2nd - 5th January
The PGA Tour kicks-off 2020 with the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That means that any player that won on the PGA Tour in 2019 can take in the delights of the Plantation Course design at Kapalua on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
The fact that the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, and Francesco Molinari have declined their invites takes some of the gloss away from the first golf tournament of 2020. But punters still have 34 players to choose from including stars like Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, John Rahm, and last year’s champion Xander Schauffele.
The supporting cast isn’t bad either with 2029 US Open Champion Gary Woodland joined by Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler, and Matt Kuchar, whilst 15 tournament debutants including Joaquin Niemann, Collin Morikawa, and Cameron Champ add another layer of intrigue.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua was designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore and it offers players spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. It is a Par 73 that has been mastered by long and short hitters in the past, and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top in 2020 after a $12 Million renovation. The changes include new tee boxes, fairways, bunkers, and green complexes, so the course will present players with a new challenge this year.
A new drainage system has been put in place before this year’s tournament, with the aim of making the course play as firm and as fast as it was originally designed to, which hasn’t been the case in some of the recent editions. Firm and fast conditions mean that players must find the correct line of the tee if they want their ball to remain in the wide fairways, rather than be swept off into less advantageous positions.
New tee boxes have also accounted for the reduced wind that recent editions of the Sentry Tournament of Champions have been played in, whilst bunkers have also been placed more strategically to promote accuracy over sheer power. The green complexes will also present players with a new challenge, as will some of the green entrances that have been remodeled.
Ironically, the winds are forecast to be quite strong over the first three days, but the direction of them is expected to make the course play shorter than its par, though players will have to have greater control of the ball in the prevailing conditions, especially as huge elevation changes can always clubbing difficult for caddies.
Despite the new course changes, this will be the 22nd time that the Plantation Course at Kapalua had hosted the Sentry Tournament of Champions, so past course form should still offer some pointers.
World Number three Jon Rahm is the favourite this week, and that’s no surprise considering his current form.
He was second when last seen trying to defend his Hero World Championship title, which came on the back of him clinching the DP World Tour Championship and Race To Dubai Titles. He was also second here on debut in 2018 and followed that with a respectable eighth last year when not in as good a form coming into the event. With the world number one and two both absent this week, Rahm should see this as a great chance to continue his challenge to become world number one. That’s why he’s the first of our free tips for the Sentry Tournament of Champions 2020.
There are only four previous winners of the Sentry Tournament of Champions playing in this year’s edition, and 2017 champion Justin Thomas also comes into this event in decent form. He also finished third last year and a big challenge is expected. But as we’ve tipped Rahm at 9/2 (5.50), it’s impossible to include Thomas as well as around 11/2.
Last year’s champion Xander Schauffele is more interesting at 8/1 (9.00), and he’s preferred to the other two previous champions Dustin Johnson (2013 and 2018) and Patrick reed (2015). Patrick Cantlay is the other player at short prices, but he was only 15th on his one previous visit.
That’s why the second of our Sentry Tournament of Champions tips is Gary Woodland. He was unlucky to finish second here last year, when Schaufelle shot an unbelievable 61 in the final round. He’s even more confident now he’s a major winner and odds of 16/1 (17.00) look to underestimate his chances this week in a field in which 15 players are making their tournament debut.