The return of the Tournament of Champions marks a return to normalcy for the PGA TOUR schedule and should be a sign of comfort to many who felt the effects of the new world order brought on by a worldwide pandemic. While the field at the TOC is generally reserved only for past champions, this year it will also include the players who were able to reach the 30-man field of the TOUR Championship last year. The move was made to ensure a big enough field as the PGA TOUR had to cut some events off the regular schedule due to the COVID-19 stoppage. That means that players like Scottie Scheffler, Tony Finau, Ryan Palmer, Abraham Ancer and Mackenzie Hughes will all get a shot at winning the title here this year, despite not winning on the PGA TOUR last season.
Last year this event provided some of the best drama of the early year as we got a three-man playoff between Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed that turned into a war of attrition and saw several short putts missed before Thomas finally closed it out. As of now the 2021 field is set at 42 (which is slightly bigger than normal) with only three no shows in Tyrrell Hatton, Jim Herman (COVID-19) and Rory McIlroy. Past champions in the field here include Justin Thomas (2017 and 2020), Dustin Johnson (2013 and 2018), Xander Schauffele (2019) and Patrick Reed (2015). While it will be 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 year. In 2019 it played as the sixth-easiest venue on the PGA TOUR, with the winner reaching 23-under par. In 2020 though, changes to the course and some tougher weather saw it play as a much tougher test with the winner reaching just 14-under par.
New greens, bunkering and fairway grass were installed at the Plantation Course before last year and it seemed to work well from a competition standpoint as the players certainly weren’t able to just bomb and gouge the course into submission. The Plantation Course is also still a long, undulating test, with big fairways and greens, so fatigue in the heat here can also be a factor and it should come as no shock that five of the last six winners have been in their 20s. With the course now becoming a bit tougher test—which should emphasize more tee to green prowess over around the green savvy—I’d expect that trend of younger players finding the trophy here to continue for the near future.
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 5’s here 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 here if the wind stays somewhat down (see below for early forecast).
From a setup standpoint, Kapalua’s openness and big greens make it unique but it also carries some similarities with other stops on the PGA TOUR. Augusta National is also hilly (with bigger greens) and with Dustin Johnson’s win at Augusta last November, three of the last six winners of the TOC have now also won at Augusta. It’s also worth noting too that with the changes last year, Justin Thomas became the first winner here in over five years to gain less than +3.0 strokes putting for the week. Thomas gained +5.7 on Approach, but just +0.9 on the greens.
2021 Weather Update: With such a limited field and tee times that won’t be very far apart, we certainly won’t have to worry about stacking golfers or tee times in Classic mode on DraftKings this week. That said, it’s still worth taking a look at the weather here as certain players could benefit from windy (or less windy) conditions. As of now, the week looks mostly sunny, which is a great way to kick off the first event considering the year we’re coming off of. Like most seasons, the wind is going to be factor although we don’t have any massively gusty days to worry about. Thursday afternoon looks like it might bring the worst stuff, as afternoon gusts are set to reach 15-20 mph. The afternoons will be gusty on all four days, but as of now, the last three days all look a little tamer. This can all change in an instant, so definitely check the weather again Wednesday night if you’re interested or playing showdown.
Last 5 winners
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)
2017—Justin Thomas -22 (over Hideki Matsuyama -19)
2016—Jordan Spieth -30 (over Patrick Reed -22)
- The last nine winners of this event had all played here in a prior season at least once prior to their victory.
- The last five winners had all won either a FedExCup playoff event (in September) or a Fall series event in the previous year, meaning all five of the past winners had won an event on the PGA TOUR in the four months leading up to their TOC win.
- Eight of the last nine defending champions have all finished 7th or better in their title defense (only exception is Justin Thomas 2018—22nd).
Winners Stats and Course Highlights
Justin Thomas (2020 winner, 14-under par)
Previous last five starts coming into 2019 (T5-T17-win-T4-T3)
· As mentioned above, Thomas had the lowest strokes gained putting totals of the last five winners of this event. It’s possible the changes to the course have made this a bit stiffer test and it will play as less of a “putting contest/birdie fest” over time.
