Whenever a young golfer with loads of potential wins early in the season, the talk centers around what could be. That is exactly what is happening now after Justin Thomas won the SBS Tournament of Champions.
With Thomas, though, the talk might just be warranted. Thomas' skill has never been a question. He's looked the part of a top-tier golfer since he came onto the PGA Tour, but consistency has eluded him most of his career. When he’s on, he looks incredible. But his lows left him missing many cuts and finishing sub-50 too often, too often for a high-level golfer anyway.
That might be changing right here and now, however, as in five starts this season, he's finished no worse than T23 — oh, and he's already won twice. Throw in two additional top-10s and you could say he's the hottest player on the planet.
The question surrounding Thomas, who is still just 22 years old, is this all too much too fast? We've seen golfers have early success and flame out, and we’ve seen golfers start fast and continue on that trajectory. Thomas obviously belongs on the PGA Tour, but does he belong in the conversation with other top players? The easy answer is, not yet, only because he has yet to win a major or The Players or a WGC event.
But if he stays the course, he should have one of those events under his belt before the end of the year, and then the conversation switches to his possible inclusion into golf's elite category, but that's still a bit off. For now it's just talk.
This week: Sony Open - Waialae Country Club - Honolulu
Last Year: Fabian Gomez shot a final-round 62 on his way to a playoff victory over Brandt Snedeker.
PLAYERS TO CONSIDER
Few in the field this week have a stellar track record at this event; the excepting being Walker. Walker has won this event twice in the last three years and also finished in the top 15 last year. Throw in a top-5 in 2011 and you see a pattern developing. Walker also played well last week, so there's really no reason to overthink this one.
He's the hottest golfer on the planet, and it might be wise to strike while the iron is hot. Thomas hasn't yet reached the level where you'd want to save him for a major, so this might be the best spot to use him all season. He did miss the cut here last year, but he finished inside the top 10 the previous year.
Every pick other than Walker or Thomas this week is going to be labeled as "contrarian," and if you are going contrarian, you might as well dive deep into the sleeper pool. First up is Zac Blair, who has two top-10s in his only two starts at this event.
Next up on the sleeper list is Jerry Kelly, who has quite the track record here. Kelly enters this year's event on a streak of three consecutive top-10s. Kelly has finished inside the top 10 in half of his 18 starts here. This is one of a few times all season Kelly can be considered.
The final sleeper on the list this week is a guy who you always want to take early in the season. Perez loses almost all of his value once the PGA Tour leaves the west coast, in other words, you have approximately two months to use Perez. Perez played well last week and he has finished inside the top-20 at this event in three of his past four starts.
PLAYERS TO AVOID
Gomez is the defending champion, which will put him on the radar of many fantasy golf players, but I advise staying away from him this week. His overall track record at this event is not great, and his play since winning here last year has not been strong, either — only one top finish since.
Choi won this event in 2008 but has only cracked the top 20 here once in his last seven starts. His results at the Sony Open are in line with his overall results. Age has caught up with Choi, and he simply isn't the golfer he was in 2008.
Levin has an odd track record at this event. In eight starts, he's yet to miss a cut, but he's also failed to crack the top 20. In his two most recent starts at this event, Levin has finished outside the top 50.
There is some steam out there on Bradley that this might be the year he gets back on track, but a resurgence, if it is to come, likely will have to wait at least one more week as his track record at this event leaves a lot to be desired. Bradley has finished outside the top 40 in three of his four starts here.
The second-hottest player on the planet on the Avoid list? It's seems crazy, but Matsuyama has struggled mightily on this track, and although I expect him to play better this year, it probably won't be enough to make him a contender this week. In four starts here, Matsuyama has missed the cut three times and finished T78 the other time.
ONE AND DONE GOLFER
Last week: Vaughn Taylor (24) - $74,000; Season - $501,274
This week: Jimmy Walker - After avoiding the big names last week, I decided that I was going chalk this week. The pick came down to Thomas or Walker. Walker won out because of his track record at this event.
Group A: Gary Woodland, Branden Grace
Group B: Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Brandt Snedeker
Group C: Zac Blair, Pat Perez
Last week: N/A - N/A - (MC); Streak - 0
This week: Jimmy Walker - Starting the new year off with a double-up. Walker is no guarantee to make the cut (he's missed three in 10 starts here), but he seems to have found a groove in the last four years, and I highly doubt he's even close to the cut line this week.