Ah, gaze at the palm trees swaying in the ocean breezes. Listen to the melodic sounds of tropical birds as they welcome visitors to a little slice of paradise.
Aloha and welcome to Maui as we kick off the second half of the PGA Tour’s 2020-2021 wraparound season.
After having taken about a month off, the golf clubs come out of the bags as the Tour pros look to shake off the rust and get back into action. And there may be no better place to get rid of that rust than the Sentry Tournament of Champions on the Plantation Course at Kapalua. Can you say 80-plus degrees and sunny?
And while we tune in to watch the tournament, take a minute to realize this year’s ToC is a little different. With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting life as we know it, there has been a change in this year’s event. In the past it was simple, win a PGA Tour event in the previous calendar year and you’re qualified.
This year, because of the disruption in scheduling, they opened the event to more players. After all, holding an event like the ToC with 28 players just wouldn’t be that feasible. So those in the top 30 on last year’s FedEx Cup standings were offered invitations. That will bring us to 42 players in the field, the largest in the event’s history.
This year, because of the disruption in scheduling, they opened the event to more players.Aloha livinâ€™. pic.twitter.com/IPkV75Zcq4
— Sentry Tournament of Champions (@Sentry_TOC) January 4, 2021
So let’s take a couple of weeks to get our golf bearings, enjoy the tropical surroundings (sorry if you’re experiencing severe cold fronts and snow wherever you may be reading this) and watch the PGA Tour in primetime.
First up: The Sentry Tournament of Champions. This event is a no-cut outing so if you’re playing, you’re getting paid. Add in impressive accommodations, world-class dining and views to die for and it’s a great opening act for 2021. After this week, the Tour will simply hop over to Honolulu and Waialea Country Club to play in the Sony Open.
Not a bad gig if you can get it.
This week’s stop will be on the Plantation Course. It’s one of the more impressive stops on the PGA Tour. At 7,411 yards, this par-73 layout can be a brute. The course’s 18th hole, a 677-yar par-5, can, and often does, decide the tournament.
Here are just a couple of examples:
In the 2000 tournament, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els came to the 72nd hole tied for the lead. After perfect drives, Woods hit a 3-wood to about 12 feet. Els then followed that up by knocking it inside Woods’ shot. They both made the eagle putts and headed back to the tee for a playoff. Both again were on the green in two and settled for birdies to force a second playoff hole (also on the 18th) which Woods won with a 40-foot birdie putt.
Then there was Xander Schauffele in 2019. He started the day five shots off the lead and bogeyed his first hole. He then played the final 17 holes 12-under-par to rally for the win. He birdied four of the final five holes (including 17 and 18) to beat Gary Woodland by a stroke.
Now back to those big-name players in the field this week. Take a look at the past few champions: Justin Thomas won last year in a playoff (as well as winning four years ago), Schauffele won two years ago (as well as losing in last year’s playoff) and three years ago it was Dustin Johnson.
We’re looking at this event as a horse race and those three thoroughbreds certainly should be in the winner’s photo come Sunday.
With that in mind, give us Schauffele at 10-1. After winning in 2019 he could have repeated in 2020 but lost in a playoff after missing an eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win it in regulation. He missed and Thomas went on to win in the playoff.
No one’s been hotter at this event and add in the fact he’s lucky to be in the field this week and you’ve got the makings of a perfect storm. He wouldn’t be playing this week except for the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings rule for this year.
Is it fate? We think so.