The PGA tour is back in action, returning with one of the highlights of the entire season – the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, live from the Plantation Course at Kapalua, on Maui, Hawaii. Just writing that sentence makes me jealous. Sure, you might be reading this in sunny southern California, or Miami… but you also might be reading it in Boston, or Chicago, or Minneapolis. And if you are, the idea of playing golf yourself is so far removed from your under-freezing wind chill daily reality that watching someone play in shirtsleeves with a warm breeze at his back might be a little jarring this weekend. Or it could be relaxing. You might as well watch for a little, and see how it affects you. It could make you angry, or be just what you need for a nice nap spent dreaming of summer vacation plans. But either way, a little sweat would only be an improvement.
This particular tournament is a particularly tough one to predict, as it is a small field (34 golfers) made up almost entirely of guys capable of winning. And, to cap it off, many of them haven’t played an official tournament in weeks. If you have ever watched the pros play extensively, or played any golf yourself, you know that you can go from striking the ball cleanly every time to seeing some small mistake in your game ruin any chance at a good score in a matter of moments, never mind three weeks. And so all that “he’s been playing well recently” kind of analysis goes out the door when everyone has been on hiatus. But we can still make the most-educated guesses possible, so here goes:
Jason Day ($13,900) – He finally appears to be healthy after a tough 2014 that saw him miss a bunch of action and perform at less than 100% at times as well. The only other time he’s played in this tournament was in 2011, and he finished T9. But the most important thing here is talent – we were waiting for him to bust loose last year because we know he is capable of it, but just because it didn’t happen then doesn’t mean the talent is gone. And this could be the week he shows it. You know he wants to get the 2015 season off on the right foot.
Chris Kirk ($9,800) – For whatever it is worth, his recent performances have been impressive, with a win at the Deutsche Bank a few months back and two top-fives since then. Somewhat surprisingly, this is actually his third appearance in this tournament, and he has come away with a T7 and a T16 so far. With his game improving, an improved finish in this one is certainly possible.
Ryan Moore ($9,200) – For this little bit of analysis, I’ll go ahead and go against what I just said about Kirk, and ignore recent performances. He hasn’t had a lot of great finishes for a while, but again, a lot can change in the way someone is playing over the course of three or four months. And Moore has shown an ability to perform on this course in particular, with a 10th place finish in 2010 being the worst of his three performances at Kapalua.
Russell Henley ($7,800) – He qualified for this one with his victory at the Honda Classic, which he won with a birdie on the first hole in a four-man playoff, but also followed that up with a second place finish at the Deutsche Bank. He can compete in a loaded field, and while he didn’t perform well at Kapalua last year, the experience can’t hurt. And let’s face, you’re not getting any sure things at this price level with so many top players in the field. One plus for Henley is that he is a streaky putter, but he can putt himself out of this one early, as at least there is no cut this weekend. At the very least, you know he will be around to get you something all the way through Sunday.
Sang-Moon Bae ($7,300) – It’s hard to imagine him winning this one, but a top ten finish seems well within reach. And I for one will be rooting for him, as he tees off in Hawaii amid a legal struggle that could derail his golf career in the short term if he is forced to return to South Korea for military service. If this is his last chance to shine for a while, it’d be nice to whole-heartedly root for him to succeed (which is a lot easier if you’ve got him on your squad). And he does have two wins and another top 5 in his last four starts, so it’s defensible.
Geoff Ogilvy ($7,300) – He’s played at Kapalua twice, and he won both times. He hasn’t returned since 2010, but he’s back, and apparently the elevation changes suit his eye just fine.
Angel Cabrera ($6,800) – He’s one of those guys who just seems to show up every now and then and play remarkable golf. Often off the radar at this point in his career, it’s hard to even know for sure which tournaments he is going to play in, but he’ll be there this week after winning the Greenbrier last season. He’s a long shot, but he didn’t end up at the bottom of the price list from a lack of talent, which could make for an excellent value play.