Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hyundai Tournament of Champions - Fantasy Picks

Matt Kuchar has four top-10s in the last four years at Kapalua ... but no victories. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

Since it no longer leads off the schedule, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions has rapidly evolved into a soft reopening of the PGA TOUR season. With no cut and the second smallest field of the 47 tournaments -- 34 of the 38 qualifiers are slated to compete this week -- the winners-only event is the feel-good stretch after an extended nap.

When dreaming of The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, it's easy to think only of the downhill, par-5 finishing hole (with Molokai in the distance) that can tip out at 663 yards. And while some of the longest drives are registered at No. 18, the par-4 seventh and 12th holes yield even longer pokes on a consistent basis. Overall, six of the nine longest drives during the 2013-14 season occurred on this course, but none of the knocks at 18 cracked the top 20.

Contrary to the assumption, Kapalua's average distance of all drives ranks a pedestrian 18th at 281.9 yards. But with wide fairways and greens that average 7,120 square feet, it's no surprise that last year's field eclipsed 77 percent in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation. The rub is that it averaged 39 feet in proximity to the hole, third-longest of any track on the docket.

The Plantation Course is the only par 73 on the PGA TOUR. With respective nines of 36 and 37, it boasts only three par 3s to complement a full set of four par 5s. It reads 7,452 yards on the scorecard, but the elevation changes give the bunters better than a fighting chance.

Twelve first-timers in this week's field will be trying to overcome a recent trend that experience matters. Daniel Chopra is the last to win in a debut (in 2008), and all of the last four victors needed at least three looks before breaking through. Defending champion Zach Johnson turned the trick in his seventh appearance.

Trade winds (from the east) will usher in the tournament scheduled to begin on Friday. They are expected to graduate into a heavier Kona wind (from the southwest) by the final round on Monday. Sunny skies and highs near 80 degrees are forecast.
  1. Jason Day - Back for the first time since T9 in only previous start in 2011. Squeezed the most out of injury-riddled 2014. Fifth at World Challenge.
  2. Matt Kuchar - No worse than T9 (2013) in last four tries at Kapalua. T8 at the Hero World Challenge in December. Career-tying best 11 top 10s last season.
  3. Chris Kirk - Barely wavered since winning the Deutsche Bank four months ago. Two top fives since. T7 at Kapalua in 2012; T16 in his return last year.
  4. Bubba Watson - Three-time winner on the PGA TOUR since last year's edition, including the WGC-HSBC Champions two months ago. T4 here in 2013.
  5. Jimmy Walker - T21 in his debut at Kapalua last year. Since the last of his three titles, he's added seven top 10s and another seven top 25s.
  6. Hideki Matsuyama - First-timer. After making four starts to begin 2014-15, won in a playoff at the Dunlop Phoenix, his sixth title since turning pro.
  7. Ryan Moore - Only top 25 in last seven starts was a title defense at the CIMB Classic, but he has two top 10s in three starts at Kapalua (10th in 2014).
  8. Sang-Moon Bae - Ignoring potential distraction in South Korea, his form has been terrific of late. Two wins and a T5 in last four starts.
  9. Russell Henley - Notoriously streaky putter placed fourth-from-last in debut last year, but picked up the pace since. Two top fives in last five starts.
  10. Patrick Reed - T16 in first appearance last year; led field in putting inside 10 feet (66-for-71). T3 in last OWGR-contributing start (World Challenge).
  11. Billy Horschel - Shared sixth in his debut last year and was low man on last 36 holes (12-under 134). Tied for eighth at Hero World Challenge a month ago.
  12. John Senden - Eight years since his debut at Kapalua (T19). Closed 2014 with two top 10s and another pair of top 25s in last five starts worldwide.
  13. Robert Streb - The FedExCup points leader is making his debut at Kapalua. Bracketed breakthrough at Seaside with top 10s in Vegas and Mississippi.
  14. Geoff Ogilvy - Winner in his last two appearances at Kapalua (2009, 2010), but hasn't returned since injured finger thwarted the attempt at three in a row.
  15. Scott Stallings - Fifth at Aussie PGA in last start. Top 25s in three of last four, a welcome deviation from usual extended droughts. Third look at Kapalua.


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This article was written by Rob Bolton (@RobBoltonGolf) and was originally posted on PGATOUR.com.