Featured Groups: Sentry Tournament of Champions
January 02, 2018
By Staff , PGATOUR.COM
- Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama tee off in Round 1 at 5:20 p.m. ET. (Chris Condon, PGA TOUR)
Justin Thomas went back-to-back for his first two PGA TOUR victories, at the CIMB Classic in 2016-17. And he went back-to-back in consecutive weeks in Hawaii last season when he won the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in Hawaii. Perhaps it’s unavoidable, then, to have back-to-back on the mind as we stand on the precipice of the 2018 calendar-year lid-lifter, the Sentry TOC at the Plantation Course at Kapalua.
Can the reigning FedExCup champ do it again?
Stuart Appleby won three straight at Kapalua from 2004-06, and fellow Australian Geoff Ogilvy won there in 2009 and 2010. Whether it owes to the quirks of the course (four par-5s, only three par-3s, adding up to a par 73) or the limited, winners-only field (34 players), those who thrive at the Sentry once tend to keep coming back for more.
As is so often the case, the hilly 7,452-yard Plantation, a 1991 Crenshaw-Coore design, rewards long hitters, especially at the signature 663-yard, par-5 18th hole. Don’t be surprised if 2013 champion Dustin Johnson, who unleased the longest drive of last season, a 439-yard howitzer at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, gets off a memorable moonshot or two at the finisher. Outrageous length, though, is no prerequisite. Jordan Spieth won in 2016, Zach Johnson in 2014, and Steve Stricker in 2012. Kapalua can be conquered in more ways than one.
Especially intriguing this year is the strong rookie class, with 14 players making their Sentry TOC debuts, led by Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele and Jon Rahm.
The winner gets 500 FedExCup points.
Here’s a look at some of the featured twosomes in Thursday’s first round (FedExCup rankings in parentheses):
Rickie Fowler (16) and Hideki Matsuyama (66): Combined, they’ve made four starts at Kapalua, with a second and T3 for Matsuyama, and a fifth and T6 for Fowler. Both come into this week in good form – Fowler won in his last start at the Hero World Challenge, while Matsuyama has three fifth-place finishes in his last four worldwide starts. Rd. 1 tee time: 5:20 p.m. ET
Marc Leishman (13) and Jon Rahm (151): This will be the first time they’ve been paired at a PGA TOUR event. Leishman has four top-5 finishes in his last six starts, including a win at the BMW Championship in the FedExCup Playoffs. Rahm won the DP World Tour Championship in his most recent start on the European Tour. Rd. 1 tee time: 5:30 p.m. ET
Dustin Johnson (25) and Xander Schauffele (39): Like the group above, Johnson and Schauffele have never been paired at a TOUR event until this week. Of course, Schauffele has made just 33 TOUR starts, but he’s already won twice, including the TOUR Championship to cap his Rookie of the Year campaign. Johnson has at least one TOUR win in each of his first 10 seasons on TOUR, including a career-best four last season. Rd. 1 tee time: 5:40 p.m. ET
Justin Thomas (7) and Jordan Spieth (N/A): These close friends were grouped together in 15 rounds in 2017, including eight rounds in the FedExCup Playoffs. This will be the 28th round overall that they’ve been paired together on TOUR. They’ll also start the week wearing the biggest targets, with Spieth winning in Kapalua in 2016 and Thomas winning last year. Spieth is making his season debut this week, while Thomas already has one win this season. Rd. 1 tee time: 5:50 p.m. ET