The Tournament of Champions marks the return of the PGA TOUR and the first official event of 2023. While technically a part of the 2022-2023 season, the Tournament of Champions is also a limited field event that features all tournament winners from 2022, and also players who made it into the elite 30-man field at the season ending Tour Championship (who didn’t record a win on the year).
The field will be comprised of 39 players with 17 of the world’s top 20 golfers in play. From the top 20, only Rory McIlroy (rest), Cameron Smith (Liv defector) and Shane Lowry (did not qualify) will be missing. The past decade has seen elite players dominate with nine of the past 10 winners having won either a major championship or Olympic gold medal.
For DFS purposes, this is a no-cut event, so every player you roster will get in four rounds (unless they withdraw or are DQ’d). This event has been decided in a playoff in two of the last three years and — despite Cameron Smith getting to an insane 34-under par score last year — was also decided by just a stroke last season. While it will no doubt be a fun, semi-laid back week, there’s a ton at stake here (money, FedExCup points, a birth in the TOC for next year), so expect a competitive tournament and another tight finish.
The Plantation Course—Kapalua, Maui (Hawaii)
Par 73, 7,596 yards; Greens: TifEagle bermudagrass, Stimpmeter: 10-10.5
Before we go any further — no, that is not a misprint — this course is actually a par 73, as there are just four par 5s on The Plantation Course but only three par 3s, which accounts for the odd par total. While this track is certainly what you would call “wind-exposed,” that hasn’t stopped players from absolutely blitzing it almost every season. In 2019 it played as the sixth-easiest venue on the PGA TOUR, but in 2020, some changes to the course and some tougher weather saw it play slightly harder, with the winner reaching just 14-under par. Last year, calm conditions saw the players blitz the course again and set a new course record in the process.
New greens, bunkering and fairway grass were installed at The Plantation Course before 2021, and it seemed to work well from a competition standpoint. The Plantation Course is also still a long, undulating test, with big fairways and greens, so fatigue in the heat can also be a factor — and it should come as no shock that six of the last eight winners have been in their 20s.
In terms of setup, The Plantation Course offers a wide variety of hole layouts, with wide fairways and larger than normal greens being a mainstay of the venue. Three of the four par 5s are very reachable in two for the entire field, but the 18th is a behemoth at 675 yards and can play as one of the more difficult holes if the wind is up. Likewise, the course features six par 4s that come in under 400 yards (including a drivable 305-yard hole) but also features three that are over 500 yards in length. Players will have to score in a variety of situations this week, but there will be opportunities for birdies on almost every hole if the wind stays down (see below for early forecast).
From a setup standpoint, Kapalua’s openness and big greens make it unique and encourage aggressive iron play. Players tend to hit the greens at close to an 80% clip, so while the green structures can be tricky, scrambling isn’t a part of the game that tends to get stressed a ton. With players hitting a ton of greens in regulation the birdie putts will also be plentiful and two of the last three winners have now gained over 6.0 strokes putting for the week. Three-putting at Kapalua is higher due to the larger greens and so players with a solid make percentage in the 5 to 10 foot range have often excelled. Cameron Smith (last year’s winner) ranked first on the PGA TOUR in three-putt percentage last year.
2022 Weather Update: The weather at Kapalua is often calm around this time of year and 2023 looks no different. The winds aren’t expected to get up much past 10 mph for most of the week and with forecasted highs in the 78-82 F range, it won’t be overly hot or humid either. That’s good news for the veterans as the course is a tough walk and tougher conditions certainly can make it more of a grind. The solid weather also plays into the hands of shorter hitters and elite putters, as players will be hitting tons of greens in regulation with the wind mostly a non-factor. Calmer weather has allowed elite putters like Harris English, Cameron Smith and Patrick Reed to tear up this course in past seasons and this year again the conditions will likely be ideal for elite iron players and putters to go birdie hunting on all four days.
Last 5 winners
2022—Cameron Smith -34 (over Jon Rahm -33)
2021—Harris English -25 (in playoff over Joaquin Niemann)
2020—Justin Thomas -14 (in playoff over Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed)
2019—Xander Schauffele -23 (over Gary Woodland -22)
2018—Dustin Johnson -24 (over Jon Rahm -16)
- The last 11 winners of this event had all played here in a prior season at least once before their respective victory.
