Golf picks: Sentry Tournament of Champions predictions & best bets from Diane Knox Balas
Happy New Year! I’m back with PGA Tour picks for a brand new year, and I’m hoping to get into the swing of things pretty quickly. After giving birth to my son, Greyson, at the start of November, the last 2 months have solely consisted of feeding schedules, diaper changes, minimal sleep and lots of cuddles (but they have been the best 2 months ever!). I’m so excited for the return of golf, and the new golf year always kicks off in such a great way.
It’s off to Hawaii for the first 2 events, and this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions means we get to see the biggest names right out of the gate. This tournament is for all the winners from the previous year, but there’s some new additions to this field of 39. For the first time, those who didn’t win but finished within the top-30 of the FedExCup standings have earned a spot. That means Cam Young, Collin Morikawa, Sahith Theegala, Adam Scott, Scott Stallings, Corey Conners, Brian Harman, Aaron Wise, Viktor Hovland and Sungjae Im are in. The only champion from 2022 who won’t be making the flight to Kapalua is Rory McIlroy.
There’s more to play for this week, too. The Sentry TOC is now one of the “elevated” events, which means the purse jumps from $8.2M to $15M. Safe to say it’s a lucrative week for the 39 players who made it to this no-cut tournament.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua: What you need to know
This is one of the longest courses on the PGA Tour, but don’t let that fool you. Standing at 7,596 yards, this is a rare par-73 that plays as one of the easiest courses on the schedule. Last year Cam Smith romped to victory at -34, with Jon Rahm right on his heels at -33. Crazy!
Yes, the course favors the long hitters but there’s a few things to take into consideration. The fairways are really wide and undulated, with a lot of downhill shots. Take the 18th hole, for example; it’s a 677 yard par-5 but majority of the field will get on the green in two due to the downward sloping fairway.
Stats are a bit of mystery this week as the guys are coming off their festive breaks, but experience around the course seems to count for a lot. There are 3 past champions playing this week — Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele — and JT and Xander, along with Rahm, have played in every Sentry TOC over the last 5 years.
However, the course will lend itself to strong iron play to set up multiple birdie opportunities, and overall strokes gained will be a good indicator. As I said, the longer hitters are at an advantage here, as well as guys in great putting form who can go super low.
Knox’s Knockout Sentry Tournament of Champions picks
Justin Thomas (+1100) BetMGM
JT loves Kapalua; he has won here twice before, in 2020 and 2017. He has the experience, the power off the tee and knowledge of the greens. Combine that with his experienced caddie (Jim “Bones” MacKay has walked these fairways many times over the years with Thomas and Phil Mickelson) and the feel-good factor of Thomas tying the knot over the Christmas break. He is a strong favorite this week, and I won’t be leaving JT off my card.
Sungjae Im (+2200) BetMGM
When you look at the combined stats of last year, Sungjae rises to the top. Im finished 6th in strokes gained: total and 8th off-the-tee. He ended last season with three runner-up finishes in his last five tournaments, and is starting 2023 at the course he’s had some fantastic results on. In his 2 previous appearances in the Sentry TOC, he has finished T8 and T5. He has the experience, the form and…wait for it…just got married in the short offseason. Bring on those good Hawaiian honeymoon vibes!
Aaron Wise (+4000) Caesars Sportsbook
Wise is in the field after finishing in the top 30 in last year’s FedExCup standings, and if he continues to play the way we saw him play in the latter part of 2022, he will be in the mix this week. Before the break, he finished T6 at the CJ Cup and T15 at Mayakoba, was dialed in with his irons and putting well enough to be 6th on the PGA Tour. He has played here once before so knows the course, and I’d love to see his game continue to trend upwards. Definitely a name to watch in 2023.
Seamus Power (+5000) Caesars Sportsbook
When looking for someone to thrive in the windy Hawaiian conditions, Seamus Power is my guy. The Irishman won the Bermuda Championship earlier this season, and is clearly used to playing well in the gusts — and we’ll definitely see them this week. Sure the field at Bermuda was much weaker, but Power posted 2 top-12 finishes in the majors in 2022 — proving he can hold his own against the big guns. Last year, he finished T15 at Kapalua and will no doubt be looking to better that this week.
Sentry Tournament of Champions prop bets
Justin Thomas – first round leader (+1600) Bet365
As well as taking him as an outright winner, I’m taking JT to be the first-round leader. He knows the course, therefore it should be an easy task for him to knock any rust off. We all know Thomas is a consummate professional who no doubt spent a lot of his short off-season working on his game, so I’d expect him to start hot.
Collin Morikawa top-10 (+130) DK Sportsbook
I’m throwing in a (really) short bet on Morikawa recording his fourth top-10 finish in this tournament. He has a great track record here in his previous appearances (T5-T7-T7) and is exceptionally solid tee-to-green.
Adam Scott top-10 (+260) DK Sportsbook
Scott is a veteran of this tournament, making his 8th appearance this week. He snuck into the field after his phenomenal playoff run last year, making it into the top-30 in the FedExCup standings. He spent the offseason in his homeland of Australia and should be arriving in Hawaii refreshed and feeling good about his game, especially after playing in those similarly windy conditions down under.