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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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TG2: What’s this on the back of the Mizuno JPX919 Hot Metal irons?!

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Speculation about Mizuno’s new JPX 919 irons that recently popped up on the USGA Conforming Clubs list, as well as in-hand photos of new Srixon Z785 and Z585 irons. Also, Editor Andrew Tursky and Equipment expert Brian Knudson talk to a special guest, Steven Bowditch’s caddie from the 2018 John Deere Classic (who he found on Twitter).

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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The 19th Hole: Mark Rolfing and architect David Kidd on Carnoustie’s challenges

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It’s Open Championship week at Carnoustie! This week, Michael Williams hosts NBC and Golf Channel analyst Mark Rolfing and award-winning architect David Kidd (Bandon Dunes) to talk about how the pros will try to tame “Car-nasty.” It also features Jaime Darling of Golf Scotland on the many attractions around Carnoustie outside the golf course.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

How often should you actually get “Up-and-Down” based on your handicap?

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‘Up and Downs’ have long been the accepted measure of skill in the short game. The chart below shows average performance in this area for the PGA Tour and an array of handicap levels. How do you fit in?

A few points of definition: The above refers to short game shots around the green, other than from the sand. [Stay tuned: sand shots will be my next article.] I consider the short game to be all shots from within 50 yards of the hole. This distance was a topic of debate 30 years ago when I was developing my golf analysis program. I was fortunate to be working with Golf Digest Golf Schools and some of the top instructors were good enough to embrace the better form of game analysis that I was creating. In particular, I owe a great deal to Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson. Their help and encouragement in my early stages gave me a much needed boost of momentum. Little did we know that what I then called “Strokes Lost and Saved” would ultimately become the accepted standard of analysis on the PGA Tour — now know as “Strokes Gained.” Anyway, we agreed that 50 yards was the right distance range for the short game for two reasons:

  1. It represented the short game for virtually every handicap level, men and women.
  2. It was a short enough distance that it didn’t need to be sliced even further.

That said, I do NOT believe that “Up and Downs” are an appropriate or accurate measure of short game skill for two reasons:

  1. It represents the combination of two skills: Short Game and Putting.
  2. It ignores the ERRORS or shots that actually miss the green.

In my 30+ years of studying performance at all skill levels, I have found that it is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of bad shots (errors) that do more to influence a player’s scoring level than do all the good shots. Accordingly, I built the ability to capture data on the common errors in the game into ShotByShot.com.

The true measure of a player’s short game skill is their Strokes Gained in that facet. BUT, that is simply a number — a positive number is good and a negative number, not so much. But how then to best display the skill that is associated with the Strokes Gained number? I believe the combination of three stats to be the correct way to display short game skill:

  • Average putting distance, when the green is successfully hit.
  • Percent shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole
  • Percent errors, or shots that miss the putting surface.

Where does your game fall in these two important categories?

Note, that the two lines cross at about a 16 handicap. That is actually a better than average golfer yet for every Chip/Pitch shot that they successfully get to within 5 feet of the hole, they are also chunking or sculling one and missing the green altogether. Work to dramatically reduce the errors and that 16 will drop to 12 or 13?

You might ask: How can the PGA Tour make more errors than the scratch golfer? Good question! I have two explanations:

  1. They really are that good! Regardless of the relative difficulty of the shot, Tour players will go for it. They have the confidence that when they miss they will get the next up and down. At the same time, the amateur that has reached the lofty level of Scratch has generally done so thru rigorous consistency and the avoidance of errors. At the low handicap levels, a bogey can be acceptable but a mistake that results in a double is NOT.
  2. The tour Shotlink data considers the fringe of the green to be a miss whereas I recommend that players count the fringe as a green hit and a putting opportunity. Your long game has been efficient enough to get there and should be rewarded with the GIR. At the same time, to count the shot from the fringe as a short game shot will unfairly reward your short game skill for what was actually a putt.

That reminds me again of my very early days when Chuck Cook said to me: “Pete, Tour players don’t make errors in the short game!”  See Chuck, I was right, they do! For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: ShotByShot.com.

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