Pro Golf Weekly

2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions Primer: Storylines, History, Field, Odds

It’s hard to believe, but the PGA Tour’s off-season is officially over as the not-for-profit money machine tees it up this week in Hawaii for the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Dustin Johnson 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions Kapalua
Dustin Johnson during the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Plantation Course at Kapalua on Jan 7, 2018 in Lahaina, Hawaii. Photo: StanBadz/Getty Images via PGA TOUR

Contested at picturesque Kapalua on the island of Maui, the Tournament of Champions features a small, but superbly-talented, field of 34 golfers – all of whom were victorious in at least one Tour event during the 2018 calendar year.

The star-studded field in Hawaii is headlined by defending champion Dustin Johnson, who also won here in 2013. Other big names teeing it up this week in Hawaii include Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy.


THE SKINNY

Tournament: Sentry Tournament of Champions
Dates: January 3-6, 2019
Course: Plantation Course at Kapalua
Where: Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
Distance: 7452 yards, Par 73
Architect: Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore
Field/Format: 34 players; 72-hole stroke play with no cut
TV Network: GOLF CHANNEL
TV Times: Th-Fr-Su 6-10 pm, Sa 3-7 pm (est)
Purse/Win Share: $6,500,000/$1,300,000
FedExCup/OWGR Points: 500/50-60 (TBD)
Defending Champion: Dustin Johnson
Marquee Players: DJ, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele, Bubba Watson
Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Wikipedia


HISTORY

The Sentry Tournament of Champions is annually held during the first week of January, and, since 1999, has been played at the Kapalua’s Plantation Course on the island of Maui.

Sergio Garcia Wins 2002 Mercedes Championships at Kapalua
Sergio Garcia poses with the trophy after winning the Mercedes Championships in a playoff on the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. Photo: Donald Miralle/Getty Images

The inaugural winner was Al Besselink who shot a 280 to edge Chandler Harper by a single stroke in 1953. For his second career PGA Tour victory, Besselink – then a swashbuckling 31-year old from New Jersey, was awarded a wheelbarrow of silver dollars worth $10,000. Known for his propensity to gamble, the University of Miami product, however, banked another $12,500 by placing a $500 bet on himself at 25-1.

For its first 16 editions, the limited-field tournament was contested in Las Vegas, Nevada – first at the Desert Inn Country Club from 1953-66, then for two years at the Stardust Country Club (1967-68).

In 1969 the tournament moved further west to Carlsbad, California, with La Costa Resort and Spa playing host until 1999 when it was moved to Maui.

There have been six title sponsors over the years with MONY (75-90), Infiniti (91-93), and Mercedes (94-09) holding the rights for the first 35 years. The title sponsor has been far less stable in recent years, however, with Hyundai (11-16), SBS (10, 17), and Sentry (18-19) sharing the marquee for the past 10 editions.

Past tournament winners include legends such as Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Phil Mickelson, Johnny Miller, and Tiger Woods.

HISTORY: RECENT WINNERS

2018: Dustin Johnson*
2017: Justin Thomas*
2016: Jordan Spieth
2015: Patrick Reed*
2014: Zach Johnson
2013: Dustin Johnson*
2012: Steve Stricker
2011: Jonathan Byrd
*In 2019 field

HISTORY: RECORDS

Wins: 5, Jack Nicklaus (1963-64, 71, 73, 75)
Consecutive Wins: 3, Stuart Appleby (2004-06)
72-Hole Scoring: 261 (-31), Ernie Els (2003)
18-Hole Scoring: 62 (-11), K.J. Choi (3rd round, 2003), Graeme McDowell (4th, 2011), Jason Day (4th, 2015), Chris Kirk (4th, 2015)


THE COURSE

The Plantation Course at Kapalua is located on the island of Maui, and measures 7,452 yards from the championship tees.