· Like most winners, Thomas dialed in his approaches for the week. Of the last five winners, three of them have now gained +3 or more strokes for the week on their approaches. The last two winners have now gained +5 or more in this area
· The Plantation course does have some of the biggest and easiest to hit fairways in the world, but driving it well here is still important. There’s numerous driveable par 4s and longer par 4s too, which become far easier with a little distance and accuracy off the tee. The last five winners have all gained +2.5 or more strokes off the tee here.
· From a course standpoint, the fairways and greens are very easy to hit, with the field hitting over 70% of the fairways many years. 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 here generally averages under the PGA TOUR average for scrambling.
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.
Billy Horschel +5000 and $7,600
· Sergio Garcia +8000 and $7,700
· Kevin Kisner +5000 and $7,800
· Cameron Champ +6600 and $7,900
Kevin Na +9000 and $6,700
· Jason Kokrak +9000 and $7,600
· Carlos Ortiz +10000 and $7,100
· Marc Leishman +9000 and $7,400
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
HORSES FOR COURSES
1. Justin Thomas ($10,700; best finishes: win-2020, win-2017): Thomas has now played in this event five times—five years in a row—and has finished T3 or better in three of those appearances. The American 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 in the future. He’s the lead horse and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him add one or two more of these to his trophy case before his career ends.
2. Dustin Johnson ($11,000; best finishes: win-2018, win-2013, 6th-2017/2014): Dustin’s also a clear lead horse for this week’s event and joins Thomas as the only other two-time champion in the field. He hasn’t finished worse than 10th here in his last seven appearances and was T7 here last season. Dustin’s slowly getting up there in age so perhaps the hilly venue will favor him less over time but he’s in great shape and just won his second major at another hilly venue (Augusta), so seeing him add one more TOC in the next couple of years wouldn’t be shocking.
3. Patrick Reed ($9,600; best finishes: win-2015, 2nd-2016, T2-2020): This will be Reed’s sixth appearance at the TOC with his worst finish coming in 2019 when he finished T25. The 2015 TOC champion still has plenty of upside, however, and probably should have won last year’s playoff with Justin Thomas but couldn’t capitalize on a couple of makeable putts. Reed has really putted well on these greens over the years and was playing very solid golf into the close last year. He’ll likely have more up and downs than Thomas or DJ here but seeing him add one more of these wouldn’t be shocking either.
4. Xander Schauffele ($10,000; best finishes: win-2019, T2-2020): Schauffele missed a 3-4-foot birdie putt on the final hole of this event last year or else he would have become the first back-to-back winner of this event since Geoff Ogilvy in 2010. The venue really sets up well for Schauffele who is aggressive and long off the tee but also has improved his short game and putting over the last year or so. As someone who has dominated these limited field events over his career the TOC is a dream event and setup for him, so expect another title in his future at some point too.
5. Hideki Matsuyama ($9,000; best finishes: T3-2015, T2-2017): Matsuyama hasn’t played the TOC since 2018, but he’s looked comfortable here in his past appearances. He narrowly lost out in 2017 (T2), posted a T4 in 2018 and was also T3 here in his first appearance back in 2015, which is a great indicator he likes the course and setup. Considering he didn’t actually win on the PGA TOUR last year it would be somewhat ironic if his comeback win came here but don’t put it past him as he’s shown that a title here at some point is possible/likely.
1. Dustin Johnson ($11,000; Recent finishes: win-T2): Johnson is coming off a fantastic year which saw him ascend to the clear number one player in the world, gaining the FedExCup win and his second major at Augusta. He hasn’t finished worse than T2 in six of his last seven starts on the PGA TOUR.
2. Justin Thomas ($10,700; Recent finishes: T4-T2): Thomas had a great end of the year run, even if it didn’t climax with a win. He posted his best ever finish at Augusta (T4) and has finished T8 or better in four of his last five starts.
3. Cameron Smith ($8,400; Recent finishes: T2-T4): Smith’s game took a big step forward late in the year and he comes into 2021 on an 11-tournament made cut streak. He’s gained strokes on his Approaches in nine straight starts now too and could be ready to start challenging more at bigger events (like the one we have this week) in 2021.
4. Carlos Ortiz ($7,100; Recent finishes: T8-win): Ortiz had a great end of year run too, grabbing his first PGA TOUR win in Houston, but also ended 2020 with a T8 in his final start at the Mayakoba Classic. He’s gained big strokes on approach and around the greens in his last three starts.
