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It’s good to get back into the swing of things as first-round leader selections have been missing from our lives. After a prolonged period without a Thursday sweat, it only feels right we begin our new year by shedding a few calories
at the gym while watching the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua will hold the hosting duties for the 24th consecutive year. As such players have a firm grasp of what to expect on this rare par-73. Featuring generous landing areas, slow Bermuda grass greens, and vast elevation changes, players have gotten around the Plantation Course in a relatively stress-free manner throughout the years.
With winning scores often reaching 25-under or so, our first-round leader will need to card something in the neighborhood of 8-under depending on the wind. In order to do so, they must take advantage of all four par-5's through a combination of long-iron prowess and precision with their wedges. Inherently, this means a hot putter will be required as well.
Someone who has perfected this throughout the years is Justin Thomas. The co-favorite at PointsBet Sportsbook alongside Jon Rahm at +1200, the two-time Tournament of Champions winner opened with an 8-under 65 last year to co-lead after Round 1. The year before, he fell one-stroke shy of Joaquin Niemann who had shot 7-under.
We will need to get past some of the bigger names which is always a tall order, but in a field of 38 players, I see a few angles in. Kevin Tway was able to do this in 2019 and with the likes of Viktor Hovland and Daniel Berger currently without their clubs as I write this, the small crack in the doorway is ever so slightly getting wider.
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Odds to Lead After the First-Round (Odds Via PointsBet):
+1200: Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas
+1400: Collin Morikawa
+1600: Bryson DeChambeau, Viktor Hovland
+1800: Patrick Cantlay, Sam Burns, Xander Schauffele
+2000: Cameron Smith, Jordan Spieth
+2200: Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger, Hideki Matsuyama, Sungjae Im
+2500: Abraham Ancer, Tony Finau
+2800: Patrick Reed
+3000: Cameron Champ, Harris English, Jason Kokrak, Marc Leishman
+3300: Billy Horschel, Talor Gooch
+4000: Kevin Na, Max Homa, Seamus Power
+5000: Branden Grace, Lucas Herbert Si Woo Kim
First-Round Leader Selections (Odds Via PointsBet):
Joel Dahmen +6000 (0.33 units):
The winner in Punta Cana will not jump off the page when it comes to par-5 scoring – which is certainly a concern – but the rest of his game is capable of stacking up with the world’s best for just one day. Becoming a more complete golfer by the week, Dahmen has always been known as a strong ball-striker who runs into trouble on the greens.
While historically the case, the 34-year-old is beginning to flip the script as he had a tremendous fall with the putter in hand. Posting single round performances of +3.0 Strokes Gained: Putting at Sea Island, +2.0 SG: Putting at Memorial Park, and +3.2 SG: Putting at Country Club of Jackson, Dahmen appears to have settled into a nice comfort zone on Bermuda grass greens.
Facing such this week, he should be able to give himself plenty of looks for birdies as he is sneakily one of the best wedge players in the field. This has proven to be the case even more so in the first-round as Dahmen sits 13th in Round 1 scoring average early in the season coming in at 67.00.
K.H. Lee +6600 (0.30 units):
Call me crazy, but once off-the-tee, the Plantation Course could remind first-timer Lee of TPC Craig Ranch where he won the AT&T Byron Nelson this past summer. Having played well during the swing season this past fall, the South Korean will need to be a just a touch sharper with his irons in order to come through for us.
The issue is not necessarily hitting greens in regulation – he is quite proficient at that – but rather the proximity in which his approach shots fall. While poor at first glance, Lee has experienced peaks and valleys in this department and has shown the ability to spike with both long-irons and wedges which gives me enough confidence to go to him in this spot.
A top-notch scrambler, Lee garnered a first-round scoring average of 69.25 in the four events he has played this season. The 30-year-old will need to run the table on the par-5's to have a chance, but it is an area of his game where he has shined.
Matt Jones +6600 (0.30 units):
When discussing golf courses with large greens, two statistics tend to be brought up, three-putt avoidance and wedge proximity. Jones is up there with the best of them in both of these categories and could thrive in his first outing on the Plantation Course since 2015.
Plenty long off-the-tee, the Australian’s iron-play typically tells the tale of his round. While the wedges are a strength, his long irons are surely a weakness. He makes up for this with his skill from around-the-green and has eaten up par-5's in recent memory, despite what his long-term metrics may suggest.
Currently 28th in Round 1 scoring average in this young season, Jones’ first-round of 7-under 64 at TPC Summerlin showcased his ability to go low. He will need to hole a few more putts than usual, but Bermuda grass has treated him well in the past, so it is more than possible.
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