Hole 18 Kapalua
A view of the 18th hole during the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Plantation Course at Kapalua on Jan 7, 2018 in Lahaina, Hawaii. Photo: Stan Badz/Getty Images via PGA TOUR

Designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, the Plantation track is a traditional links-style course offering dramatic elevation changes with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and ocean.

In addition to being the Tour’s only par 73, it’s also the only course on the schedule with seven holes measuring over 500 yards – two of those being the 549-yard par-4 17th and the 663-yard par-5 18th.

Notably, both closing holes play downhill, allowing most of the pros to reach in two despite the lengthy yardage.


DEFENDING CHAMPION

Dustin Johnson carded an 8-under 65 in Sunday’s finale to win the 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions by eight strokes over Jon Rahm. The title was the 17th of Johnson’s PGA Tour career, and second at Kapalua’s Plantation Course, having also won in 2013.

Dustin Johnson Wins the 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua
Dustin Johnson poses with the trophy after winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua on Jan. 7, 2018. Photo: Stan Badz/Getty Images via PGA TOUR

The then 33-year old finished his tournament-low round with seven birdies, one bogey and a tap-in eagle on the 430-yard par-4 12th hole en route to a four-day score of 24-under par 268.

DJ ROUND BY ROUND

Rd 1: -4/69 (T4)
Rd 2: -9/69-68 (T2)
Rd 3: -16/69-68-66 (1)
Rd 4: -24/69-68-66-65 (1)

The South Carolina native earned $1,260,000 along with 500 FedExCup points, and 56 Official World Golf Ranking points.

Johnson’s victory marked the 8th consecutive year that an American took home the title. This follows a nine-year stretch (2002-2010) which saw an international player crowned as champion in succession.

Rahm finished with three birdies on his final five holes to reach 4 under on the day, edging Brian Harman by one stroke for solo-second place at 16 under.

FINAL TOP 5

1 Dustin Johnson -24
2 Jon Rahm -16
3 Brian Harman -15
4 Hideki Matsuyama -14
4 Pat Perez -14
4 Rickie Fowler -14


THE FIELD

The field in Maui this week features 34 winners of PGA Tour events in 2018, including three former champions in Dustin Johnson (2018, 2013), Justin Thomas (2017), and Patrick Reed (2015).

Patrick Reed
Patrick Reed hits a shot in the final round of the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, NC. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Reed will be joined by the two other reigning major winners in Brooks Koepka (U.S. Open and PGA) and Francesco Molinari (The Open).

Rory McIlroy makes his debut in Kapalua after passing on it the six previous times he’d qualified. Rookie Cameron Champ, who won the Sanderson Farms Championship in his second Tour start, joins the Northern Irishman as another big-name first timer.

Xander Schauffele and Jon Rahm return to the island for the second consecutive year after successful sophomore seasons on Tour, while Charles Howell III, The RSM Classic winner, returns to Kapalua for the first time since 2008.

Other marquee names in the field include Aussies Jason Day and Marc Leishman, along with U.S. Ryder Cuppers Bryson DeChambeau and Bubba Watson, each of whom won three times last season.

Players who qualified that did not commit include three of the biggest names in Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Tiger Woods.


5 POWER PICKS

1. Dustin Johnson – The world No. 3’s game is pretty good on any track, but at Kapalua it’s been even better. In his last six starts in Maui, DJ owns a pair of wins and four additional top 10s (9th-1st-6th-10th-6th-1st). He blew away the field last year by eight shots. While a win would not necessarily vault him back into the No. 1 position, it would inch him that much closer to the top spot heading into the California events at Pebble and Riviera.

