring, then reinforced matters with another win at the Shriners in the fall. Na has one of the better short games around.
Sebastian Munoz - $7,100 (80-1)
Munoz qualified with a win at the Sanderson Farms, then came close again with a solo third at the RSM Classic to close the fall season. He's not a great putter – not terrible, either – but Munoz shines with his irons and wedges. He's ranked sixth on Tour in strokes gained: approach and 14th in scrambling. This will be his Kapalua debut.
Lanto Griffin - $6,500 (150-1)
Griffin is another first-timer this week. He blitzed through the fall season with six straight top-20s, including his first PGA Tour win at the Houston Open. A lot of that came on the strength of his short game – Griffin is ranked 25th on Tour in scrambling and 12th in strokes gained: putting – though the tricky Kapalua greens will be something he's never seen before.