SBS TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS: This week’s Tournament of Champions at Kapalua may not technically kick off the PGA Tour season anymore, but as the first event of 2017 and the first time in a while that we’ve seen a truly elite field, it still has that feel.
A limited-field event that only extends invitations to players who have won on Tour the previous year, the Tournament of Champions has been around since 1953, with the Plantation Course at Kapalua serving as the host for the past 19 years. So there’s some tradition here, and this has become a regular stop for the upper-echelon types. There will be 32 players teeing it up this week, including defending champion Jordan Spieth, who is coming off a win at the Australian Open and currently heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 5.9.
Spieth has some competition at the top of the market, however– Hideki Matsuyama is the hottest player in the world at the moment, having won four of his past five starts, and is trading right behind Spieth at 6.6, while Dustin Johnson, fresh off a monster 2016 season and a 3rd-place showing at the Hero World Challenge, can be had at 6.8. The Plantation Course is a wide-open layout that lends itself to low scoring– Spieth reached 30-under par last year– so we’ll see plenty of birdies this week, and it’s probably a good idea to focus our attention on players who can get hot with the putter and make birdies in bunches. It does get windy at times and the Bermuda greens are both large and undulating, but the course is relatively defenseless and plays far shorter than its 7,452 yards.
Irregular playing schedules for all involved means there’s a bit more guesswork than usual when it comes to handicapping this week’s field, but I think we’ve dug up some nice value:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parentheses)
Brandt Snedeker (19.5)- We haven’t seen Snedeker in action for a few weeks, so like most guys his form is a bit of a mystery at the moment. He did play well his last time out, however, finishing sixth in last month’s Hero World Challenge, and he’s had some success in this event, with two third-place finishes in his past three appearances. He fits the mold in a lot of ways– a fantastic putter, Snedeker is the streaky type who can post insanely low numbers if he’s right. He tends to play his best golf on Bermuda greens, another mark in his favor, and his nagging injury issues shouldn’t be much of a factor after so much off time in December. All things considered, I think Sneaker is a great value here at nearly 20/1.
Daniel Berger (29.0)- A first-time participant in this event, Berger isn’t on many people’s radar this week, but I have a hunch this could be the type of venue where the young Floridian excels. The wide-open nature of Kapalua should help Berger, who hits the ball nine miles but has been known to hit it a bit sideways on occasion, and he’ll feel right at home on the Bermuda greens. Like Snedeker, Berger is somewhat of a streaky player who isn’t afraid to go low, and he was last seen in good form, finishing runner-up in October’s WGC-HSBC Champions. He may be an outside the box selection in a field filled with so many big names, but Berger has already exhibited a certain fearlessness in his brief pro career, and I don’t think he’ll be the least bit intimidated by the situation. If he gets rolling, look out…
Aaron Baddeley (82.0)- Baddeley has alternately been labeled a phenom and a bust throughout his career, as he’s genuinely a guy who could finish first or last in any given tournament. One part of his game that has remained consistent, however, is his putting– Baddeley is a fixture atop the PGA Tour’s putting and scrambling rankings, and that has enabled him to maintain playing status even when his ball-striking has totally deserted him. But when he’s hitting the ball well he’s a threat to win anytime he tees it up, and he was sure striking it well at the Australian Open a few weeks back, which was his last competitive start. Baddeley placed 4th that week, shooting 10-under par at a famously difficult course, Royal Melbourne, and finishing just two back of winner Jordan Spieth. So we know the swing isn’t far off, we know the short game prowess is intact, and we know his price this week: a whopping 82.0 in a 32-man field. Sounds like a bargain to me.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Jordan Spieth (1.91) vs. Dustin Johnson (1.91)
Johnson had a better year than Spieth in 2016 and there’s no reason to think he’s slowing down considering what we saw out of him in his last start, a 3rd-place finish at the Hero World Challenge. Spieth, however, has been a bit more active than Johnson over the past couple of months, and his gritty win at the Australian Open was the kind of cold-blooded performance that we had come to expect from him after his historic 2015 season. It’s too early to tell whether that win means Spieth is officially “back”, but I do think it’s reasonable to conclude that his game might be a bit sharper than Johnson’s at the moment. Plus, he did shoot 30-under at this track last year, so there are plenty of good vibes waiting for him out there… Recommendation: Spieth at 1.91
Justin Thomas (1.91) vs. Bubba Watson (1.91)
Thomas is an impressive young player with a bright future, but he didn’t seem to take to Kapalua last year and finished a disappointing 21st in his debut appearance. He’ll surely be looking to bounce back with a strong performance this week, but it’s difficult to trust a guy who hasn’t played competitively in nearly three months and didn’t look comfortable on the course in his only previous visit. We saw Bubba in action a month ago, when he closed with a 67 at the Hero World Challenge to finish 6th, and he’s logged top-10s in each of his last three starts at Kapalua, including a 4th-place showing in 2013. Recommendation: Watson at 1.91