The sprawling, laissez faire Par 73 setup of the Plantation Course, on the island of Maui, which wows fans with its gorgeous settings and scenic tee shots, and treats players to big greens and runway-sized fairways, is perhaps the perfect way to kick-off the PGA season. Players often all come into this limited field event in all kinds of different forms and mindset, although 2021 will undoubtedly be slightly different for everyone.
Most have taken significant time off over the PGA’s short hiatus in December this year and we’ll have a pretty even field from a competition perspective as rust will certainly be a factor for everyone. That should make for some exciting moments as we saw last year that competitive rust can lead to big mistakes when Xander Schauffele made a terrible three-putt on the final playoff, which allowed Justin Thomas to prevail in a playoff.
The event itself has put up a huge variety of winners over the past 10-15 seasons but recently there has been another trend to watch as the Plantation course has started to become dominated the elite 20-somethings on Tour. Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele, have now won four of the last five TOC’s, and were all 26 years or younger when they won. Perhaps that speaks to the need to come into the week hungry, ready and with the proper motivation to make a statement for the coming year, something many younger golfers, who grew up watching Tiger Woods, are now more apt to do. It also though may have something to do with the course, which I noted down below.
Either way, the event is again star-studded and this year the field will also include a few more players than normal as the PGA made the decision to include players who qualified for the Tour Championship event but hadn’t necessarily won a PGA event during the season. A handful of players fit these criteria–Tony Finau, Hideki Matusyama, and Scottie Scheffler being the biggest names–and while it may contradict the tournament title the 42-man field will also feel better-rounded and it may be a change the Tour looks into making permanent.
From a player perspective, all of the top-10 players in the Official World Golf Rankings qualified for this event but only eight of them showed up as Rory McIlroy and Tyrrell Hatton both chose to skip this opener. The field also lost Jim Herman, who withdrew due to Covid.
Sentry Tournament of Champions course details
Kapula Resport (Plantation Course), used from 1999-to present
- Field Size: 42 (Event is limited to last year’s winners on Tour only, average field size in regular years is 33)
- Purse and Winner’s Prize:
- 7,596 yards, Par 73
- Greens: Bermuda
- Fairway: Bermuda
- Rough: Bermuda
- Architect: Coore & Crenshaw (built in 1991)
2019 saw a massive overhaul. Greens, fairways, and bunkers all were redone, new tournament tees also added which lengthed many holes.
- Past Champions
- 2020 – Justin Thomas -14
- 2019 – Xander Schauffele -23
- 2018 – Dustin Johnson -24
The Plantation course can best be described as a mix of big vast holes that require some thought and patience to navigate and shorter score-able holes that will provide great birdie chances for those whose tee to green game and driving prowess is not lacking in confidence. There’s some Par 4’s here that allow players to drive either near the green—leaving less than full wedge or a mere chip for a second-shot—or directly onto it but with the recent changes we’ve also seen many of the holes become far tougher. There’s now two Par 4’s that measure over 500 yards in length and the venue also features a tough opening stretch–the first two holes played well over par for the week last year–and a tougher closing stretch. The last two holes stretch a massive amount of property too as the Par 4-17th (the hardest hole on the course now) plays over 550-yards as a Par 4, while the 18th has been stretched to 675 yards. Downhill drives assist players in both these spots but these are far tougher holes than they used to be for the pros.
The Bermuda greens can also be tricky. They’re bigger than average for a Tour event and have undulations that sometimes mirror the rest of the course. Green speeds here are generally tame by Tour standards at an average of 10-10.5 on the stimpmeter although the big undulations and green side runoffs does make scrambling tough and the field here generally gets up and down at a lower rate than the Tour average (which is around 57%).
The course is big and hilly and located in a hot climate too which is perhaps why younger players in their twenties have now won five of the last iterations of this event. While the influx of great young players certainly has something to do with that trend, you also have to figure it may continue now that the course is set to play tougher than it has in the past. On that note, the length and monster fairways here–the field averaged over 70% of fairways last season–means big hitters have also started to dominate. Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, and Xander Schauffele have won the last four runnings of this event, and all three average well over 300 yards off the tee. Players like Cameron Champ and Bryson DeChambeau are certainly licking their chops given how many drivers they’ll be able to hit this week.