World Rank: 3
Field Rank: 2
Book Rank: 1
Odds To Win: 5-1
Event History: 6 recent starts: 1, 6, 10, 6, 1, 9
Last Six: 7, 30, 3, 24, 7, 11

Justin Thomas Sentry Tournament of Champions 2018
Justin Thomas plays a shot during the second round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Plantation Course at Kapalua on Jan 5, 2018 in Lahaina, Hawaii. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

2. Justin Thomas – A winner here in 2017, the Alabama product wrapped up a second-consecutive season as the PGA Tour’s money winner. One of the lone bright spots for the losing U.S. Ryder Cup team in France, JT made two starts in the wrap-around season, highlighted by a T5 at the CIMB Classic. Currently ranked No. 4 in the world, JT and DJ are the only two players to start and finish (and never leave) the 2018 year in the world top 5 – pretty much defining elite consistency.

World Rank: 4
Field Rank: 3
Book Rank: 2
Odds To Win: 7-1
Event History: 3 career starts: 22, 1, 25
Last Six: 12, 36, 5, 7, 12, 24

3. Brooks Koepka – The reigning U.S. Open and PGA champion enters off a win in Korea at the CJ Cup, which moved him back to No. 1 in the world. Koepka is seeking redemption of sorts for a last-place finish here in 2018. A long hitter with a soft touch, the Florida State alum can go low on any course, but should be especially dangerous at a bomber’s paradise like Kapalua with its seven 500-plus yard holes.

World Rank: 1
Field Rank: 1
Book Rank: 3
Odds To Win: 8-1
Event History: 2 career starts: 34, 3
Last Six: 12, 16, 1, 7, 26, 19

4. Rory McIlroy – The Northern Irishman enters the 2019 year having captured just a single trophy (Bay Hill) over the past 24 months, while closing in on five years since his last major title. Not surprisingly, McIlroy recently proclaimed his intent to play exclusively on the U.S. PGA Tour this year (see storylines) – through the playoffs, as he seeks to avoid the wear and tear of international travel. Will this renewed focus on one tour, with less travel and more time at home, get the soon-to-be 30-year old back to his once prodigious winning ways? It all starts this week in Hawaii.

World Rank: 8
Field Rank: 7
Book Rank: 3
Odds To Win: 8-1
Event History: No career starts
Last Six: 20, 21, 54, 7, 5, 12

5. Jason Day – The 31-year old Aussie seemed back to his old self in the early going of 2018 with a pair of wins (Farmers, Wells Fargo) and two top 5s (T2 Pebble, T5 PLAYERS) in his first seven starts to the new year. But the former world No. 1 flat-lined the rest of the way, posting six solid top 20s, yet just a single top 10 (T10 Bridgestone) among them. In his two official starts in the 2019’s wrap-around season, Day finished T5 at the CJ Cup and T11 in China.

World Rank: 14
Field Rank: 9
Book Rank: 6
Odds To Win: 12-1
Event History: 4 career starts: 12, 10, 3, 9
Last Six: 16, 11, 5, 18, 24, MC


4 STORYLINES

1. McIlroy’s Irish Eyes Are… Focused Exclusively on the PGA TOUR Schedule

On the eve of this past fall’s DP World Tour Championship – the European Tour’s grand finale, Rory McIlroy dropped a stink bomb on tour officials by hinting he’s considering a forfeiture of his European Tour card for 2019.

Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed DP World Tour
Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed during day two of the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah GC on Nov 16, 2018 in Dubai, UAE. Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

“I don’t know,” said McIlroy when asked if he would renew his European Tour membership. “I am starting my year off in the States and that will be the big focus of mine up until the end of August (playoffs) and then we will assess from there.”

McIlroy, who will turn 30 in May, traditionally starts his year on the European Tour, usually in Dubai, and often wouldn’t make his U.S. debut until Florida.

Now married, and looking at a restructured PGA Tour schedule offering more cadence with the PLAYERS (March) and PLAYOFFS (August) book-ending four-straight months of majors, McIlroy would seem to be settling his roots firmly in the States.

“I’ve got a couple of ‘pure’ European Tour events on my schedule up until the end of August,” continued McIlroy. “I guess my thing is that I want to play against the strongest fields week-in and week-out and for the most part of the season that is in America.”


