As the 2016-17 PGA TOUR season resumes at the SBS Tournament of Champions, we are instantly reminded by defending champion Jordan Spieth’s euphoric experience at the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort a year ago.
“My putter felt great,” said Spieth after leading the field in Maui in strokes gained: putting. “I can sit here and say that my putting certainly is ready for [the] Masters to be next week. It’s a really good feeling to have that confidence with the flat stick.”
Indeed, his putter was on fire again at Augusta National three months later, but his eventual run to successfully defend his title in the season’s first major was derailed by failing to execute on the second nine on Sunday. While you perhaps wince in memory of that, consider that his ball-striking at Kapalua was just as sharp as his blade. He led the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green as well and ranked third in proximity to the hole on approach to some of the largest targets on TOUR. The 23-year-old returns anew with another title defense and with the chance at redemption in Georgia on the horizon.
Spieth’s domination was evident on the scoreboard, too. His five-stroke lead after 54 holes and eight-shot margin of victory were season highs on TOUR. He led the field in both par-4 and par-5 scoring average, checking in at 4.00 on the latter with two eagles, 12 birdies and two pars.
The Plantation Course has four par 5s but only three par 3s, so it’s the only par 73 on the schedule. It can stretch 7,452 yards from the tips, but massive elevation changes shrink overall distance considerably, thus allowing a fairer opportunity for all skill sets to shine, even when persistent cloud cover and periodic rainfall prevent the sun from doing the same. Consider that of the 61 longest measured drives of 2015-16, 32 were laced at Kapalua, including five of the longest 11, 11 of the longest 20 and 14 of the longest 27.
Last year’s field averaged 69.805 to establish a 13-year low for the tournament. That’s supported almost entirely by a greens-in-regulation clip of 80.82 percent (highest on TOUR) and a birdies-or-better percentage of 34.73 (fourth-highest). Despite the perceived length that the terrain grants, the par-4 sixth and 17th holes (and to some extent the par-4 12th) are outliers. Kapalua’s distance of all drives averaged 292.2 yards, “just” fifth-longest and surprisingly behind tracks like Glen Abbey (RBC Canadian Open) and East Lake (TOUR Championship), which slotted first and third, respectively.
Of this year’s 38 qualifiers, 32 are scheduled to compete, 11 of whom are debutants. A first-timer hasn’t won the SBS Tournament of Champions since Daniel Chopra in 2008, while Americans have enjoyed a stranglehold on the trophy what with six consecutive titles after internationals won the previous nine editions.
Trade winds are forecast throughout the tournament and will freshen on the weekend, while a seasonable 80 degrees is the targeted high every day. Bermudagrass greens are prepped to run 10 feet on the Stimpmeter. With primary rough growing just two inches, large greens and an omnipresent threat for rain, you can understand why piling up scoring opportunities and taking aggressive strikes on the greens yields success on the northwest coast of Maui.
I will rank the remaining 17 golfers in the field in Tuesday’s Fantasy Insider.
ROB BOLTON'S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM's Fantasy Columnist Rob Bolton will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week's event. Look for the following features later this week:
MONDAY: Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Fantasy Insider, Comfort Zone
WEDNESDAY: One & Done
THURSDAY: Most-picked players
* = Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM's Expert Picks, which also publishes on Tuesdays.