Dave Tindall's in-depth preview and best bets for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
By Dave Tindall
Last Updated: 04/01/13 12:02pm
The 2013 PGA Tour season tees off, as usual, in Hawaii with the island of Maui hosting the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
As the name suggests, this event is limited to those who posted a PGA Tour win in 2012 although the long trip and proximity to the festive period means not everyone takes up their spot. Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson are the four obvious absentees.
Thirty players do make it though and they include Masters winner Bubba Watson, US Open champ Webb Simpson as well as European Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter, who qualified via his victory in November's WGC-HSBC in China.
There is no cut this week so players are never completely out of contention after the first two days. In 2005 Stuart Appleby came from the back of the field after day one to win.
Make a note. The tournament starts on Friday so, for Sky Sports viewers in the UK, the action will finish in the early hours of Tuesday morning!
The Plantation Course at Kapalua has only three short holes so is the only par 73 on the PGA Tour. The 7,411-yarder, which concludes with a par five, is set along the seaside slopes of the West Maui mountains and has some of the biggest greens on Tour. Four of the last seven winners here have led the field for scrambling en route to their respective victories so getting up and down when missing these big putting surfaces is a key skill. Seven of the last nine winners have either ranked first or second for strokes gained-putting so prowess on the greens is also vital. Also, look out for some huge drives. The rolling terrain and helping winds resulted in 41 drives of over 400 yards last year, with Gary Woodland recording what proved a season's best 450 yards on the 18th.
As you might expect in this location, winds can be a key factor. And, sure enough, the forecast is for it to blow. Gusts could reach 30mph in Saturday's second round while the highs for the other three days will also provide a test for the players: Friday (28mph), Sunday (26mph) and Monday (20mph). There's also a 20% chance of rain for the first three days. (Forecast at 1330BST Weds)
Last year - Steve Stricker
Five clear after round three, Stricker was nearly caught on the front nine as Martin Laird and Jonathan Byrd closed to within a shot. However, birdies at eight and nine pulled him clear again and he eventually finished three in front of runner-up Laird. Stricker's 12th career win on Tour and ninth win in his 40's moved him up to No.5 in the world rankings.
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
(As it's the first tournament of the year and many players may be rusty, in the below profiles we list their results in any events they played in November or December)
Matt Kuchar (11/1): Kuchar, one of the losing American Ryder Cup team, has finished sixth (2011) and third (2010) on his last two starts in this event so clearly likes the course and enjoys bringing his family over to Hawaii too. His tidy short game is a good fit for the course although his odds are short enough for a player who has won just four times in 278 PGA Tour starts. He ended 2012 with a seventh in the Hong Kong Open and an 11th out of 18 in Tiger's World Challenge event at the start of December. A likely challenger but will he get his head in front?
Nov/Dec form: 11-7
Course form: 6-3-25
World ranking: 21
Ian Poulter (12/1): Europe's Ryder Cup standout used his Medinah heroics as a springboard for some stellar solo play which resulted in him punching his ticket for this event after a win in November's WGC-HSBC in China. Like many, he'll have new clubs in the bag this week and he's also never won a strokeplay event on US soil so his price looks short. He's qualified for this event once before - also via a matchplay win! - and came a creditable sixth so the course suits his game. He admits though that he's eaten well over the festive period ("Stretchy Technical Trousers are packed to allow for Christmas spread") and even added: "I wouldn't be picking me in any fantasy pick or bet this week even with my own money. Slapping it... It's been a good Christmas."
Nov/Dec form: 17-26-2-1
Course form: 6
World ranking: 12
Jason Dufner (12/1): The laid-back American was the hottest player in golf for a couple of months in the spring of 2012, making the the Zurich Classic of New Orleans his first ever victory and three weeks later adding the HP Byron Nelson Championship. That secured a Ryder Cup spot where he performed with distinction (won three, lost one) and, of course, also a first visit to this event. He also played strongly post-Medinah with a pair of worldwide second places in Australia and China but it's asking a lot for any debutant in this event to outperform those who know this course inside out.
Course form: n/a
Current form: 15-2
World ranking: 9
Webb Simpson (14/1): Simpson didn't hit the same level of top-class consistency he showed the previous year but 2012 was still one to remember after his US Open win in San Francisco. Simpson started last season with a third place in this event (68-68-69-68) so he took an instant liking to the course although, to some extent, the strong showing may just have been a continuation of his 2011 form. There is plenty to like about his game and attitude so he deserves his place near the front of the betting.
