Time to tee it up for 2020 in Maui

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Ah yes, it’s great to be back talking golf. And we’re talking this week from the beautiful island of Maui.

O.K., we’re not actually on Maui, but we can always dream of taking a little time to bask in the tropical breezes, enjoy the swaying palm trees and listen to the waves crashing into the shore. It’s just a great slice of paradise to visit.

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And it’s an even greater spot to work for a week if you’re a PGA Tour pro. After all, if you’re here at the 2020 Sentry Tournament of Champions this week, it means you won at least one tournament in the 2019 calendar year.

A majority of the Tour’s winners will be on site this week as they use the warmth of Maui to loosen up the rust from the holiday season.

A total of 41 Tour players qualified for this week’s event, including 15 first-timers. All of them won’t be in the field as there are just 34 players heading to the first tee. Among the notables missing are major headliners Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson.

But for those here, it’s definitely the time many of the big guns come out of hibernation after the holidays. Granted, a few of them took part in the Presidents Cup in Australia, but this week isn’t for pride and for country. It’s for boatloads of cash ($1.34 million to the winner) and FedEx Cup points (500 points to the winner).

With that in mind, who’s going to come out of the winter doldrums ready to play? With the gorgeous Maui surroundings, especially at the Kapalua Plantation Course, the views can definitely add to the challenge facing the pros.

But the players are here on business. That business starts with taming a Plantation Course that isn’t a layout to take lightly. The Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore designed course just recently re-opened after a nearly year-long, multi million-dollar renovation. At 7,518 yards, the par-73 layout is a challenge but wide, wide fairways definitely let players grip it and rip it. That sets it up nicely for the powerful players like Dustin Johnson or Gary Woodland.

And those would be great picks until you realize the defending champ is Xander Schauffele, just 24th in driving distance last year at a little over 304 yards. He carded an 11-under-par 62 during the final round last year to rally from way back in the pack to steal the victory from Woodland while Johnson finished T4.

One defining factor this week is there is no cut. That means everyone gets paid. If players don’t get off to the greatest start, there’s no reason to worry as you’ll still cash a paycheck. Or in Schauffele’s case, you’re right where you want to be — chasing the leaders.

With all that in mind and a Bikini Blonde in hand (that’s an island beer brand for those of you wondering), we’re going to go with Justin Thomas at +450 to win.

Thomas overcame an arm injury midway through the 2019-2020 season and also suffered with a melanoma scare later in the year. Despite those health problems he came back with strong finishes to close out the year including a win (The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges), a T-4, a T-5 and a T-17. He also had a solid week (3-1-1) as part of the winning Presidents Cup team.

Oh, and did we forget to mention that he was third here last year after winning in 2017? So he’s also got those confidence-boosting island vibes going for him.

To say his game is rounding out into top form would be an understatement. Many players would gladly take his late-season 2019 results as their full, healthy season totals. With his health setbacks behind him, it just shows his desire to compete and win at the highest levels is right where he needs it to be to start 2020. 

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About the Author

Bill Bowman

Bill Bowman is a Las Vegas-based writer who has more than 40 years in the sports-writing business. He's spent the past 18-plus years covering the golf scene in Vegas including 10 years as a writer/editor with VegasGolfer Magazine. He also contributes to the GolfNow Network of websites and Las Vegas Golf Insider.

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