Sentry TOC betting discussion and picks
From an odds perspective, here is where the last winner of this event generally went off, from an outright perspective, pre-event for the year of their win:
- 2020 – Justin Thomas +600
- 2019 – Xander Schauffele +2000
- 2018 – Dustin Johnson +700
As you can see, the big boys have really come to play at this event, especially over the past few seasons. Even going back a couple more years, you’ll find shorter winners in Justin Thomas (2017) and Jordan Spieth (2016) who were either favorites or up inside the top 5-7 favorites in pre-event betting. Last year the three-man playoff had three players who all had pre-event odds of +1400 (Reed) or lower. We have had some close calls with decent longshots like Gary Woodland and Marc Leishman recently but it would seemingly take a big effort from one of the “middle of the pack” players to rise up here given the talent available. It all speaks to the idea that you probably don’t want to stray too far down the odds list this week when picking outright bets.
Betting favorites to win the 2021 Sentry Tournament of Champions
Dustin comes into this event in the best form of his career, which is really saying something considering the career that he’s had. The 24-time PGA Tour winner has now finished T2 or better in six of his last seven starts on Tour, a run which includes wins at the Northern Trust, the Tour Championship and the Masters. It has been a while since we’ve seen this kind of dominance on Tour and if the field weren’t so packed with talent you could argue his odds should be even smaller. Ultimately, there’s too much talent lukring behind Dustin (some with enticing odds) to take this small a price but if you want to bet him in 2021, get used to seeing these types of numbers.
Thomas comes into this event as the second favorite and with odds around what we saw him at last year when he won this event. That argument alone could be used to back JT here who clearly feels comfortable playing in these higher humidity tropical climates as he’s now won three different times in the state of Hawaii, twice in Malaysia, and had seven of his 13-Tour wins come off the mainland US. Thomas is coming off a career-best T4 finish at Augusta, where he suffered a few unfortunate breaks during the week, otherwise, he may have pushed Dustin down the stretch. He’s likely the better target of the two top players given that he should be coming in hungry after failing to grab a win in the Fall.
Rahm had a great second-half of 2020 that was marked by wins at two of the PGA’s toughest venues on Tour in 2020 in Muirfield Village and Olympia Fields. He’ll be playing the Plantation Course for only the third time in his career and while he only finished T10 here last season, he did manage a T2 finish in 2018–although it was a distant second to Dustin Johnson. Rahm’s not had the luck that other top players have had in these limited field/WGC events but he is perhaps overdue to a breakthrough in one soon. It’s hard to take him over Thomas though at very similar odds given the latter’s record in Hawaii.
Bryson had himself a whirlwind end to 2020. The bomber grabbed his first major at Winged Foot in September at the US Open and put on such a dominant performance there that he had many people wondering if they should start buying shares in Fatburger. Then he went to Augusta, said it was playing as a Par 67 for him and then shot three of his rounds at 70 or worse for the week. Bryson certainly has a case of foot in mouth disease but that shouldn’t keep us off him, or get us sidetracked from the fact he is changing golf with his outrageous drives. The big fairways here certainly should suit him and he offers the best value of any of the top-5 in the betting odds this week.
Schauffele’s odds offer limited appeal here given the strength of the names right above him. He’s fantastically consistent and has improved his short game and putting to the point where he’s certainly now one of the most well-rounded players in the world now, but he still really doesn’t belong in this top-tier group for betting purposes in this strong a field. Of course one huge reason for Schauffele’s low odds this week is his course history. In three appearances, Schauffele’s now finished T22-win-T2 at this event and would have won last year if not for a short birdie miss on the final hole in regulation. He’ll likely find a win again soon but there’s far better value just above him this week for betting.
Favorite bets (each-ways and outrights)
For more info on types of golf bets available each week, be sure to check out more info here. Each way bets refer to bets that include a bet to win and a bet to place (usually to at least top-5 but sometimes are available up to top-8 or more).
Cantlay is in a strange spot in the overall professional golfing world as he’s likely not quite ready to be included when talking about the top-5 players in the world, but he’s also not someone you can just dismiss as obviously inferior to the very best. His sort of limbo-ish ranking, right between the elites and obvious second-tier players, often puts him some interesting spots for betting purposes too and this week it certainly feels like he offers us good value when considering the outright betting market. The American is nearly double the odds of his President’s Cup teammate Xander Schauffele who has won on Tour exactly one more time than he has and sits just three spots above him in the OWGR.
While Schauffele deserves some respect this week, given his domination of the venue, seeing Cantlay this far above him in odds is too much a difference to ignore. Afterall, Cantaly did what Schauffele couldn’t do last year, which was win. The American took down the third title of his career at the Zozo Championship in the Fall, fending off the likes of Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas late there which should give him plenty of confidence that he’ll be up for a similar task again here at a very similar venue and event. The momentum factor can be big at the TOC too as we have now seen each of the last five winners here come in with wins under their belts from the four months prior–either in a playoff series event or the Fall swing.