- Six of the last seven winners all won either a FedExCup playoff event (in September), finished runner-up in a FedEx Cup Playoff event, or won a fall series event in the previous year — meaning they won an event on the PGA TOUR in the four months leading up to their TOC win. (The exception was Harris English in 2021, who only got into the TOC based on him reaching the TOUR Championship).
- Nine of the last 11 defending champions have finished seventh or better in their title defense.
Winners Stats and Course Highlights
Cameron Smith (2022 winner, 34-under par)
Previous last five starts coming into 2022 (4-15-9-14-34)
SG: OTT — +4.0
SG: APP — +2.7
SG: TTG — +8.4
SG: ATG — +1.7
SG: PUTT — +6.5
- From a course standpoint, the fairways and greens are very easy to hit. Players typically hit over 70% of fairways and some will approach or exceed 80% green in regulation stats.
- Being dialed in with the ball striking is still important, though, as the bigger greens are tougher to scramble around than the average PGA TOUR stop. The field at Kapalua generally averages under the PGA TOUR average for scrambling.
- Cameron Smith gained strokes in all the major categories last season but definitely benefited from the calmer conditions as he did most of his work on the greens, gaining +6.5 strokes against the field with the putter.
- Smith only ranked 135th in driving accuracy last year but Kapalua's design caters to inaccurate players with it’s massive fairways. Having length off the tee is important but only to a point, as aggressive iron play and elite putting is ultimately what will win out this week
- In a lot of ways, this is likely a good week to bypass the strokes gained off the tee metric, and just look at driving distance — while also emphasizing players who were trending highly in birdie rate, approach and putting stats from last fall.
Odds to win are one factor to think about when picking players (but not the only thing, so be careful to not put too much weight on them). This section is going to detail a few of the players who have the best fantasy value comparative to their DraftKings Sportsbook odds of winning this week.
- Justin Thomas +900 and $9,900
- Patrick Cantlay +1000 and $9,700
- Jon Rahm +600 and $10,000
- Adam Scott +4000 and $7,600
- Sahith Theegala +4500 and $7,300
- Keegan Bradley +5500 and $7,500
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
HORSES FOR COURSES
1. Justin Thomas ($9,900; best finishes: win-2020, win-2017): Thomas has now played in this event seven times and has finished T5 or better in five of those appearances. He likes these off-mainland type of events, and given his uber-consistent iron play and aggressive lines off the tee, there’s plenty of reason to think he’ll keep dominating here.
2. Xander Schauffele ($9,500; best finishes: win-2018, T2-2019): Schauffele missed a four-foot birdie putt on the final hole of this event in 2020 or else he would have become the first back-to-back winner of this event since Geoff Ogilvy in 2010. He’s dominated no-cut events throughout his career (four wins if you include the Olympics) and only finished outside the top 10 once in four starts since 2019.
3. Collin Morikawa ($9,400; best finishes: T5-2022, T7-2021): Morikawa has played well at this event, landing top-10 finishes in each of the past three seasons. His main issue at Kapalua have been on the greens where he’s gained under 0.5 strokes putting in three appearances.
4. Sungjae Im ($8,300; best finishes: T8-2022, T5-2021): Im has had strong results in his two appearances at this event. The South Korean gained over 2.0 strokes putting last season and should be in a solid spot for another good result given how he closed out the season with a second-place finish at the Tour Championship.
5. Jordan Spieth ($8,200; best finishes: win-2016, second-2014): This course may have appealed more to the younger version of Jordan Spieth than the older one, who is prone to missing more 5-foot putts than his former self. Spieth’s history at Kapulua should still be respected, though, as he finished second at this event in 2014 and won it at 30-under par in 2016.
1. Seamus Power ($7,200; Recent finishes: T5-T3-win): Power won the second event of his career this fall when he grabbed the Bermuda Championship. He finished top five in his last three fall series starts.
2. Jon Rahm ($10,000; Recent finishes: T8-win): Rahm dominated the DP World Tour over the fall. The Spaniard had four top fives and two wins on that tour in five starts.