Current form: 7
Course form: 3
World ranking: 11
Steve Stricker (14/1): Playing-wise, Stricker has a similar profile to Kuchar. They're not that long but have hot short games. The difference is that Stricker is a proven winner having racked up eight PGA Tour successes since the middle of 2009. The most recent came in this event 12 months ago when Stricker shot 68-63-69-69 to win by three. He was also fourth the year before and runner-up in 2008 so he's the one real course specialist in the field this week. Last outing was an eighth place in Tiger's World Challenge a month ago.
Nov/Dec form: 8
Course form: 1-4-10-2
World ranking: 18
Keegan Bradley (14/1): Bradley finished in midfield here on debut last year but a closing eight-under 65 suggests he can thrive on the Plantation Course second time around. An inspired performance in the Ryder Cup (for the first two days at least) showed his huge potential and he rounded off 2012 with a second place in Tiger's World Challenge tournament. Bradley topped the All-Around stats in 2012 so there are no weaknesses in his game and he could be in for a big year.
Course form: 16
Current form: 2-23
World ranking: 13
Dustin Johnson (14/1): DJ was the first to arrive on the island of Maui this week and the big-hitting American is definitely a live contender here. He was the only American to go undefeated in the Ryder Cup and says he is eyeing up the world number one spot sometime soon so he means business. Johnson shot a seven-under 66 on the way to a ninth place here last year and in five starts in the two season-opening Hawaii events he's not finished worse than 16th.
Course form: 9-16-11
Current form: 13-39
World ranking: 23Bubba Watson (14/1): Masters champion Bubba should relish this test where shaping shots in the wind can be a big plus. However, the reality shows something different with disappointing finishes of 25th and 18th in his two previous visits. Both were the result of terrible scrambling stats suggesting he struggles when missing these vast greens. However, given the extra swagger that comes with being a Masters champ, it could be foolish to write Bubba off and it's worth noting that he was runner-up in the Thailand Golf Championship just a few weeks ago.
Course form: 18-25
Current form: 2-9
World ranking: 8
Best of the rest
Bill Haas (20/1): Haas shouldn't be too rusty having played in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa at the start of December and his third place there followed a 10th in the HSBC Champions in China. Was only 20th last year but on debut in 2011, the year he won the FedEx Cup, Haas was a useful tied eighth. He loves this tournament, saying: "It's an event that I circle on the schedule from day one if I can qualify. I love the golf course and the challenges and opportunities that it provides."
Marc Leishman (66/1): Aussies have a superb record in this event with Stuart Appleby reeling off a hat-trick of wins (2004/2005/2006) and Geoff Ogilvy winning back-to-back (2009/2010). There may be a few reasons for this - the wind, the bermuda greens, the fact that they were match sharp after playing in the Aussie Triple Crown events. Leishman, a former PGA Tour rookie of the year, was eighth in the Australian PGA just a few weeks ago so he may be able to hit the ground running here.
Dustin Johnson was the first man in this week's field to arrive in Hawaii (December 28th) and word has it that he's been playing the course at 7am every morning.
DJ says he's been doing lots of work on his wedge game so if he's sharp in that area he can really cash in on his huge driving which will suit the wide-open par 7,411-yard par 73 Plantation Course.
It's key to scramble well when missing the big greens at the Plantation Course so it's encouraging to see that Johnson (32nd) finished high in last season's official Scrambling stats.
He's a regular winner, likes playing in Hawaii and proved when runner-up in the 2011 Open at windy Royal St George's that he can thrive when it gusts. He really seems keen on laying down a marker on what could prove a huge year so back him at 14s.
Given this tournament's reputation for repeat winners, Steve Stricker is another to have onside.
Stricker won by three shots last year and is also a former runner-up.
He's playing a much reduced schedule in 2013 (10 events due to wanting to spend more time with his family) so when he does tee it up he'll be extra keen to make the most of it.
Most of Stricker's wins have come when he's had a few weeks off so we have every reason to expect another fast start.
His excellent scrambling skills make him a great fit for the course and, unlike some of the others at the front of the betting, he does rack up plenty of wins in 72-hole strokeplay events.
A top four finish for either Johnson or Stricker will produce a profit if we back both each-way.
2.5pts e.w. Dustin Johnson at 14/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,)
2.5pts e.w. Steve Stricker at 14/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4)