This coming golf season has the potential to be one of the most exciting in years. It's clearly the start of a new era on Tour. The Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson dynamic that dominated the PGA Tour is all but over. Tiger is still recovering from back surgery; there's a very good chance he doesn't play at all in 2016 and it seems a long shot that Woods ever wins another event, much less a major.
Mickelson frankly doesn't need golf as he's a big-time family guy and very well paid off the course. Lefty had just three Top-10 finishes all of last season. His last victory was the 2013 British Open. That's probably his final major title, although Phil will again point his whole season toward the U.S. Open and completing the career Grand Slam.
But we don't need Tiger or Phil this year, and they never were really rivals because Woods was so much better in his prime. We have Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy battling one another all year for the title of world's best golfer. Which twenty-something player is the best right now? You have to say Spieth, who was the 2015 PGA Tour Player of the Year and FedEx Cup winner while taking two majors. McIlroy didn't win a major but took the European Tour's Race to Dubai yet again. Day finally got the major monkey off his back at the PGA Championship, and he was the best player alive for about two months or so at the end of last season.
Bovada offers a few futures props on that trio. McIlroy and Spieth are even money to win any major in 2016. Day is +200. You can bet on Spieth vs. McIlroy in major wins, with each at -115. And you can bet on the total major wins of each player, zero through four. Zero is the favorite for all of them: -130 for Spieth and McIlroy and -275 for Day.
The PGA Tour starts the New Year as usual with the winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation course in Kapalua on Maui. If you didn't win a Tour event last year (not season; 2015-16 fall winners are eligible), you aren't invited. Spieth and Day are playing. McIlroy won't come over to the USA for a few more weeks. A total of 32 winners from the 2015 calendar year are in the field. There is no cut. One guy shockingly making his first trip to this event is Padraig Harrington. He never bothered to come after his major wins in 2007 & '08. Harrington won last season's Honda Classic in Florida.
The defending champion of this event is Patrick Reed. He was four shots behind with four holes to play but closed with two birdies and an 80-yard eagle to force a playoff in which he beat Jimmy Walker, who missed two very makeable birdie chances down the stretch with a chance to win. This tournament used to be staged Friday-Monday. Now it's a traditional weekend event. The College Football Playoff national title game on Monday may have something to do with that.
One major rule change on Tour to also be aware of from here on out is the anchored putting ban. Most golfers who used to putt that way, led by Adam Scott, already had transitioned out of that style. Guys can still use a long putter, they just can't press it into their midsection. Arm-lock putting, used by the likes of Matt Kuchar, is still legal. If you have never used an anchored style, it purportedly helps with the yips. If someone is caught doing it, it's a two-stroke penalty. If a player accidentally brushes the grip against a loose shirt or something, it's not a penalty. Why is Kuchar's style legal? Because that still allows the hands and arms to swing without restriction.
Golf Odds: Hyundai Tournament of Champions Favorites
Spieth is the +450 favorite at Bovada. He has played here once and was second in 2014. Spieth was last seen finishing fourth in Tiger's silly-season event in the Bahamas. Spieth admitted he was bit burned out back then, so he put down the clubs for a few weeks.
Day is at +550. He was third here last year, including a course-record 62, and ninth in 2011, his only other trip. Day took some time off following the birth of a second child and thus hasn't played since the Presidents Cup.
The favorites are rounded out by Dustin Johnson (+750), Bubba Watson (+1000) and Reed (+1000). Johnson won here in 2013 but didn't play last year. Watson has a best finish of fourth in 2013. He won Tiger's Bahamas event recently. Reed looks to become the first repeat winner since Geoff Ogilvy in 2010.
PGA Tour Picks: Hyundai Tournament of Champions Expert Predictions
Maybe I'm being stupid, but I'm not sure how dialed in Spieth or Day will be yet. I don't like them for Top 10s at the ridiculous prices of -550 and -450, respectively. I do like Johnson (-285), Rickie Fowler (-210) and Brooks Koepka (+110), a first-timer here.
Head-to-head, go with Day (-120) over Spieth (-110), Koepka (-120) over J.B. Holmes (-110), Fowler (-115) over Reed (-115), Johnson (-125) over Watson (-105), and Walker (-120) over Russell Knox (-110).
For top European go with Graeme McDowell at +150. Top American Johnson at +500. And D.J. is my winner. This is a wide-open track so he will be able to bomb it. In five prior appearances in Maui, Johnson hasn't finished worse than T16 with three straight top-10 finishes, including that victory.
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