The return of the Tournament of Champions marks the return of the PGA and the first official event of 2022. While technically a part of the 2021-2022 season, the Tournament of Champions is a limited field event that features only tournament winners from 2021 (and includes the recent fall swing winners).
The field comprises 39 players this week and includes former winners like Justin Thomas (2020), Xander Schauffele (2019) and Patrick Reed (2015). For DFS purposes, this is a no-cut event, so every player you roster here will get in four rounds (unless they withdraw or are DQ’d). This event has been decided in a playoff each of the last two years and has been a much more competitive event of late, with a lot of the younger talent coming in here in great form. 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 year. 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 as a much tougher test, with the winner reaching just 14-under par. Last year, calm conditions saw the players blitz the course again with a 25-under winner.
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 here can also be a factor, and it should come as no shock five of the last seven winners have been in their 20s (as was last year’s playoff runner-up, Joaquin Niemann). 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 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 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 in 2020, three of the last seven winners of the TOC have also won at Augusta. Last year, Harris English had a solid ball-striking week, but also led the field in strokes gained putting. Length can help at Kapalua, but you need a player able to convert his birdie chances on these Bermuda greens, as the winners here have almost always gained +3.0 strokes or more putting for the week.
2022 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. This year, oppressive heat won’t be a factor, as the highs are only set to reach 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. That should help some of the veterans from a fatigue standpoint. That said, expect a birdie-fest again, as the wind (the course’s best defense) isn’t likely to reach over 10 mph — expect in small gusts throughout the week. Go with the players who can get hot with the flatstick and covert birdies, as lots of low scores will likely be needed in these semi-perfect conditions.
Last 5 winners
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)
2017—Justin Thomas -22 (over Hideki Matsuyama -19)
- The last 10 winners of this event all played here in a prior season at least once before to their victory.
- Five of the last six winners here all won either a FedExCup playoff event (in September) or 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 last year, who only got into the TOC based on reach the TOUR Championship).
- Nine of the last 10 defending champions have all finished seventh or better in their title defense (only exception is Justin Thomas 2018 — 22nd).
Winners Stats and Course Highlights
Harris English (2021 winner, 25-under par)
Previous last five starts coming into 2019 (T6-T5-T10-T28-MC)
· English had a solid week throughout the bag but really excelled on the greens where he gained +6.8 strokes putting. Most winners here have gained +3.0 strokes or more on the greens.
· English actually had one of the lowest strokes gained approach totals here for recent winners. He only gained +1.0 strokes on approach but did have a solid week off the tee, gaining +2.5 strokes. With some drivable par 4s on the course, that likely helped him out a bit.
· There are numerous drivable par 4s and longer par 4s, too, which become far easier with a little distance and accuracy off the tee. The last six TOC winners have all gained +2.5 or more strokes off the tee.
· 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.
· Jordan Spieth +2200 and $8,900
· Cameron Smith +2200 and $8,300
· Brooks Koepka +3000 and $8,500
· Billy Horschel +7000 and $7,000
· Si Woo Kim +8000 and $6,900
· Cameron Champ +8000 and $6,800
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
HORSES FOR COURSES
1. Justin Thomas ($10,600; best finishes: win-2020, win-2017): Thomas has now played in this event six times — six years in a row — and has finished T3 or better in four 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. He finished third here last season and seems likely to be in the hunt again this week.
2. Xander Schauffele ($9,500; best finishes: win-2019, T2-2020): Schauffele missed a three- to 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. 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. He’s dominated no-cut events throughout his career (four wins if you include the Olympics).
3. Patrick Reed ($7,900; best finishes: win-2015, second-2016, T2-2020): This will be Reed’s seventh 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 was also nearly a two-time winner of this event, if not for missing some makeable putts in the 2020 playoff with Justin Thomas. Reed has putted well on these greens over the years and has good motivation after being snubbed form the Ryder Cup team.
4. Jordan Spieth ($8,900; best finishes: win-2016, T3-2017): Spieth blitzed this course back in 2016, getting to 30-under par for the week in a romp-style win. The victory came on pre-renovation Kapalua, but Spieth has had a lot of success here, regardless. He’ll be playing the event for the first time since 2018 when he finished T9.
5. Hideki Matsuyama ($8,700; best finishes: T4-2018, second-2017): Matsuyama was pretty atrocious here last season (finishing dead-last by a wide margin), but he’s actually got a solid record here, overall. He finished runner-up in 2017 at the OC and was also T4 here in 2018. The 2021 Masters winner has played well in hilly venues like Augusta throughout his career, so a better effort at this event wouldn't be shocking.
