01/04/2016

Now that 2016 is here, we can officially start gearing up for a brand new PGA Tour golf season. Sadly, the holidays are gone, but a consolation prize is roughly 10,000 yards of Plantation Course at Kapalua.

All of the 2015 PGA Tour winners are at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions designed for them, as 32 congregate for their event in Hawaii.

Hyundai TOC Field

Click here to see the entire field of champions at the tournament. 32 of the 36 players eligible are in the field this week.

Of the 36 eligible to play, the 4 players opting out are Jim Furyk, Shane Lowry, Rory McIlroy, and Justin Rose. The other 32 winners are in the field.

Here’s the commercial:

Course–The Plantation Course at Kapalua

It’s a big golf course. With massive, rolling fairways with the opportunity for golfers to utilize slopes, the course surprisingly plays shorter than it indicates on the card.

Add that to the fact that the greens are the size of a luxury-sized, one level apartment, and the course doesn’t seem like is has defense. But it does.

When the winds pick up, this course becomes a very difficult place to score. In fact, last year’s event was pushed to a Tuesday because of the winds. The two winds, the Hawaiian Trade Winds and the Kona winds, make a huge difference in the play of the Hyundai TOC. Read more about the winds, here.

It’s the only course on the PGA Tour schedule which registers at a par-73, as well.

Driving Series

TV Times

Screenshot 2016-01-05 15.54.09

Last 5 Winners of the Hyundai TOC

2015: Patrick Reed (Read more here)

2014: Zach Johnson (Read more here)

2013: Dustin Johnson

2012: Steve Stricker

2011: Jonathan Byrd

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 12.04.15 PM

Patrick Reed holes out this shot from the fairway, btw…

This Week’s Picks

Three from the Fairway (Contenders)

1.Patrick Reed

patrick-reed-humana-2_t640

Defending champions typically find their way into my list as contenders anyways, but Reed’s place among the contenders this week isn’t due to obligation. I had him as a contender in last year’s preview, as well.

Patrick Reed, in worldwide play, over the past 3 months has been a force. In his last 6 starts globally, he has 6 straight top-10 finishes and to Bubba Watson (below) finished in second place at the Hero World Challenge.

In 2014, he finished a disappointing T16, but followed it up a few weeks later with record play at the Humana. Patrick plays well early in seasons, and I don’t think that changes this week, especially given his form coming in.

He also, has entered the top-10 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in his career. (I’ll avoid any “top-5” jokes)

2. Jason Day

jason day

If it weren’t for Jordan Spieth’s season for the ages, Jason Day and his play after vertigo at the U.S. Open may have been the story of the year.

Since coming away from Chambers Bay with a disappointing finish, Day was the toughest player to beat in the world. And last year at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Day fired a course record 11-under par 62, remember?

His comfortability with the venue at the Plantation Course makes Day an immediate favorite heading into the week. Not to mention he was 5th on Tour last year in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, a key metric this week.

[bctt tweet=”The second ranked player in the world was 5th on the Tour last year in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. “]

3. Rickie Fowler 

rickie fowler

A new season, a new wardrobe and a new driver for Rickie.

I like Rickie Fowler this week at Kapalua for a few reasons. First, I love his form coming out of the 2015 season–the best season of his career. In a season where he won three times worldwide, Rickie finished the season with a top-3 at the Hero World Challenge.  He also hasn’t played this event since 2013, but when he did, he finished comfortably inside the top-10*.

His distance is plenty to avoid getting blown away by the “bombers” (Rickie ranked 18th in driving distance in 2015), and his complete game will aid him this week. After all, he’s now the 6th ranked golfer in the world.

Trivia: Last season’s best putter in Strokes Gained: Putting? You got it…

*rain-shortened

One from the Rough (Sleeper)

Graeme McDowell

Graeme wins world challenge

I can’t think of anyone in the field better fit to be this week’s sleeper other than Mr. McDowell.

Formerly known as a Ryder Cup stalwart and one of the world’s most consistent players, the rocky road for McDowell the past 24 months has been exactly that–rocky. In a time period spanning back to the 2015 Honda Classic, McDowell registered exactly 0 top-10s and 1 top-25 finish in 14 starts.

For a major champion who for close to five years found himself consistently ranked inside the top-20, this was a stark reality of life in professional golf. No spot is safe.

McDowell reasoned that the poor play was due to factors including growth in his family life with children and a sense of complacency with his golf game. Renewed focus in November got him back in the winners circle again in Mexico.

I like McDowell to start his year off right, finishing in the top half at the Plantation Course.


The Man at Kapalua with the Trophy

Kevin Kisner  

kevin kisner

When it rains, it pours. For Kisner, I think this applies to his winning at the Hyundai this week to continue his meteoric rise in the game.

For much of the 2015 season, Kisner was a sleeper status player who kept finding himself pluck in the middle of intense contention. Near misses throughout the spring begged the question for Kisner– when will this win ever happen? 

Not exactly the player we were expecting to say that about entering 2015.

But now, with a win in Georgia last month, the 17th-ranked golfer in the world has the chance to cement his place as a serious contender on Tour. Already in 2016, Kisner is ranked inside the top-10 for Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (he’s 9th). It’s a metric I like this week.

He’s never played here before, but I think that type of ignorance may be bliss for Kisner. After all, no one saw 2015 coming from him. I’ll at least be ready for more fantastic play in 2016.