Close your eyes and forget about the three or four feet of snow just outside your front door (well, if you’re in one of the areas that has been ravaged by winter storms).
Imagine warm ocean breezes, palm trees swaying, and the bright, blue Pacific Ocean as your backdrop. Then there’s you, in all your summer attire and a cold drink (complete with tiny umbrella, of course) in hand, taking in the action of the PGA Tour.
Well, don’t imagine. It’s happening in a little slice of paradise. Welcome to Maui, Hawaii, and the Sentry Tournament of Champions. The first PGA Tour event of 2023 marks the resumption of the 2022-2023 wraparound season.
This week’s event will see 39 of the PGA Tour’s top players — winners in the last year and top finishers in the FedEx Cup race who haven’t won — taking aim at the winner’s share: $2.7 million of an elevated $15 million event. Not bad for spending a week in Hawaii.
Cam Smith is the defending champ, but he won’t be in this year’s field as he’s taken his game over to the LIV Tour. Jon Rahm was the runnerup, finishing a shot behind Smith.
This is the week these top-flight players get to knock the holiday rust off their game in a no-cut event before the rest of the Tour gets in on the action with a full-field event on Oahu next week.
It’s time to start looking at those New Year’s resolutions. Let’s start with No. 1: Win in Maui and qualify for next year’s Tournament of Champions.
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Odds to Win the Sentry Tournament of Champions
As always, shop around the sports betting industry for the best odds on your plays.
Good News for the Field: No McIlroy
We’ll start with the good news for the players in this week’s field: Rory McIlroy has decided not to play in this year’s tournament. Granted, McIlroy hasn’t played in this event for the past few years.
What makes this year different is how hot McIlroy has been. He has just one start in this wraparound season, but it was a victory in the CJ Cup in South Carolina. But that doesn’t tell the story of how well he’s played.
Heading into the final couple of months of last year’s wraparound season, McIlroy had five top-10 finishes in eight events including a pair of victories. Not having him in the field makes things just a little easier for the other 39 players.
Thomas: Not Quite as Hot but Still Sizzling
Watch out for Justin Thomas this week at +900. He’s got low odds for a very obvious reason: He loves it here.
Thomas has been lurking near the top of the leaderboard forever when it comes to the Plantation Course on Maui. In the last wraparound season, he managed just one victory. Not good by his standards.
But put him on Maui and he shines. How brightly? Well, he won here three years ago and followed that up with a runnerup finish two years ago.
Last year, he was T-5. While that may not sound great, he opened the tournament with a three-over-par 74 and trailed the leaders by a wide margin before rallying for the top-five finish.
If he gets off to a hot start, watch out.
Expert Analysis: Consider the ‘X’ Factor
We’re talking about Xander Schauffele, at +1100, another guy who loves the sun on Maui and the golf course. That love comes from his win here in 2019.
And this wasn’t just your everyday victory. He opened up with a one-over-par 72 and was out of the picture — until a final-round 62 helped him edge Gary Woodland by a shot.
In this wraparound season, he has a T-9 at the ZOZO Championship and a solo fourth at the Hero World Challenge. Last year at this tournament, he finished 12th with four mid-60 rounds. Not bad, but not great.
But what it did do is start him off on a run that saw him finish the year with three victories among seven top-10 finishes in 19 made cuts. Forget the long layoff, too, because when a player with Schauffele’s talent tees it up on a course he loves and has had success on, the sky is the limit.
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Around the Prop Scene
With a limited field in this tournament, it makes it a whole lot easier to narrow down a few choices when it comes to prop bets. The limited field also comes with lower odds, so digging deeper to find good value is required.
To that end, we love Cam Young to come away with a top-five finish at +360. Young will be making his first trip to Maui, and that’s never an easy task with all of the distractions surrounding the golf. But with Young, this is an easy choice.
In the 2021-2022 wraparound season, he had 25 starts on Tour, but didn’t come up with any wins. That’s the bad news. The good news is he had seven top-five finishes including five runnerup finishes.
It’s just a matter of time before he picks up that first victory.
One final prop to consider: Will there be an albatross? At +1600, we like this bet a lot, especially when you look at the fact the Plantation Course has the usual four par-5s. There’s also a very driveable 302-yard, par-4 — the 14th — where Dustin Johnson came within an inch of an ace a couple of years ago.
You’ve got decent chances of holing out from long-range. There’s also the usual “Will there be a hole-in-one?’ wager at most sportsbooks, but bettors need to beware of placing down money on that bet this week. There are only three par-3s on the Plantation Course, and that takes away one par-3 that players usually face in each round.