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Spieth and Thomas the men to beat

 

It's no real surprise that the British bookmakers have chosen to give their lowest odds this week to the World Nos 2 and 3, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, for the Sentry Tournament of Champions which opens 2018 for the US PGA Tour at Hawaii's scenic, sea-side Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort on Mau.

The "Terrible Twins", as their rivals might well see the rampaging 24-year-old Americans, were the joint-favourites at 6/1 two days ahead of Thursday's tee-off in the US PGA Tour's 2018-opening Tournament which, because entry is restricted to its 37 tournament winners in 2017, its field is very much an elite one.

Spain's 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia, England's reigning Olympic champion Justin Rose and a third top-ranking European golfer, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, have chosen not to play, but all the other event winners are there including World No 1 Dustin Johnson and the other 'top tenners' Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepke.

Johnson, despite having a rather quiet second half of the year just ended, and Rickie Fowler, almost certainly because he finished 2017 with a victory over most of the world's best at the Hero World Challenge, are right up there with Spieth and Thomas, just one place back at 7/1.

They are followed at 10/1 by Matsuyama and, at 12/1, by Rahm, last year's rookie of the planet, and American Brooks Koepke, the reigning US Open Champion, who along with Spieth (the Open Champion) and Thomas (the PGA Champion) helped make 2017 the year of the young guns.

Another 20-something first-time 2017 winner in this week's field, and yes, this one a real unheralded shock winner, was Xander Schauffele who beat the cream of the US Tour to capture the 2017's climaxing Tour Championship at East Lake and has already had a 3rd-place finish in the new season's CIMB Classic.

And there are 13 other standout first-time winners from last year who will be among the first-time starters at Kapalua this week who could threaten the big guns.

Along with Rahm, they include Adam Hadwin of Canada and Cameron Smith of Australia who will each be bidding to end the USA's 10-year domination of the title following a nine-year-spell when overseas raiders kept winning the title.

Mind you with Spieth, Thomas and Johnson alive and well and ready to stop them, winning won't be easy.

Thomas, who, as the only man to win five PGA Tour titles last season, including the final major, and who then wrapped it all up by carrying off the FedEx Cup, could be chock-full of confidence as he heads into his first defence at Kapalua this week and then into a second one next week when he plays in the Sony Open in the other leg of the Hawaii swing.

After his sluggish finish last season, Johnson is sure to be seeking to get back on the winning track early as he did last year when, between the middle of February and the third week of March, he won the Genesis Championship, the WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

But of all of them, I like Spieth who has averaged 67.67 and crafted a 2nd-place finish, a win and a tie for 3rd in the last 12 rounds he has played at Kapalua since debuting there in 2014.

A hole-in-one at a fun event last week has left the impression that his game is sharp right now and the fact that on his day he is one of the game's finest putters strengthens the feeling I have that the newly-engaged Texan is going to win here again.

Putting is key, according to Koepke who earlier this week told reporters: "It’s all about putting here. The best putters are going to win. The greens are so grainy and it kind of like reminds me a little bit of Augusta. You can have six feet and it might break a foot, foot and a half."

Kapalua's Plantation Course, which has hosted this event 19 times since 1999, stretches 7,450 yards and features bermudagrass on its rolling greens.

It is also the only par 73 course on the PGA Tour and this, along with it's wide, undulating fairways and long downhill runs, help make it play a lot shorter than your everyday course of around seven and a half thousand yards.

The 15th, for example, drops sharply downhill from the tee by some 150 feet and drives here of less than 350 yards are considered to be pretty short.

Being a coastal course means that the wind can play a major role in giving its defence some sharp teeth.

Golfweather.com is forecasting that the winds will blow in the low to mid 30km/h with a spike or two of 37km/h on the morning of the first round.

It shouldn't be too much of a game-changer, but players with the most skill and experience of handling stiffish sea breezes may well get some benefit from it.

LOWEST ODDS
(Tuesday AM, Jan 2, 2018)


Jordan Spieth 6/1
Justin Thomas 6/1
Rickie Fowler 7/1
Dustin Johnson 7/1
Hideki Matsuyama 10/1
Jon Rahm 12/1
Brooks Koepka 12/1
Marc Leishman 20/1
Patrick Cantlay 22/1
Xander Schauffele 25/1
Kevin Kisner 25/1
Brian Harman 28/1
Pat Perez 30/1
Cameron Smith 33/1
Daniel Berger 33/1
Kevin Chappell 45/1
Russell Henley 50/1
Brendan Steele 50/1
Kyle Stanley 60/1
Bryson Dechambeau 66/1.

NOTE: For odds or to place a simple bet on upcoming tournaments visit BetWay.

Neville Leck

Written by neville@golfweather.com.