5. Hideki Matsuyama ($9,000; Recent finishes: T13-T2): Matsuyama continues to prove it’s hard to win on the PGA TOUR, even when you are one of the most consistent tee to green players in the world. He’s finished top-20 in five of his last eight starts and ranks third in Tee to Green stats in this field over the last 24-rounds.
Cash Games: Thomas likely the man to target
Justin Thomas ($10,700) has been so consistent at this event, and in the state of Hawaii in general, that taking the $300 discount on him over Dustin Johnson ($11,000) this week makes a ton of sense. After him though decisions get dicier. It’s a loaded event but both Hideki Matsuyama ($9,000) and Tony Finau ($8,900) have very affordable odds and are both solid DFS scorers, so you have to like loading on them at this range. Hideki’s finished inside the top-5 here in his last three appearances. For pure value, going cheap/deep this week makes sense given it’s a no cut event. Both Lanto Griffin ($6,900) and Carlos Ortiz ($7,100-see below) stick out as solid targets here. Griffin just produced two good finishes in limited field events in the Fall, going for 90 or more DKFP at the ZOZO and CJ Cup.
Tournaments: Sungjae a possible spoiler
Of the top players this week, it does feel like Patrick Cantlay ($9,800-see below) could go a bit overlooked and you can read below why I like him. The other player who might fall between the cracks is Sungjae Im ($8,200), who is ranked lower in salary. Im is making his first ever start in Maui and also burned some DFS players at the end of the season when he missed the cut at the RSM Open. Lest we not forget though that he’s proven himself as a great wind player at the Honda and that he finished second at another hilly course in Augusta—against a major field—less than two months ago. Other potential GPP targets for me this week include Brendon Todd ($7,200) and Nick Taylor ($6,200).
My Pick: Patrick Cantlay ($9,800)
Cantlay fits a lot of the criteria we’re looking for in potential winners this week. The American, who made extremely good use of the word “pampered” here when caught on mic last season, was trending late last season as he grabbed his first win of 2020 in October at the ZOZO Championship. The win was Cantlay’s third of his career and showcased his ever-improving all-around game which should make him a force for years at these types of events. Cantlay’s now gained +2.0 or more strokes around the green in five straight starts and is also riding some of the best putting of his career, as he comes in having gained +3.0 or more strokes in three of his last five starts in that area.
Momentum and experience has been key for several of the past winners of the TOC as each of the five past winners here had grabbed a late season win in the prior year (in September or later) and the last nine winners had all played at Kapalua at least once prior to winning. Cantlay fits both those trends to perfection as he was a steady T4 here on his debut last season, gaining +6.6 on his approaches. Now playing some of the best golf of his career and showcasing the sort of all-around game that is needed to contend at Kapalua consistently, he sets up as a solid DFS play here for me given the sub-$10K price.
My Sleeper: Carlos Ortiz ($7,100)
Ortiz has always been a talent and was once hailed as a near “can’t miss” player after winning three-times on the KF Tour in 2014. Despite being a late bloomer, it does look like his talent is finally letting him rise to a new level of consistency on the PGA TOUR of late as he comes into this week’s event off a fantastic Fall swing which allowed him to grab his win on the PGA TOUR at his second-to-last start in Houston. Like Cantlay, we’re playing a bit of the momentum angle here, but Ortiz’s stats also point to a player on the rise and likely well suited for this week’s all-around test.
The 29-year-old has shown far more consistency across the board over his last 10 or so starts and really started to fire with his irons towards the end of last year, gaining +1.0 or more strokes on his approaches in each of his last three starts, including +3.5 in December at the Mayakoba Classic. He’s also shown better touch on and around the greens of late and has now gained strokes ATG in each of his last four starts. It will be his first time playing in Maui but he has shown well at a couple other tropical venues, as he’s made the cut at the Sony Open the last two seasons and has always played well at the Mayakoba Classic—another non-mainland US based event—having grabbed multiple top-10’s there over his career. Given his price-point here and production from a DFS standpoint of late—90 or more DKFP in three straight starts—he sets up as solid value for DFS lineups for the first event of 2021.
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