1. Viktor Hovland ($10,000; Recent finishes: win-win): Hovland technically has wins in both of his last two PGA starts, as he grabbed a second win at the Mayakoba Classic in the fall and also triumphed the Hero World Challenge in December (not an official PGA event). He is second in strokes gained ball striking over the last 50 rounds.
2. Talor Gooch ($7,600; Recent finishes: T4-T2): Gooch had a dream fall swing that was punctuated by his first ever PGA win at the RSM Classic, the final PGA event of 2021. He leads this field in strokes gained total stats over the last six PGA events and has a win or top-five finish in his last four starts.
3. Seamus Power ($6,600; Recent finishes: T2-T4): Power grabbed his first PGA win earlier this year at the Barbasol and hasn’t relented since that victory. Power has three top-12 finishes in his last four starts and looks like a solid value given his recent form.
4. Jason Kokrak ($7,700; Recent finishes: T8-win): Kokrak is coming off an incredibly successful year, where he grabbed the second and third wins of his career, with the most recent coming at the Houston Open in November. After being known as a decent journeyman most of his career, he’s now winning at an elite rate and comes in with as good of form as any in this field.
5. Sam Burns ($9,100; Recent finishes: T13-T2): Burns is another young player who rose to prominence in 2021, grabbing two wins, the most recent of which came at the Sanderson Farms Open in early fall. Burns has been all over leaderboards since the playoffs, though, and comes in looking primed for a run here.
Cash Games: Burns and Hovland a sweet starting duo
This event has been dominated, for the most part, by up and coming young stars of late, and both Sam Burns ($9,100) and Viktor Hovland ($10,000) come into this event with great form and looking slightly undervalued in the DraftKings salary structure. Burns is putting on his preferred Bermuda surface, where he has massive positive splits and ranks fourth in birdie or better % over the last 50 rounds. Hovland is right there with him in that same stat at fifth, though, and has a great off-mainland record, with wins in Mexico and Puerto Rico. The two make for a good cost-effective opening pairing. Other potential cash game targets include the likes of Sungjae Im ($8,200), Patrick Reed ($7,900), and Billy Horschel ($7,000).
Tournaments: Bryson and Smith can get you birdies
The top two players in birdie or better % over the last 50 rounds are Cameron Smith ($8,300 - see below) and Bryson DeChambeau ($10,200). Smith is a pretty solid value here and likely will garner some ownership, but DeChambeau could easily be overlooked. He’s finished T7 here the last two seasons and has the driving prowess to really rack up low scores given some of the shorter holes in play. He’ll need a big week around the greens but makes for a good boom or bust tournament pivot, as he could be the lowest rostered of the top six players. Other potential GPP targets include the likes of Lucas Herbert ($6,100 - see below) and Joel Dahmen ($6,100).
My Pick: Cameron Smith ($8,300)
Smith just missed out on grabbing a win in the PGA Playoffs last fall when he lost in a playoff to Tony Finau at the Northern Trust. He certainly feels like a player ready to break through with potentially a couple of wins soon, though, as he’s coming off a season where he landed four top-five finishes and a win at the Zurich Classic with countryman Marc Leishman. Unlike some of the other top players, who cooled off or just didn't play much in the fall, Smith also kept the momentum rolling in the fall swing, connecting with a a T9 at THE CJ CUP and a T4 at the year-ending RSM Classic.
From a style standpoint, Smith’s inaccuracy off the tee won’t hurt him much, and few possess the putting/approach upside combo of Smith, who leads the field in strokes gained: putting stats in both short-term and long-term form. Smith is second in this very elite field in birdie or better % over the last 50 rounds, as well, and calm conditions do suggest whoever wins will need a boatload of birdies again. Go with the younger Smith, who should be fresh from the holiday break but is filled with great momentum from the playoffs and fall swing.
My Sleeper: Lucas Herbert ($6,100)
As mentioned above, one small trend at this event is that players who have had strong playoff performances and fall series starts tend to perform well here. Herbert broke through with a career-defining win in the fall at the Bermuda Championship — a win that secured him a place in this event and on TOUR for 2022. He is clearly riding a bit of a high, and his big game off-the-tee and improving short game should set him up for success here.
Herbert has been an up and down producer in the ball-striking area, but he’s now gained strokes around the green in five of his last seven PGA starts. That should help around Kapalua’s tricky green structures, where players often struggle. Herbert is also top 10 over the last 50 rounds in this field in par 5 efficiency, and the setup here is reminiscent of some of the other venues on TOUR where Herbert has found success, including the more open setups of the Bermuda Championship the Dubai Desert Classic (where Herbert won in 2020). He is near the minimum, riding a wave of good play from the fall, and has the game to take advantage of the four gettable par 5’, making him a great DFS target for this opening week of golf.
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