As most of the United States shivers through wintry conditions, the PGA Tour pros will be teeing it off this weekend in the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in gorgeous Hawaii.
This Friday-Monday winners-only tournament is held at Plantation Course at Kapalua on Maui. This is the first scheduled Monday finish for this tournament.
It joins the Deutsche Bank Championship in the FedEx Cup playoffs on Labor Day weekend as the only tournaments with a scheduled Monday finish.
Only tournament winners from the previous field qualify for this event – the first full-field tournament of 2012 is next week, also in Hawaii. Of the 39 players who qualified, only 28 are playing (the smallest field of the year for an official tournament).
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Some big names who declined are world No. 1 and PGA Tour Player of the Year Luke Donald (the reigning money champion in both the USA an Europe – Donald is scheduled to open his 2012 season in three weeks at Abu Dhabi.); 2011 major winners Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke; and other big names like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Martin Kaymer.
Of course, Tiger Woods isn’t at Kapalua because he didn’t win last year – his Chevron World Challenge victory in December was an unofficial event. Mickelson hasn't played the tournament since 2001, and Tiger last played at Kapalua in 2005.
Here is the full field this week: Aaron Baddeley; Keegan Bradley; Michael Bradley; Jonathan Byrd; K.J. Choi; Ben Crane; Harrison Frazar; Lucas Glover; Bill Haas; Chris Kirk; Martin Laird; Bryce Molder; Kevin Na; Sean O’Hair; Scott Piercy; D.A. Points; Rory Sabbatini; Webb Simpson; Scott Stallings; Brendan Steele; Steve Stricker; David Toms; Jhonattan Vegas; Johnson Wagner; Nick Watney; Bubba Watson; Mark Wilson; and Gary Woodland.
Stricker is the highest-rated player in the field at No. 6 in the world, while Haas won the FedEx Cup playoffs last year. Bradley was the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and won the PGA Championship, and Simpson finished runner-up to Donald on the PGA Tour money list.
There are 13 players in this tournament for the first time. A win not only would get any player off to an early money list lead but also get said player into the Masters if he didn’t qualify from 2011. All tournament winners before the Masters – other than those tournaments opposite the WGC events – get entry at Augusta. Those who are in the world Top 50 the week before the Masters also gain entry if they hadn’t already.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: Hyundai Tournament of Champions Favorites
Simpson and Stricker opened as the 8/1 favorites on Bovada. Stricker won twice on the PGA Tour last year, the Memorial and the John Deere. He will be playing in the event for the sixth time and his best performance was in 2008 when he lost in a playoff to Daniel Chopra.
Last year Stricker was T4. Simpson is making his first appearance but was on fire to close 2011 with two wins, a runner-up and three other Top-10 finishes in his final seven tournaments.
Nick Watney is next at 9/1. He burst out of the gates last year with five Top-10 finishes in his first five starts (although none were in Hawaii), including a victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Watney has played this tournament twice, with a best finish of T5 in 2008.
Golf Odds: Hyundai Tournament of Champions Picks
I am a little shocked that Jonathan Byrd is so high for PGA Tour golf odds at 25/1. He is the only former champion of this tournament in the field. Byrd, who won last year in a playoff against Robert Garrigus, finished the 2011 season a career-best No. 27 in the final FedExCup standings. Byrd has played this event four times overall.
But I am going with David Toms at 20/1 for my Hyundai Tournament of Champions predictions.
Toms finished last season on a high note by making his fourth Presidents Cup team, where he went 3-1-0. Toms won at Colonial for his 13th career Tour victory just a week after blowing a win at the Tour Championship. He finished third in 2011 on Tour in all-around, sixth in greens in regulation, had seven Top-10s (including the win) and three more finishes of 25th or better as he ended a career-best 20th in the FedExCup and won more than $3.8 million.
He returns to Kapalua after a four-year hiatus. He has four Top-10s in seven appearances at this tournament, both the most of any player in the field, and a best result of runner-up in 2002.