The easy part is over. As it always does, time ran its course. Thankfully, we were guaranteed not to hang in 2020 forever.
Of course, much work remains to transition from dealing with its extraordinary remnants on the daily to filing all its infamy into the history books. Among the innumerable steps of varying degrees to completing that task are adjustments that the PGA TOUR made that will continue to remind us of the impact of last year.
This week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions serves as the annual reentry of the season following the holiday hiatus. Because three months of competition were lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the construct of the field at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course is, what else, unprecedented.
For the explanation on what is anticipated to be a one-time decision, how Kapalua played in its first edition after its comprehensive renovation a year ago, and much more, continue reading beneath the projected contenders.
POWER RANKINGS: SENTRY TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
The other 27 in the field will be ranked 16-42 in Tuesday’s Fantasy Insider. (There are no Sleepers for the tournament.)
When considering the entirety of calendar-year 2020, there was a potential net negative of 11 unique winners of 10 tournaments. Three events originally scheduled for the 2019-20 season (during which 13 tournaments were canceled, including the Zurich Classic of New Orleans from which both members of the winning team qualify for the Sentry Tournament of Champions) were shifted to the fall of the 2020-21 season. Understanding how this could impact the field at Kapalua, it was announced over the summer that all qualifiers for the TOUR Championship would be extended an exemption to tee it up on Maui for the first and probably the only time.
With the special provision in place, 45 golfers qualified for what has been the most exclusive event on the schedule because only winners since the last edition have been eligible. This year, 17 qualified via the TOUR Championship only. This includes Abraham Ancer and Scottie Scheffler, neither of whom ever have won a PGA TOUR event. (Rory McIlroy also gained entry via this exemption but has elected not to compete. Tyrrell Hatton and Jim Herman qualified traditionally as winners, but both also didn’t commit. Herman cannot play due to contracting COVID-19.)
Ignoring the fact that neither Ancer nor Scheffler has experienced the thrill of winning at this level, the chance of either breaking though at Kapalua isn’t supported by tournament history. Since David Duval won the inaugural edition of the tournament on the course in 1999, only Sergio Garcia (2002) and Daniel Chopra (2008) have prevailed in a first appearance.
In all, there are seven first-timers in the field, but there are only 15 who got a look at the course changes last year. This includes defending champion Justin Thomas, who survived a three-way playoff after settling for 14-under 278 amid challenging conditions in regulation. It was the highest winning aggregate in 13 years.
Given the soft turf and strong winds during the renovation’s debut, it’s possible if not likely that the results will present as an anomaly over time. The machine for trade winds (out of the northeast) will be humming at times, but it won’t be cranked up to 10 like last year. And the chance for rain is all but zero. With pleasant weather forecasted, designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw no doubt are eager to observe how the beefier field goes about reeling in the beautifully artistic, blue-and-white glass trophy representing a whale’s tail and a crashing wave.
The course tips at 7,596 yards and plays to the only par of 73 all season. There are only three par 3s. In this land of extremes, last year’s field averaged 80.93 percent (or 12.14) fairways hit per round, easily the most of 41 courses used all season. Now, that’s not unusual no matter the conditions since there’s considerable real estate within favorable sightlines framed by two-inch primary rough off most tees, but it didn’t translate into a commensurate amount of scoring opportunities, largely because of the wind. The field averaged 12.60 greens in regulation per round, which is 1-2 fewer per round than expected. It also registered an average proximity to the hole reading of 45 feet, longest among all tracks measured by ShotLink.
The tournament wasn’t without an alignment of expectations, however. The new TifEagle bermudagrass greens, which continue to mature but still could show a little spring this week, challenged marvelously. One-putt percentages always will be low and three-putt avoidances always will be high on the massive surfaces, but nothing measured leaps off the page as an outlier. If anything, they were easier because guys could be aggressive within striking distance. That’s probably going to change.
Greens were flattened as part of the upgrade. This yielded an increase of hole locations and the opportunity to increase speed. Weather-pending, they could run upwards of 11 feet on the Stimpmeter, which is a foot longer than before they were modified. Although Kapalua always has rewarded the full game, the premium on putting has been elevated.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
MONDAY: Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Fantasy Insider
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.