2. Young Guns Rahm, DeChambeau Seek to Keep the Heat

Any list of the PGA Tour’s best young stars would surely include Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau. The two young superstars, both also known for their fiery temperament, enter Kapalua with off-season wins.

Jon Rahm Wins Hero World Challenge
Jon Rahm reacts after securing a four-shot win over Tony Finau during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany GC on December 2, 2018 in Nassau, Bahamas. Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

Rahm, the 24-year old Spaniard, made just three starts – all at elite-field events, following the season-ending Tour Championship, and was impressive, highlighted by a four-shot win at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

Also looking to remain red hot is DeChambeau, who – following a disappointing Ryder Cup debut – scored a win at the Shriners in Vegas, one of just two off-season starts for the SMU product.

DeChambeau, who won twice in the FedExCup playoffs, has three wins in his last five official starts on the PGA Tour.


3. JT Looking to Make it a Fab Fivesome

The next time Justin Thomas raises a trophy in a PGA Tour winner’s circle, it will mark the 10th title of his young career.

Justin Thomas Sentry Tournament of Champions 2018
Justin Thomas reacts after making a putt during the second round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Plantation Course at Kapalua on Jan 5, 2018 in Lahaina, Hawaii. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

If he were to score a win this weekend – or any time before April 29th for that matter, he would become the just the fifth golfer in PGA Tour history to have captured double-digit trophies by the age of 25.

The winner of both Hawaiian events in 2017, Thomas, would join Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Jack Nicklaus, and Rory McIlroy – forming one impressive fivesome.

A 10th career victory by the former Alabama star would also make him one of only 12 “active” players with at least 10 wins, and one of only two born in the 90s. (Rory McIlroy, born in 1989, will turn 30 in May).

ACTIVE PLAYERS WITH AT LEAST 10 WINS

Player-Age (Wins)
Tiger Woods – 42 (80)
Phil Mickelson – 48 (42)
Ernie Els – 49 (19)
Dustin Johnson – 34 (19)
Jim Furyk – 48 (17)
Rory McIlroy – 29 (14)
Adam Scott – 38 (13)
Jason Day – 31 (12)
Zach Johnson – 42 (12)
Bubba Watson – 40 (12)
Jordan Spieth – 25 (11)
Sergio Garcia – 38 (10)


4. DJ, Koepka Move Fight into 2019

Dustin Johnson has the opportunity to become the first back-to-back winner at Kapalua since Geoff Ogilvy in 2009-10.

Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka
Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International GC on October 28, 2017 in Shanghai, China. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

A win by DJ would also inch him closer to retaking the No. 1 spot from (still?) good friend – and fellow Bash Brother, Brooks Koepka, who will also be teeing it up and looking for redemption.

Last season, the current world No. 1 finished dead last as he tried to fight through a wrist injury that would eventually shelve him for much of the early season.

Koepka finished third at this event in his debut (2016).

EXIT QUESTION

After winning his maiden major at the 2016 U.S. Open, DJ has found his way to the PGA Tour winner’s circle eight more times – equaled only by Justin Thomas over this time period (30 months), yet none of the eight wins secured a second major for the South Carolina native.

Koepka, meanwhile, has four Tour victories over the same time span – solid, but half of DJ’s haul. Yet three of Koepka’s four wins were of the major variety.

Whose record would you take over the past 30 months: Eight wins (including two WGCs and two Playoffs) valued at $11.21 million but no majors, or four wins (including 3 majors) totaling $8.01 million?


FULL FIELD: RANK AND ODDS

Sentry Tournament of Champions | The Plantation Course | Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii | Jan 3-6, 2019


Joel Cook contributed to this report.


Jeff Smith

Jeff is a writer and content producer for Pro Golf Weekly. He is working on a book, documenting the 2017 and 2018 seasons on the major golf tours.

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