Pat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2021 Tournament of Champions Picks. The guys give their fantasy golf picks, provide their one and done strategy for the event from Kapalua.
2021 Tournament of Champions: Field
Field: 42 Players | No Cut
Lineup Lock: Thursday, January 7
Defending Champion: Justin Thomas
Due to the stoppage in the PGA TOUR schedule in 2020, the 2021 Tournament of Champions field has been opened up beyond all the event winners from last season. The winners are still invited, of course — it IS the Tournament of Champions after all — but so are all players who advanced to the TOUR Championship to close the 2020 season at East Lake. The 2021 Tournament of Champions for golfers who win and others want to win stuff too.
Frankly, I’m for it. Both the betting market and DraftKings are usually fairly uninteresting for the first event of the year. Having fewer than 30 players in a no-cut event doesn’t really leave too many viable options. These new invites spice it up, however. Expanding the field to over 40 players makes the field more competitive from a pure probability standpoint, but it’s the players who got the bonus invite that really make things interesting.
Instead of having a tiered field of the haves and have-nots in terms of skills, by adding all the non-winners from the TOUR Championship, you’ve included a slew of players who could actually win this event. Who’s against that. Certainly not the players. Of the 45 players who received an invite to Hawaii only Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Jim Herman took a pass. And Hermanator was only due to a positive COVID-19 test.
Despite Rory and Hatton skipping the opener, this is far and away the strongest field ever seen at Kapalua. Eight of the nine highest-ranked players in the world and 11 of the Top 15 will be saying “Aloha” for both hello and goodbye this week.
Of the 42 players Scottie Scheffler, Sungjae Im, Abraham Ancer, Viktor Hovland, Ricky Werenski, Carlos Ortiz and Jason Kokrak are all making their debuts at Kapalua this week.
2021 Tournament of Champions: Key Stats
Strokes Gained: Ball Striking
Par 4s Gained
Proximity Gained 100-125 Yards
Par 5s Gained
Mayo’s Key Stats powered by FantasyNational.com
2021 Tournament of Champions: Course
Course: Kapalua (Plantation)
2021 Tournament of Champions: Past Winners
2020: Justin Thomas -14
2019: Xander Schauffele -23
2018: Dustin Johnson -24
2017: Justin Thomas -22
2016: Jordan Spieth -30
2015: Patrick Reed -21
2021 Tournament of Champions: Notes
The Plantation Course at Kapalua has hosted this event since 1999.
The winning score generally breaches past -20, but the wind can always throw a wrench into the expected birdiefest. While it won’t completely stunt scoring, Kapalua typically plays as a driver, wedge, make a 10-foot putt course. If the wind starts gusting, those 10-footers turn into 20-footers and scoring remains steadier. Obviously, like betting, fantasy prognostication, basically everything I do, predicting the weather, especially wind, can make you look foolish. However, it’s worth keeping an eye on before the tournament begins. The weather station next to the course can be found here.
A section of the greens was flattened before last year’s event to expand on the choices for pin placements in an attempt to make things more difficult on the field. They also flattened parts of some greens and added fairway bunkers to accomplish the same thing. It’s tough to figure out whether or not it worked after one year. Yes, scoring was down, as Justin Thomas won in a playoff at -14 over Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele, but there were also two rounds with winds blowing over 20 mph and the other two settling in the mid-teens.
Between the elevation changes and uneven fairways, there has been a lot of crossover success between Kapalua and Riviera CC, Augusta National and TPC Deere Run. Pebble Beach and Sedgefield CC being two others to consider, as well, because of the emphasis on short wedge play. TPC Deere Run seems like an outlier in this group, but it’s been a good predictor of which shorter hitting players can compete at a longer course where wedge play will be highly emphasized. Since very few eagles are made at the Plantation Course (17 in 2018; 10 in 2017), bombers don’t have the advantage at this track many believe. Only hole No. 5 has an eagle rate over 2%. Since 2010 at Kapalua, four victors have won the John Deere Classic — Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker and Jonathan Byrd. It’s also more impressive when you consider most of the bigger names never play in the John Deere Classic.
No first-time player at Kapalua has won since Daniel Chopra in 2008 and only seven golfers have finished inside the Top 5 in their first appearance since 2014. Joaquin Niemann collected a check for a T5 last year in his debut. Meanwhile, it should also be noted that the past 10 winners have been American.
Players hit these fairways at a higher rate than at any other course on the PGA TOUR (74% vs 62% TOUR Average). If you can land multiple jumbo jets across these fairways, pro golfers should be able to find the short grass off the tee. Strokes Gained: Off the Tee matters, but give an additional bump to those who lose generally get diminished because of a lack of accuracy.
The putting surfaces are large and very slow. A stat like Greens in Regulation is irrelevant this week since the field hits almost 80% of GIR. Instead, focus on the Fantasy National stat, “Opportunities Gained”, which is the percentage of times a player has a putt under 15 feet from the fringe or green in regulation. With three-putts being almost 50% more common at Kapalua versus a regular course (massive greens), finding the players leaving themselves makable putts against routinely lag putting will be imperative. Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau rank best in the field entering play over the past 100 rounds in Opportunities Gained per round. Kapalua also features historically slow, Bermuda greens.
Four Par 4s measure between 300 and 400 yards and hole No. 3 was lengthened over 40 yards in 2020. These mini holes are a way to keep the shorter hitters alive in this event. Unless Dustin Johnson decides he can simply pin seek from the tee, that is. Over the past 100 rounds, Webb Simpson, Kevin Kisner, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay lead in scoring on holes of this distance. Weirdly, all four of these holes are on the back nine.
While statistical analysis should always only be one element of research, it tends to be less relevant, in terms of short term stats at this time of the season. With so many players taking time off, and no Presidents Cup or Hero World Championship in December, along with a lack of Shot Tracker at many of the events in October and November, it’s extremely difficult to accurately assess where a player’s game currently rest versus optimal performance. Focusing long term numbers to gather baseline player skills is the better approach this early in the year.
2021 Tournament of Champions Picks
Justin Thomas ($10,700)
There is going to be a debate between Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson this week. Maybe you can jam both of them onto your roster, but that leaves you thin on the back end, especially with so many capable options in the next pricing tier down. Passing on DJ means you’re passing on a player with two victories and eight Top 10s in eight starts at the Tournament of Champions since 2011. That’s tough. But this course is tailored to all of JT’s strengths. Over the past 100 rounds, no player in the field is better than JT in SG: APP, Opportunities Gained or Par 4 scoring. Hence his two victories and bronze medal the past four years at Kapalua.
Hideki Matsuyama ($9,000)
The putting splits on Bermuda greens are concerning, but tee-to-green, the Deki bot has been dominant at this course in his three appearances. Since he hasn’t won an event since 2017, you may have forgotten that fact. In three starts from 2015-2018, Matsuyama never finished worse than T4, gaining at least +7.3 SG: T2G in each start. And yes, the lack of recent victories is concerning, but he has managed to finish inside the Top 30 in 12 of his past 14 events. Plus, of his six career wins, three have come in no-cut events.
Other notable names appearing near the top of stat models and the win simulator at FantasyNational.com: TBD Wednesday
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Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was a finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Daily Fantasy and Traditions Season Long). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.
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