With no disrespect to the fall swing, which gave us more intrigue than we could have expected—the emergence of Cameron Champ, Charles Howell III's ending an 11-year winless drought, Brooks Koepka's ascent to No. 1—the annual Tournament of Champions in Hawaii still signifies like the beginning of the golf season. This week is when things really get started. With the holiday tournament break now in the rearview mirror, players have wrapped up their offseason preparation and are ready for the week-to-week grind of a PGA Tour campaign.
While the rest of us are dealing with post-New Year's blues, exacerbated by the dark and cold January weather that blankets the majority of the country, the world's best golfers are on Maui, playing golf at a world-class course, in short sleeves. Oh, what a life. Every player is also guaranteed four rounds and a paycheck, as there is no cut.
Eight of the top 10 players in the world are teeing it up—who doesn't love Hawaii this time of year?—including No. 8 Rory McIlroy, who is making his first appearance in the event. There was some speculation that Tiger Woods might begin his season this week, as he hasn't played an official PGA Tour event since winning the Tour Championship, but he will not be competing. All signs point toward his first start coming at the Farmers Insurance Open later this month.
Here's everything you need to know about the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Kapalua's Plantation Course is one of the most dramatic courses of any on the PGA Tour. Designed by the famed architectural duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the 7,411-yard par 73 features four par 5s and only three par 3s. The course has frequently ranked inside the top 100 in the United States.
The Plantation Course a hilly track that's known as the hardest walk on tour, but that walk is made significantly more pleasant by sweeping ocean views on a number of holes. Located on the windy northwest portion of Maui, strong winds frequently whip off the coast and and serve as the course's chief defense. The fairways are some of the widest on tour, the rough isn't too penal and the greens are slower and granier than usual.
The signiature hole is the 663-yard par 5 18th. It plays drastically downhill and the prevailing wind is at the players' back, leading to some tape-measure drives. Most players are able to reach the green in two. Watching Champ hit drives on that tee will be a treat.
When there's no wind, Kapalua is one of the easiest courses the professionals play. In 2003, Ernie Els set a PGA Tour record by shooting 31 under par for four days. The average winning score of the past five years is a shade lower than 23 under par. Expect birdies and birdies and birdies and then some more birdies and maybe a birdie or two after that.
RAPAPORT: Handing Out Year-End Awards for 2018
The criteria for getting into the field this week is as simple as it gets: Any player who won a PGA Tour event since the last Tournament of Champions is invited. That includes every single official event of the past year, from the Masters (won by Patrick Reed) to the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship (won by Brice Garnett). What results is a 34-man event with a mix of world-class players and lesser-known guys who got hot for a week—from Brooks Koepka to Michael Kim, from Justin Thomas to Troy Merritt. In total, 27 of the 34 players are ranked inside the top 100 in the world. Kim is the lowest-ranked player there at world No. 283. Jordan Spieth, who has dropped to world No. 17, will not play. He won the event in 2016. Dustin Johnson will be there to defend his title from last season.
Here's a full list of competitors:
Charles Howell III
Ted Potter Jr.
All times are EST, which is five hours ahead of Hawaii time. Get ready for some primetime golf. Players will be re-paired after each round based on their score.
3 p.m.: Satoshi Kodaira, Cameron Champ
3:10 p.m.: Kevin Tway, Troy Merritt
3:20 p.m.: Matt Kuchar, Michael Kim
3:30 p.m.: Ted Potter, Jr., Scott Piercy
3:40 p.m.: Charles Howell III, Brice Garnett
3:50 p.m.: Brandt Snedeker, Ian Poulter
4 p.m.: Andrew Putnam, Andrew Landry
4:10 p.m.: Marc Leishman, Patton Kizzire
4:20 p.m.: Gary Woodland, Kevin Na
4:30 p.m.: Aaron Wise, Paul Casey
4:40 p.m.: Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm
4:50 p.m.: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari
5 p.m.: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele
5:10 p.m.: Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson
5:20 p.m.: Keegan Bradley, Brooks Koepka
5:30 p.m.: Billy Horschel, Justin Thomas
5:40 p.m.: Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson
2018- Dustin Johnson (-24)
2017- Justin Thomas (-22)
2016- Jordan Spieth (-30)
2015- Patrick Reed (-21)
2014- Zach Johnson (-19)
2013- Dustin Johnson (-13)
2012- Steve Stricker (-23)
2011- Jonathan Byrd (-24)
2010- Geoff Ogilvy (-22)
2009- Geoff Ogilvy (-24)
Dustin Johnson 5-1
Jon Rahm 7-1
Justin Thomas 8-1
Brooks Koepka 8-1
Rory McIlroy 10-1
Bryson DeChambeau 12-1
Jason Day 12-1
Patrick Reed 16-1
Cameron Champ 20-1
Francesco Molinari 20-1
Webb Simpson 20-1
Xander Schauffele 20-1
Gary Woodland 25-1
Marc Leishman 25-1
Paul Casey 30-1
Bubba Watson 30-1
Aaron Wise 30-1
This is a particularly tough one because there are no recent tournaments to go off of. All of these guys haven't played competitively in at least a month, with those who didn't play at the Hero World Challenge having been off longer than that. So you have to go by course history and fit and the good ol' fashioned gut. It's tempting to go with Cameron Champ, whose world-beating driving abilities profile well for Kapalua, but he's making his first start at Kapalua and it's a bit unfair to expect too much from him this week, his first real taste of a top-tier PGA Tour event. I'm going to go with Jason Day, a guy who has fallen out of the top-tier discussion but did win twice in 2018. He's never finished worse than 12th at this event and finished tied for 3rd in 2015, the best year of his career. Day will be able to hit drive a bunch and take advantage of the wide fairways, and he still boasts one of the world's best short games. And at 12-1, he offers very good value against a limited field. If you're looking for a higher payout, throw some on Gary Woodland at 25-1.