This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
SENTRY TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
Winner's Share: $1.3M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Course: Plantation Course, Kapalua
2018 champion: Dustin Johnson
When we previewed this tournament a year ago, it was not long after Tiger Woods had re-emerged at the Hero World Challenge and offered a glimmer of hope that his latest back surgery would finally allow him to resume his career. At the time, we wrote: "Who knows – will Woods qualify for next year's TOC? (Not that he'd show up, but still quite the question.)" Yes, Woods would qualify. Yes, it was quite the question. And, no, of course he didn't show up. Woods, Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose are the only ones among the 37 qualifiers for the 2019 lid-lifter who didn't make the trek to Kapalua. Also notable by his absence is someone by the name of Jordan Spieth, who, almost as remarkable as Woods qualifying, didn't qualify after being No. 2 in the world at this time last year.
Still, it's great to have golf back, and there's still a challenging slate to consider when playing DraftKings this week. World No. 1 Brooks Koepka leads a contingent of nine of the top-10 in the OWGR (Rose is No. 2 and also took a pass last year). That includes No. 8 Rory McIlroy, who is making his first foray to the tournament. There are 10 other newcomers to Kapalua, so nearly one-third of the field has no course history here. That's something to keep in mind, as mastering the enormous and undulating greens is not a quick study. So that means 23 guys have played the tournament before. Yet ... only nine guys are back from last year, including Koepka, defending champion Dustin Johnson, 2017 winner Justin Thomas, 2015 champ Patrick Reed and last year's runner-up, Jon Rahm. Of those nine, only Johnson and Thomas played in each of the previous two years. That's a roundabout way of illustrating just how hard it is to win every year on the PGA Tour.
Kapalua is known as a bomber's track, and we'll surely see some 400-yard drives again this week. Who could forget Johnson's 430-yarder last year that finally settled inches from the cup on No. 12, oh-so-close to a mind-boggling par-4 hole-in-one? But keep in mind that the course plays significantly shorter than its listed 7,400-plus yards, with massive elevation drops buoying distances. The super-wide fairways allow for extreme aggressiveness, but Spieth (2016 winner), Zach Johnson (2014) and Steve Stricker (2012) offer plenty of evidence that shorter hitters can thrive here. In fact, the golfers absolutely will need to bring their short-game acumen to succeed this week, with those massive greens especially tricky. We will revisit that in the key stats and Champion's Profile below.
Weather-wise, duh, it's Hawaii, it will be beautiful. Specifically, it will be warm and windy, with the breezes blowing in the upper-teens mph most of the week. They will be primarily out of the east, which course observers know further shortens the course. That's the way the wind blew last year, when, of the 51 courses in PGA Tour events in 2018, Kapalua played as the 47th easiest.
Lastly, the TOC will offer our first glimpses at all the new rule changes. Perhaps the most interesting one will allow the players to leave the flagstick in when putting. Bryson DeChambeau, for one, says it's an advantage to leave the stick in, so we'll definitely keep an eye on him. All in all, there are some three dozen rule changes. One that could be tested right off the bat centers around the ball moving on the green. If it's deemed accidental, and that could happen in the expected windy conditions, there will no longer be a one-stroke penalty.
