This article is part of our Golf Picks series.
Sentry Tournament of Champions Betting Preview
Welcome back, golf fans!
After a six-week stretch without an official PGA Tour event, we'll now have golf every Sunday for the next nine months. As usual, the new year kicks off in Hawaii with the Tournament of Champions. Each of the 40 golfers who won an event last year received an invite, and only Rory McIlroy decided not to tee it up. Last year, Harris English, at 30-1 odds, claimed victory in a playoff over Joaquin Niemann with a birdie on the first extra hole.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort in Maui has been the host venue since 1999 and is unique in that it's the only par-73 course the PGA Tour plays all year. With the winning score checking in at 21-under-par or better six of the last seven years, players will need to make birdies in bunches in order to contend. The winner ranked top-3 in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green four of the last five years, signaling that an all-around game will be needed to excel this week. Off the tee, there will be more of a premium on distance over accuracy thanks to the wide fairways. Additionally, I will be dialed in on those who hit quality approach shots from 200 yards and out, as we'll see more swings from that range than usual.
All odds via DraftKings Sportsbook as of 6:00 PM ET Tuesday.
Horses for the Course
The following five golfers, with a minimum of two appearances, have averaged the most birdies per round at Kapalua since 2017.
Thomas is the only player in the field making his sixth straight appearance, and he's shown that experience here pays dividends, recording a win and a pair of third-place finishes over the last three years. Those results have received the attention of the oddsmakers, who have him listed as the second choice on the board at 8-1, just narrowly behind Jon Rahm. A little further down the board is another former winner of the event in Reed, who checks in at 28-1. He followed up his 2015 win with a runner-up finish but hasn't shown the same form since. With a T2 result in Bermuda this fall and four rounds in the 60s at the Hero World Challenge, Reed is trending in the right direction. If you pass on putting down a bet on him, he is still a quality DFS target at a moderate price tag.
New Year, Same Form?
The following five golfers, on a per-round basis, gained the most strokes from tee to green over their last 20 rounds.
World No. 1 Rahm was by far the most dominant player last summer and comes in more than a half shot better than anyone else on the list. He will be making his fifth consecutive appearance in the Tournament of Champions and will be looking for a fifth straight top-10. Although Rahm didn't show much in a pair of lower-level European Tour events this fall, he should be recharged after a grueling year. Another player who had a stellar 2021 is Burns, whose standing in the Official World Golf Ranking is over 140 spots than it was at this time a year ago. Burns won twice in 2021 and came close to doing so several other times. He will be at a bit of a disadvantage in his first appearance, but there don't seem to be many courses that don't fit his eye, and he is a prime target at 18-1 odds to win.
Patrick Cantlay (14-1)
Cantlay is arguably the best golfer in the world not named Rahm, and he has not finished over par in any of his 12 rounds at Kapalua. The only real question is a lack of activity, as the Ryder Cup was the only event he appeared in during the fall. However, that's being a little nitpicky when you consider we are discussing a golfer who ranked top-30 in every strokes-gained category last season.
Cameron Smith (22-1)
I think this is the year Smith really takes a step forward and wins at least a couple times. Although he has only won one PGA Tour event by himself, he has finished top-5 in a major three times and has won twice with a teammate at the Zurich Classic, including last year with the next golfer on this list. Smith's strong all-around game should suit him well in Hawaii.
Marc Leishman (30-1)
I'm going to go with another Aussie, as Leishman – Smith's teammate at the Zurich Classic – showed improved form this fall with back-to-back top-5 results. He was in the mix to win here in 2018 and 2019, so he certainly likes the course. He's a good target if you're looking for a bigger payout or if you prefer to pivot off the top golfers.
Top-10 Finish: 11-2
It's always difficult to know what you're going to get out of Mickelson in a given week, as he has not recorded a top-15 since winning the PGA Championship. Nevertheless, this is a good price for a top-10 wager in such a small field. If there's a course that won't punish Lefty's errant bombs off the tee, this is it.
Top-5 Finish: 8-1
Power is making his first trip to Kapalua after a breakthrough year that saw him climb from outside the top 400 in the world rankings all the way into the top 75. He managed to gain strokes on the field last season in all of SG: Off-the-Tee, Approach, Around-the-Green and Putting, and that should suit him well here.
Top-5 Finish: 12-1
Dahmen quietly had a steady 2021 campaign, only missing two cuts after winning in March and recording a top-5 in a respectable Houston Open field in November. He has gained strokes off the tee and on approach in each of his four full seasons on Tour, so it's evident his ball striking is solid.
Spieth will be making his return to the TOC after a three-year hiatus. He rode the birdie train to top-3 finishes in each of his last three appearances, including a dominating eight-shot victory in 2016. Spieth may not be at top form, but Matsuayama tied for last here last year, and I like the course history angle in this matchup.
Although English comes in as the defending champion, he has some question marks after a back injury forced him to miss a month during the fall and led him to a missed cut at The RSM Classic and an uninspiring showing at the Hero World Challenge. The only real weakness in Finau's game tends to be an inaccurate driver, which shouldn't hurt him much on the wide fairways he will see this week.