From a pure statistical perspective, Cantlay’s always shown the type of iron game needed to win at a high rate but his improved short game over the last few months also sticks out and he comes in having gained strokes around the green in seven straight starts. Ultimately, when looking at his betting range, Cantlay simply offers a little more upside and appeal than the Matsuyama’s and Simpson’s of the world for me. With a T4 here under his belt from last season, and the confidence of a Fall win, I think another quick addition to the title case for him could be coming this week.
Im will be making his debut at the TOC this year and you have to figure that is at least partially responsible for his larger odds this week. The South Korean did endure a rough patch in the late summer/early Fall last season, but snapped out of it aggressively late in the year with a T2 finish at Augusta–in his first visit to the venue. To say it takes a special player to come up with such a great effort on his first try at the Masters is an understatement, which is why it feels so weird that the odds on Im this week don’t really do his result there much service. Im comes in ranked third in SG: Ball Striking stats over the last 24-rounds (just behind Rahm and DJ) and with better strokes gained Approach stats over that same span than both Harris English and Daniel Berger–who are both well below him in odds this week in the +3000 range.
When you add in the fact that IM has some of the biggest positive splits for putting on Bermuda (vs. any other surface) then you can see how this venue might be right up his alley too. The 22-year-old grabbed his first PGA win at one of the tougher/windier venues on Tour and with gusts in the 10-20mph range all week his improved ball-striking means he could easily grind himself back into contention here. The long and the short of it is, the odds are too big and an each-way here with top-4 or top-5 payouts attached looks very tempting.
Champ will be playing the TOC for the second straight year and while he only managed a T14 finish here on his first go through, there’s actually a lot of positives to take from that performance. The 25-year-old actually lost over -1.0 strokes on his approaches and putting here last year so the fact that he was still able to finish inside the top half of the field is actually impressive and should catch our attention. Champ gained +3.3 strokes off the tee in his TOC debut (which is not an anomaly for him) and it’s clear the big open fairways and lengthened course obviously made his driver a solid weapon for him–and allowed him to keep pace with the rest of the field despite the off week in other areas.
From a recent form perspective, Champ’s also coming off a successful season that saw him contend late into the PGA (T10) and post a T19 at Augusta on his debut. This is a player who feels like ready to take a big leap soon and he clearly has the game to compete with the big players once he cleans up his around the green play and gets more consistent with his irons. Speaking of his irons, he may have already figured those out as he gained +2.0 or more strokes on approaches in his final three starts of 2020. At +6600 or better, he’s a great each-way for me here too, especially given how youth has dominated here over the past five years.
Long Shots and Top-10’s
Scott looks tempting for a play this week given his odds are jacked up past where they probably should be. He’s available for +5500 or better in places in the outright market but I’d rather stick with the youth movement in that department. Instead, Scott looks like a solid top-10 play here at decent odds. The Aussie played a light schedule in 2020 after the stoppage but picked up his pace after the PGA and played five times in the Fall. He likely didn’t have enough competitive practice in him last year given how often other players were playing in the Summer and Fall but he’ll be on more competitive ground here. Scott’s played in Hawaii often, posting many solid finishes at the Sony Open over his career and was T6 at this event back in 2014, the last time he showed up to Maui. These are solid odds for a solid player who should be looking to get 2021 started fast.
Editors note: Late on Monday night, photos of Adam Scott using a traditional putter made their rounds on Twitter. Something to keep in mind when placing your bets.
I mentioned all the reasons why I like Im above and while he has appeal as an outright or top-5 play, he also looks solid to back against another young player in Scheffler for this week. Im has played in Hawaii twice before–albeit at a completely different venue at the Sony–but holds the edge in Bermuda putting and in recent ball-striking form over Scheffler. Scottie never really recovered (in form) after his bout with Covid in early Fall and posted less consistent results than Im coming in, while Im broke through with a massive result at the Masters. It all speaks to why SungJae should probably be favoured here and why he’s a good bet to win this matchup.
Check out our other Golf content here:
- Sentry Tournament of Champions Matchups and outrights betting preview from Matt Ramos
- What is strokes gained? from Geoff Ulrich
- The ultimate guide to betting on golf live from Matt Ramos
- What is matchup betting in golf? from Matt Ramos
- How to bet on golf futures from Matt Ramos