Key Stats to Winning at Kapalua (in order of importance)
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Proximity to the hole/strokes gained: approach
• Birdie or better percentage
2018 - Dustin Johnson
2017 - Justin Thomas
2016 - Jordan Spieth
2015 - Patrick Reed
2014 - Zach Johnson
2013 - Dustin Johnson
2012 - Steve Stricker
2011 - Jonathan Byrd
2010 - Geoff Ogilvy
2009 - Geoff Ogilvy
History shows that shorter hitters have thrived, and won, by negotiating all the nuances around and on the expansive greens. We're talking proximity to the hole, scrambling and, especially, putting. The fairways are some 50-60 yards wide, roughly double what the golfers see most of the year, and the greens average more than 7,000 square feet. Larger greens normally weed out the poor putters. Golfers shouldn't miss many greens this week, but when they do, getting up-and-down is far from a sure thing, given the size and undulations of the putting surfaces. Last year, Johnson won by finishing sixth in strokes gained: putting and tying for sixth in scrambling. He was only 24th in proximity, but that stat should not be dismissed. Maybe we shouldn't call it proximity to the hole, but rather proximity to the right spot on the green to leave a makeable putt. With all the trickiness of the greens, placement is critical. That's why course knowledge is viewed with such importance here. No TOC rookie has won since Daniel Chopra in 2008. But with such a small, no-cut field, it's certainly possible for a first-timer to secure a high finish, as Rahm did a year ago. In the past 10 editions, the winning score has been at least 21-under eight times, topping out at Spieth's 30-under in 2016. Johnson won last year at 24-under, but no one else was close in his eight-stroke cakewalk.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Dustin Johnson - $11,000 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 5-1)
He's no longer No. 1 in the world, but he's the top price on the DraftKings board and the favorite at golfodds.com. Johnson is a two-time winner here and has finished top-10 in his past six visits. To go along with his enormous length, Johnson was ranked second on Tour last year in proximity and 25th in strokes gained: putting.
Jon Rahm - $9,800 (7-1)
Just days before the tournament started, Rahm moved to the No. 2 betting choice. Not only did he finish runner-up last year in his debut – albeit eight strokes behind Johnson – he also won the Hero World Challenge last month. Rahm was second last year despite finishing outside the top-25 in proximity and outside the top-15 in strokes gained: putting. We suspect he'll have a better idea where to land the ball on the greens this time around.
Tier 2 Values
Jason Day - $9,000 (12-1)
Day has played Kapalua four times, with a best of T3 (2015) and a worst of T12 (2017). He has perhaps the finest overall short game on Tour, last season ranking second in strokes gained: putting and fifth in strokes gained: around the green. Day normally takes a lot of time off late in the year, which would cause us to downgrade him here, but he played the Hero last month. Day had last done that in 2015, when he produced that tie for third at Kapalua.
Webb Simpson - $8,500 (20-1)
Simpson is another short-game wizard – he led the Tour in scrambling last season and was fifth in strokes gained: putting. Simpson has played Kaapula three times, with an impressive pair of T3s. But he hasn't been in the field since 2014.
Tier 3 Values
Patrick Reed - $8,200 (16-1)
Reed is always among the busiest "offseason" golfers, which in part explains his success here. It's also because he says this course plays to his "wheelhouse." It surely shows. The winner in 2015 came back a year later and finished second, then a tie for sixth the following year. Reed ranked second on Tour last season in strokes gained: around the green.
Marc Leishman - $7,700 (25-1)
Leishman tied for 23rd here in his debut in 2013 and didn't return until last year, when he tied for seventh. He was actually tied for the lead at the midway point before a Saturday 76 ended his chances. Leishman won the CIMB Classic in October and was runner-up at the Australian PGA Championship last month. The Aussie is adept around the greens, especially for a big man. And he's always been on point playing in windy conditions.
Brandt Snedeker - $7,400 (50-1)
Snedeker made it all the way back from injury by winning the Wyndham late last season, then opened 2018-19 with a runner-up at the Safeway. And he's even been active more recently than much of the field, playing in the QBE Shootout in the second week in December. In the early going this season, Snedeker is ranked fourth in strokes gained: putting and 22nd in strokes gained: around the green. With a wedge in hand, he's among the best in the world. In five visits to Kapalua, Snedeker has tied for third twice.
Kevin Na - $6,900 (80-1)
Na ended a long winless drought to make his way back to Maui. In his only prior visit, he tied for 12th in 2012. Na was ranked eighth on Tour in scrambling last season, 11th in strokes gained: putting and tied for 19th in proximity. That all adds up to a great chance for success this week.