The fun is about to begin as the Hyundai Tournament of Champions once again takes center stage as the winners only event takes shape at the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort Maui, Hawaii. Last season Mother Nature was the deciding factor as Dustin Johnson won the weather shortened 54 hole event. While everyone wants to see incredible golf lets first and foremost hope for a 72 hole event that is not decided solely by nature. Assuming the weather is agreeable from 3-6 January the event will be played over 72 holes with no cut and a total purse of $5.6 million with $1.12 million being the winners share.
I already broke down five of the most challenging holes at the Plantation Course in my 2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions preview so let’s instead look at the field for the event considered by many to be the unofficial season opener. The top of the World Golf rankings will not be well represented at the Tournament of Champions. In fact only Adam Scott will be in the field from the top-5. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, and Justin Rose will not be placing a peg in the ground in Maui this week. So who are some logical win candidates?
Webb Simpson- Yes he did not have the 2013 that he was hoping for with only five top-10s and finishing the season winless. However, Webb came out guns a blazing in 2014 winning the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open with a 24 under total which got him into this week’s Tournament of Champions. He also finished tied for seventh at the McGladrey Classic and fifth at the unofficial Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. Webb also closed out his 2013 season with an impressive fourth place finish at the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola. Looking at this information, Webb has played very well over his last four starts and should continue that trend as he was tied for 11th here last season.
Dustin Johnson- First off he is the defending champion at the Tournament of Champions and has finished in the top-16 three other times in 2011, 2010 and 2009. In his only official start of the very young 2014 season, Johnson won the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai China. The Plantation Course is known for two things: wind and length. Luckily for Johnson he is long enough for any par-5 on tour and he is known to have incredible skill in windy conditions (proving that in last year’s edition of this event). He is on his game now and has added advantage over many in the field having live tournament golf under his belt already this season. Johnson is also the only player in the field that has won this event in the past giving him a mental leg up on his competition.
Jimmy Walker- Why would a man with one career PGA Tour victory be my sleeper choice at the Tournament of Champions? You just have to sit back and think about it for a minute. Walker has taken full advantage of the earlier start to the PGA Tours regular season playing in four official events. In three of those four Walker has finished top-12 with a sixth place at the CIMB Classic and his first career victory at the Fryes.com Open. Walker also grew up in Texas so the thought of wind in Hawaii should not bother him nearly as much as some others in the field. In short he is bred for this. In four events this season he is averaging 5 birdies per 18 holes played and is second in driving distance. With those things in mind Walker should be able to challenge many of the long par-5s at the Plantation Course. Jimmy Walker could be in for a great beginning to his Hawaii swing, I for one would not be shocked.
Matt Kuchar-Yes I know Dustin Johnson is the only player in this field that has one here before but he did not win a 72 hole event as it was shortened to 54 holes due to weather. Kuchar finished ninth here last year, he had a sixth place finish in 2011 and a third place finish in 2010 so he knows what it is like to get around the Plantation Course. Kuchar has played in four events since November 10th and has finished no worse than tied for seventh. He won the Franklin Templeton Shootout (teamed with Harry English), finished tied for third at the unofficial Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in a field that included Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson amongst others and fourth at the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf with a star studded field.
Kuchar is not the longest guy on tour but was still 44th on tour in birdie average with 3.66. He was also 20th on tour in approaches from 75-100 yards which he can expect a lot of at the Plantation course given his driving distance. Kuchar’s flat stick makes up for a lack of distance as he was 20th on tour in total putting in 2013. In limited play this season Kuchar is first in scrambling at 84.21%. Looking at all the figures, his historic solid play on Maui and lack of depth in a field full of winners I would be hard pressed to back anyone other than Kuchar this week. I expect the new year to start out quite nicely for the Sea Island resident.
Who will win the 2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions?
- Matt Kuchar (51%, 26 Votes)
- Other (Leave Comment) (18%, 9 Votes)
- Webb Simpson (16%, 8 Votes)
- Dustin Johnson (8%, 4 Votes)
- Jimmy Walker (8%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 51