With Christmas now done and dusted for another year, the festive blues have probably set in for many, though for golf fans, there’s plenty to look forward to over the coming weeks as a new year means the return of the golf. First up after the break is the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which takes place at the usual venue of Kapalua Plantation Course in Maui, Hawaii.
Who’s in the field?
For the first event back, a select field will tee it up in Hawaii. Last year’s winner Harris English bids to become the first player to defend his title since one-time major winner Geoff Ogilvy did so back in 2009. There will be no shortage of top-end talent on show at Kapalua’s Plantation Course, with Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, and Patrick Cantlay, all of whom currently occupy a top-ten position in the world rankings, all set to feature.
Having not featured since Europe’s disappointing defeat in the Ryder Cup, world number one Jon Rahm will resurface in Maui. Other big names include Jordan Spieth, who earned his place in the field thanks to winning the Valero Texas Open, and Patrick Reed, who secured himself a flight to the Aloha State when winning last year’s renewal of the Farmers Insurance. Those playing in the Sentry Tournament of Champions for the first time include world number 22 Cameron Smith, Talor Gooch, Joel Dahmen, Garrick Higgo, and Lucas Herbert.
Who’s hot in the betting?
With such a big-name field, it’s no surprise that there’s not too much between those at the head of the market. As is so often the case, the early front runner in the betting is the man who currently tops the world rankings. Jon Rahm is available at +800 to come out on top in Hawaii, while Justin Thomas, who according to official rankings is the sixth-best player in the world, is close behind at +900, which isn’t much of a surprise given that he’s won this event not once but twice, coming out on top in 2017 and 2020. Fellow top-ten players Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau follow at +100- and +1200 respectively.
If you’re looking for something with a bit more juice, then you won’t be disappointed, as there are a few big-name players currently trading at attractive odds. Winner of this event back in 2015, Patrick Reed is available at +3000 in places, as is current world number 14 Tony Finau, who comes here after ending the long wait for a second PGA Tour victory back in August of last year.
For those bettors expecting more of the same from Harris English, who thanks to a string of impressive displays over the last year or so has crept to number 13 in the world, can get involved at a mouth-watering price of +3300. It’s fair to say that the early market isn’t expecting the Georgian to repeat his 2021 heroics, though stranger things have happened.
Sungjae Im – 1 Unit @ +2800
For my money, when it comes to the outright market this week, it’s best to look beyond those at the head of affairs. Yes, the big dogs are fancied for a reason, and many have proven themselves at this venue, though if we’re talking about obtaining maximum value then looking further afield is surely the way to go, especially when there’s a couple of gems at bigger prices. The first of which is Sungjae Im, who has already won this season, emerging victorious in Las Vegas back in October. The South Korean has since turned in two solid efforts, finishing T9 and T19 at The CJ CUP and the Houston Open.
This will be just the second time that Sungjae has been involved in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but don’t be put off by this relative lack of experience. Last season when on debut, the two-time PGA Tour winner looked every inch a player ready for this test, finishing fifth, posting four scores that see him enter this year with the lowest average score (on this track) in the field.
There’s more that bolsters the claim of the 23-year-old. Of those involved here, he rates as the player with the fourth-best scoring average on tour this season, not to mention the third-best in terms of strokes gained: total. He also ranks fourth for strokes gained: total at Kapalua Plantation, as well as first for both strokes gained: approach and strokes gained: tee-to-green. When I’m betting a player to thrive at a certain course, then I want to see that they can do the business in those critical strokes gained areas, and Im can certainly do that.
At the end of the day, in tournaments of this ilk, a case can be made for almost everybody, but not everyone appeals as a value bet at the odds available, and if you’re looking for a combination of value and a realistic chance, then Sungjae is the man at appealing odds of +2800.
Xander Schauffele – 1 Unit @ +1400
If you are looking for someone closer to the head of the market, then Xander Schauffele fits the bill. The Olympic champions don’t arrive here in the same sort of form as a player like Sungjae Im, though he has no shortage of form at this venue. A winner here in 2019, Schauffele finished second in 2020 and in a tie for fifth last year, so he knows how to tussle on the Plantation Course.
If we delve into strokes gained, the four-time PGA Tour winner stands out as one of the top players on this track. Having played 16 rounds at Kapalua in the past, Schauffele picks up an average of 1.8 strokes per round, making him the third-best player in the field in terms of strokes gained: total. The 28-year-old also ranks as the number two player in this line-up when it comes to strokes gained: off-the-tee.
Of those at the shorter prices, it’s hard to look beyond Xander, who based on his achievements at this venue over the last three or four years, really ought to be as short as a few others, and on this basis, playing at +1400 represents a slither of value.