Man, it's good to be back. That goes both with you and as it concerns our motley task force vying to take down 2016-17 champion Jonathan Wall. Not unlike your experience with fellow opponents, some of us don't connect unless there's action, so the Sentry Tournament of Champions couldn't roll around soon enough.
Before we dive into the headliners among the 34-man field at Kapalua, two matters of business need to be tackled.
• The Puerto Rico Open has been modified to an unofficial charity event over the first weekend of March. (It will return as an official event in 2019.) Proceeds will go to the ongoing recovery due to the devastation from Hurricane Maria. It's a terrific decision for obvious reasons, but the tournament has been removed from the choices in PGA TOUR Fantasy One & Done presented by SERVPRO. There are now 48 events contributing to the game in 2017-18.
• Future Possibilities below has been enhanced. In addition to potential spots to burn all listed, you'll now see my subjective ranking of those tournaments (that are still listed chronologically). This additional layer is meant only as a guide when planning long-term, but it also could help break some ties down the road. When the PGA TOUR Champions opens its 2018 season on Jan. 18-20 for the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, the dedicated section for those guys will be presented similarly. This is to say that if you're new to that game and not as familiar with the 50-and-over circuit, it will have immediate added value. You'll see.
Shifting to the here and now, with not even three dozen pegging it on Maui where there is no cut, your only interest might be to learn why I'm not on board a usual suspect, but if you read my Power Rankings, you've pretty much gleaned where my allegiances lie.
Cross off first-timers. The popular dots connected between Kapalua and Augusta National what with their dastardly greens run parallel to the same for first-timers. If you're a veteran, you know to avoid the wide-eyed at the Masters and stick with experience. This week is no different. That’s because it matters.
That leaves 20 options.
Scanning Future Possibilities, five are accompanied with bolded mentions that the Sentry TOC should be considered. None other than defending champion Justin Thomas is tagged with the only "1" among them, but his collection of smart sites runs seven deep, so feel free to remain patient. In a vacuum, only Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama and Marc Leishman would generate the automatic selection if this tournament was slotted later in the season, but even then, the promise of slapping something significant on the board begs you to steer into a next-tier talent.
This is why I've circled Brendan Steele. At No. 8 in the Power Rankings and with prior experience at Kapalua, including a T6 just last year, that's enough for me. He'd be my pick for the Barracuda Championship in seven months, but he's already eligible for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational contested concurrently (which explains why the Barracuda is omitted from his list of events in Future Possibilities).
Brian Harman was the only other in the field who tempted me, but I want to keep him available for one of the next two weeks.
Two-man gamers can ignore the rule against exhausting a first-timer. Give Xander Schauffele and Cameron Smith consideration as your tail of the tandem.
SELECTION COMMENT 122nd Mark Immelman
On the Mark
Last year a number of my "Blue Chip" selections missed cuts and costed me points. Kapalua does not have a cut and also offers up a lot of wedge shots. Spieth is pretty handy with said golf club and I intend to make the Big Kahunas count in '18. 287th Ben Everill
I don’t really have a compelling reason as while he has form at the venue his recent form is not as high a standard as I’d like. Still ... he’s the man for me. 336th Sean Martin
Taking a bit of a chance here, but the first-timer comes in hot, having finished no worse than T12 in his past five worldwide starts. 360th Jonathan Wall
Finished no worse than T5 in three starts during the fall portion of the season. It's difficult to predict form after a layoff, but I like Harman's chances to keep it going.
398th Rob Bolton
Brendan Steele Nearly followed the leader and burned Spieth, but he’s a cornerstone in the Playoffs. Steele is more than serviceable right here and right now. 404th
Just have a hunch he’s going to have a monster 2018 season.
NOTE: Select golfers committed to the tournament are listed alphabetically. Future tournaments are sorted chronologically and reflect previous success on the courses on which the tournaments will be held in 2017-18. The numerical values in parentheses represent the order of relative confidence of where to use each golfer if multiple sites are listed (e.g. 1 for strongest, 2 for next-strongest and so on). All are pending golfer commitment.
Daniel Berger … Waste Management (4); Houston (3); St. Jude (1; two-time defending); Travelers (2)
Kevin Chappell … Valero (1; defending); St. Jude (4); WGC-Bridgestone (2); Dell Technologies (3)
Jason Dufner … CareerBuilder (5); Valspar (1); DEAN & DELUCA (2); Memorial (3; defending); U.S. Open (4); Wyndham (6); TOUR Championship (7)
Rickie Fowler … Sentry (2); Waste Management (5); Honda (1; defending); Houston (4); Masters (8); Wells Fargo (7); PLAYERS (9); WGC-Bridgestone (3); THE NORTHERN TRUST (10); Dell Technologies (6)
Brian Harman … Sony (2); CareerBuilder (1); Arnold Palmer (5); DEAN & DELUCA (4); John Deere (3)
Russell Henley … Sony (3); Houston (1; defending); Greenbrier (2)
Billy Horschel … Honda (2); Arnold Palmer (5); Valero (3); St. Jude (1); TOUR Championship (4)
Dustin Johnson … Sentry (4); Pebble Beach (2); Genesis (1; defending); WGC-Mexico (6; defending); WGC-Match Play (15; defending); Houston (14); Masters (3); Memorial (11); St. Jude (7); U.S. Open (12); Canadian (9); WGC-Bridgestone (13); PGA Championship (8); Dell Technologies (10); TOUR Championship (5)
Kevin Kisner … Sony (2); Heritage (3); DEAN & DELUCA (1; defending); Memorial (4); Wyndham (5)
Brooks Koepka … Sentry (6); WGC-Match Play (7); St. Jude (3); U.S. Open (1; defending); Open Championship (4); WGC-Bridgestone (5); PGA Championship (2)
Marc Leishman … Sony (5); Arnold Palmer (3; defending); DEAN & DELUCA (6); Memorial (4); Travelers (2); Open Championship (1)
Hideki Matsuyama … Sentry (2); Waste Management (1; two-time defending); Genesis (5); Arnold Palmer (9); Masters (3); Wells Fargo (10); PLAYERS (7); Memorial (8); U.S. Open (4); WGC-Bridgestone (6; defending)
Pat Perez … Sony (3); Farmers (2); Pebble Beach (1); Houston (5); Heritage (4); Valero (6)
Jon Rahm … Farmers (defending)
Jordan Spieth … Sentry (3); Pebble Beach (5; defending); Valspar (8); Houston (11); Masters (1); Heritage (12); DEAN & DELUCA (2); Travelers (6; defending); John Deere (7); Open Championship (9; defending); WGC-Bridgestone (10); TOUR Championship (4)
Brendan Steele … CareerBuilder (3); Waste Management (1); Honda (4); Valero (5); Wells Fargo (6); Travelers (2)
Justin Thomas … Sentry (1; defending); Sony (3; defending); WGC-Mexico (5); Valspar (6); Wells Fargo (7); Dell Technologies (4; defending); TOUR Championship (2)