3. Sahith Theegala ($7,300; Recent finishes: T2-T22): Theegala was T2 at the season-ending RSM Classic and altogether had three finishes of T6 or better last fall.
4. Viktor Hovland ($8,500; Recent finishes: win-T23-T10): Hovland capped off 2022 with a win at the Hero World Challenge. Of note is the fact he’s gained strokes putting in six straight PGA TOUR starts.
5. Brian Harman ($8,000; Recent finishes: T2-2nd): Harman had a great fall run which included multiple runner-up finishes. The veteran has gained over a stroke on approach now in seven straight starts.
Cash Games: Cantlay and Schauffele solid anchors
Both Patrick Cantlay ($9,700) and Xander Schauffele ($9,500) have been competitive at this event almost every season over the past three years. Neither man played a ton of golf this fall but both looked in great form when they did tee it up, with Schauffele most recently posting a T4 at the Hero World Challenge. Setup-wise, both players are extremely well-rounded and Schauffele has found the setup in Maui ideal, landing both a win in 2018 and an agonizing playoff loss in 2019. Using both men to start cash game lineups gives you two golfers with high win probabilities and a solid amount of salary left over to play with. It’s also hard to argue with the prices on both SungJae Im ($8,300) and Aaron Wise ($7,400) who ended last season playing extremely solid golf and have both played in this event in prior years.
Tournaments: Fitzpatrick and Hovland solid GPP pivots
In terms of narratives, we could get low sentiment due to a lack of course history on both Viktor Hovland ($8,500) and Matthew Fitzpatrick ($9,100) this week in larger field GPPs. I wrote about Hovland’s potential at this venue below, but Fitzpatrick brings in a very similar skillset which allowed Cameron Smith to dominate this event last season. The Englishman is fourth in both strokes gained putting and eagles gained stats over the last 24 rounds and was playing consistently (and well) over on the DP World Tour in the fall/winter. Further down the list, Sepp Straka ($7,100) is a player who nearly won three times on Bermuda greens last year and should be low-owned. Trey Mullinax ($6,200 — see below) and Tom Hoge ($6,500) also make for great sub-$7,000 options this week.
My Pick: Viktor Hovland ($8,500)
With a field this deep, it’s easy to overlook the fun-loving Hovland who looks suspiciously cheap this week at just $8,500. The course history with Hovland looks concerning at first, as he’s now played Kapalua twice (each of the past two years) and only has T30 and T31 finishes to show for it. Hovland admittedly hasn’t figured out the greens at Kapalua yet but he did gain 4.2 strokes on approach on the Plantation Course last season. He won’t be stressed much from a scrambling perspective given the 80%+ greens in regulation percentages we often see players put up at this venue.
This is also a venue where we should expect Hovland to dominate at some point. He’s grabbed multiple wins in Mexico at El Chameleon and a win in both Puerto Rico and the Bahamas — all at somewhat similar tropical venues where easy to hit greens mean less stress on the short game. He also ranks first in eagles gained over that same time span and will have four softer par 5s to beat up on this week.
From a form perspective, he played a solid amount over the fall and grabbed a top-5 finish at the Zozo Championship and a win at the semi-official Hero World Challenge. Given the price, he looks like a solid upside play for DFS purposes and a great outright target at +1800 or better on the DraftKings Sportsbook.
My Sleeper: Trey Mullinax ($6,200)
This should be a solid venue for Mullinax, who is coming off a terrific year and a late summer and early fall run that saw him place top five at both the FedEx St. Jude and the Houston Open (his last start of 2022). Mullinax will be playing Kapalua for the first time this week, but he is an aggressive iron player who gained multiple strokes on approach in five of his last six starts of 2022. He ranks in the top half of this elite field in birdie or better percentage over the last 24 rounds and his only PGA Tour win came last summer in humid conditions at another softer venue in Kentucky.
The concern with Mullinax is often whether or not his inaccuracy off the tee and roller coaster like around the green game can survive four rounds, but the massive green structures in Maui mean he may not have to worry about scrambling much this week. The wide fairways will also help a player who ranked 16th on the PGA TOUR in driving distance last year. Mullinax sets up as a fantastic risk-reward value at $6,200 and great betting target in the top 20 market at +165 on the DraftKings Sportsbook.
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