There are worse places to start the working year than the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii, host to the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions, the opening gambit for 2018.
As the name suggests, the only criteria for entry into the field on the island of Maui is having achieved a victory in PGA Tour-sanctioned event last season.
It may come early in the year (tees-off Thursday January 4) but golf punters will do well to pay attention to what happens at Kapalua.
Justin Thomas returns as defending champion and his three-shot victory here 12 months ago was the start of a year that catapulted the American into the top echelons of the game.
Four more PGA Tour wins would follow, amongst them a maiden major championship at the PGA in August, alongside the $10m Fed-Ex Cup jackpot a month later to cap an outstanding season.
Thomas heads the betting at 23/4 to defend his title in Hawaii, though he was a little out of sorts last month in the Bahamas.
The suggestion is to look beyond Thomas, though this course is suited to his booming game. Finding the winner in Kapalua usually means going American though.
The last seven winners have followed the trend, with only last year’s runner-up Hideki Matsuyama and 2012 bridesmaid Martin Laird stopping the US from dominating one-twos in that timeframe.
Dustin Johnson (another whose ability to carve up the course suits well) and Jordan Spieth are former winners in 2013 and 2016 respectively, the latter showing that you don’t necessarily have to hit it monster yardages to succeed as he set a tournament record 30-under par in romping to victory by eight shots.
If Spieth starts rolling in putts, he should go close in this but Johnson comes in a bit cold, with just one under-par round from his last five attempts in competitive play.
Instead we’ll side with Rickie Fowler at 7/1 to continue his hot-streak. He shot an 11-under par final round to win the Hero World Challenge last month having begun his 2018 wrap-around season with a runner-up finish at OHL Classic at Mayakoba previously.
Combined for those two events, Fowler was an impressive 36-under par. Perhaps a win at Kapalua will be the springboard he needs to follow Thomas’ lead by leaping from the pack to get his Major breakthrough this term.
Aged 29, Fowler is now, to many, the best player in the world without a Major win on his CV. In his last visit to the Plantation Course in 2016, Fowler finished 20-under par in fifth spot and, with everyone coming off a break, he can pick up where he left off last month and hopefully start a big year by getting a win on the board.
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