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Fantasy Golf Preview: 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions

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This week, the Sentry Tournament of Champions will kick off the new golf year once again. A small field and relaxed atmosphere at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course in Maui offers the 34 entrants a great opportunity to begin their year in positive fashion. Last year, Justin Thomas did just that, blitzing the course and picking up the trophy after posting a score of 22-under par for the event. Golf fans need no reminder as to how the 24-year-old fared from then on. His sublime 2017 culminated with him receiving the PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

The Plantation Course has played as the easiest on the PGA Tour for the last three years, and with warm conditions in the forecast, another low-scoring event can be expected. The par-73 course measures more than 7,400 yards and provides very generous fairways and vast elevation changes. Despite its length, Kapalua does not offer a distinct advantage for the longer hitters as one might expect. The key statistics for previous winners and top performers in the past have been Strokes Gained Approaching the Green and Strokes Gained Putting.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Jordan Spieth 11/2
  • Justin Thomas 13/2
  • Dustin Johnson 7/1
  • Rickie Fowler 7/1
  • Hideki Matsuyama 10/1
  • Jon Rahm 12/1
  • Brooks Koepka 12/1

The opening events of the year are often always the most difficult to predict because there is very little form to guide us after the break. Despite this, I feel that Jordan Spieth (11/2) is a valid choice as the primary pick for this week. The Texan has enjoyed great success at Kapalua in the past. In his three appearances, his worst finish was a T3 on his debut. He followed that with a win in 2016 and a second-place finish last year. When it comes to Spieth, particular courses seem to suit his game perfectly. He has enjoyed great success at TPC Deere Run in the past where he has multiple wins, and his form at Augusta National is spectacular. He boasts an impressive scoring average of 67.67 at the Plantation Course, a sign that this is yet another course that fits his eye.

Spieth certainly possesses the attributes needed to light up Kapalua. With good iron play absolutely vital this week, there is no better man. He was No. 1 in 2017 when it came to Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, while his putting — which is very rarely off — remains arguably the best in the game. He was also No. 2 in 2017 when it came to birdies or better on par 4s. His ability to knock it close from the fairway and convert the putt is an asset that should provide him with the opportunity to get another win this week.

With recent form always difficult to analyze at the beginning of the year, there are some signs that Spieth’s “A game” may not be that far away. He followed a respectable eighth-place finish at the Australian Open in November with a solid showing at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished T3. While the big names of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler all have wonderful resumes, there is a sense that Spieth may have slightly more going for him this week at a similar price. At 11/2, I feel it’s worth backing Jordan to start his year with a bang and claim his second title here.

Further down the betting odds, there are a few more names that get my attention. Marc Leishman (20/1) and Kevin Kisner (25/1) are both appealing, but Daniel Berger (33/1) offers a better value. He made his debut at this event last year, where he posted a modest T14 finish. His form trailed off at the back end of last year, but despite this I believe the Plantation Course is one where Berger could see success.

Berger was 12th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained Approaching the Green in 2017. He can give himself a bundle of chances for birdie this week, provided he can replicate his form with the irons from last year. It led him to finishing T30 in birdies or better on par 4s. The Florida native is also a very competent putter on Bermuda greens. Over his past 24 rounds on Bermuda greens, he ranks No. 6 in Strokes Gained Putting. If he wants to compete this week, he will need to keep up that pace. At 33/1 (several sites have him as high as 40/1), there is enough value in taking the chance that he can do just that.

Finally, looking way down the board at 66/1, there is little harm in throwing some loose change at Bryson DeChambeau. He is one of the few players in the field that have been fully active in the 2017/18 wraparound season on the PGA Tour. He has played three events and the results have been positive with finishes of T17, T7 and T14. His approach play has been on song in all three events. DeChambeau is currently 10th for this season when it comes to the crucial statistic for this week of Strokes Gained Approaching the Green, up from 105th in the same category last year. With such a small sample size, it’s difficult to measure just how much improvement this shows, but his activeness in the fall could give him an advantage.

DeChambeau’s results in the fall show his best form since July of last year, when he posted three-consecutive T30 finishes before claiming his maiden PGA Tour win at the John Deere Classic. While I’m certainly not expecting him to win this week, at 66/1 there could be some value in the golfing scientist performing well enough to perhaps sneak a place.

Recommended Bets

  • Jordan Spieth 6/1
  • Daniel Berger 33/1
  • Bryson DeChambeau 66/1
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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