The incredibly short golf offseason is already in the books, and the PGA Tour tees it up for the first time in 2013 starting Friday (one of only two events with a Friday-Monday schedule) at the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Maui for the winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions. If you didn’t win a sanctioned PGA Tour event in 2012, then you aren’t in this week’s field. Overall, 30 of 37 eligible golfers are playing at Kapalua.
But you won’t see any of golf’s biggest names: Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, for example, all are sitting this one out. You generally won’t see any of the top Europeans in the States until next month. McIlroy and Tiger, who hasn’t played this tournament since 2005, will tee it up for the first time Jan. 17-20 in the big-money Abu Dhabi Championship. Mickelson opted not to travel so far from home for that event and will debut the same weekend at the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, Calif. – that’s the former Bob Hope tournament.
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The Hyundai has been the season-opener for 15 years, but this will be the finale in that regard. This year is the final pre-wraparound season on the PGA Tour. The season will end Sept. 22 at the Tour Championship. Then the 2013-14 season will begin in October. So the Hyundai will have to settle for being the first event of the New Year.
Kapalua also offers something unusual on Tour: the only par-73. There are only three par 3s on the course to go with four par 5s. The course is long, but the downward slopes essentially render course length almost irrelevant. The PGA Tour had a great stat: there were 67 drives on Tour last year that traveled at least 400 yards. Forty-one of those came in this tournament, including the season-high 450-yarder by Gary Woodland.
Definitely look for low scores as Kapalua usually ranks as the easiest on Tour in terms of greens hit in regulation, because its greens are the biggest on Tour. Three of the past four winners finished under 270, with Steve Stricker winning at 23-under 269 by three shots over Martin Laird in 2012. Oddly, the past three Hyundai champions failed to win again the rest of that year.
Here are a few stats courtesy of the PGA Tour from last year to keep an eye on for 2013: Last season, seven players won coming from at least six strokes back on the final day, and just 16 of 44 54-hole leaders went on to victory overall. A total of 15 of the 37 different tournament winners were under the age of 30 – 11 players are under 30 are in this week’s field. It’s clear the Tour is getting deeper and skewing younger.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: Hyundai Tournament of Champions Favorites
There are three players favored at 11/1 on Bovada: Stricker, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. Stricker led the field in scrambling, one-putts and fewest total putts in his victory a year ago. He is the only former champion in the field and also finished runner-up in 2008. Stricker will play a limited schedule in 2013.
Kuchar, “Mr. Consistency,” makes his third visit to this tournament. He was third in 2010 and T6 in 2011. Kuchar closed last year strong, with Top-11 finishes in each of his last three worldwide starts. Johnson plays here for the fourth time. His best finish was T9 in 2011. Johnson was red-hot at the end of last season, the only golfer to have Top-10 finishes in every event of the FedExCup playoffs.
The favorites are rounded out by Jason Dufner and Webb Simpson at 12/1, and then there’s a group at 14/1, including FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker and Masters winner Bubba Watson. This is Dufner’s first time playing this tournament. He played well in the “silly season,” contending at tournaments in Australia and Malaysia. Simpson, the reigning U.S. Open champ, finished T3 here last year in his first visit.
PGA Tour Picks: Hyundai Tournament of Champions Predictions
The site is offering Top-4 props this week. I would take “yes” on Kuchar (+200) and Dufner (+220) but “no” on Simpson (-350), Stricker (-350), Watson (-350) and Nick Watney (-400). There’s also a prop on margin of victory. One shot and a playoff are the +250 favorites. The longest shot is three shots at +450. I do like playoff as this event has finished in one two of the past five years.
Scott Piercy is an interesting option to win at 25/1. He closed last year in style with three Top-10s, including a runner-up at the WGC-HSBC Champions. His scoring average combined in his final three events was 67.33. Piercy was T12 in his Kapalua debut in 2012.
I considered Ian Poulter at 16/1. He won the WGC-HSBC Champions and also had Top 5s at the BMW Masters and at the Australian Masters. Poulter was T6 two years ago in his lone Hyundai visit.
But for best value, the pick is Ryan Moore at 20/1. He finished the PGA Tour season also strong with four straight Top 10s, including nearly winning the Tour Championship and then winning in Las Vegas at Justin Timberlake's tournament to finish his year. Moore, who welcomed a son soon after the Timberlake event, has played here once, finishing T6 in 2010.
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