While most of the country is bathed in a snow, ice and cold that would make an eskimo grab a Southwest flight to the Bahamas, the PGA Tour is in Hawaii to kick off the 2018 season at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Last year, Justin Thomas took Kapalua by storm, claiming his second win of five on the campaign at the Tournament of Champions by three strokes over Hideki Matsuyama. This year, Thomas enters as the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year and the games most recent major champion. Like 2017, he enters with a win already to his credit on the campaign.
The 2018 edition of the Sentry Tournament of Champions features one of it’s deepest fields in recent memory with names like Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka joining Thomas in paradise.
The field also contains players looking to prove their wins in 2017 weren’t a fluke, players looking to maintain early season momentum and some who are just enjoying what could be their last chances to tee it up in the winner’s only tournament.
Here’s a look at those who will turn heads in Maui and those who will just be glad their not in the froze portion of the country this week:
Justin Thomas — Obviously, the easy choice this week at the Plantation Course is the guy who brought it to its knees this time last year. Justin Thomas deserves your attention this week thanks to what he did here last year, but also because he finds himself in nearly an identical scenario to 2017. With a win in the bank, Christmas and New Year’s break behind him and a small field event with no cut ahead of him, he’s a fantasy no-brainer.
Jordan Spieth — The 2016 winner of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Jordan Spieth is, as always, a spectacular fantasy choice this week in Hawaii. Along with the win here two years ago, Spieth has also collected a runner-up (2014) and a T-3 (2017) on the Plantation Course. If you’re a fan of track records, you’ve got to believe Spieth has as good — or better — chance than anybody to kick off the new year with a win.
Pat Perez — It’s entirely possible I could get burned with this pick, but something tells me the old Pat Perez who might get complacent following a few great weeks in a row followed by weeks of celebrating (success, the holidays and perhaps otherwise) is gone. He’s playing the best golf of his life at 41 and has sustained his success for longer than he has ever been able to in the past. Here’s to hoping he can keep it up on the new year.
Patrick Cantlay — Patrick Cantlay is going to have a huge year in 2018 — mark my words. Each year, it seems like someone comes to Kapalau slightly unheralded and announces their presence with authority. I firmly believe that this season that played will be Cantlay. Like Justin Thomas last year, he heads to the Plantation Course with a win already in hand for the new season, looking to really put the pedal down in 2018.
Jason Dufner — It always pains me to put Jason Dufner in this portion of the list, but such is the case this week in Hawaii. Dufner, who has collected five wins on the PGA Tour including last year’s Memorial Championship, has only teed it up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions twice before. In those starts, he’s mustered only a T-18 and 21st place finish. His track record in the Sony Open in Hawaii has also been simply ho-hum. I don’t blame Dufner for, perhaps, enjoying the surroundings more than the golf when he’s on the island, but it does mean I can’t in good faith give him the starting nod for my fantasy team.
Jonas Blixt — Once a week in, week out sleeper choice, Jonas Blixt has had his share of struggled on the PGA Tour in recent years. From 2012 through 2014, Jonas Blixt was a perennial favorite for “next to win a major,” and “top young stars” lists. Unfortunately, he’s yet to really reach the levels of expectation that had been thrust upon him. Blixt teamed with Cameron Smith to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last season, but it was really the only big bright spot. Until Blixt can show the form that earned him a T-2 finish in the 2014 Masters of the 4th place showing at the 2013 PGA Championship, he should be stowed away on your bench.
Jhonattan Vegas — Very quietly, Jhonattan Vegas has collected wins in back to back seasons for the first time in his PGA Tour career, earning him his third invitation to the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Unfortunately for Vegas, this trip to Maui hasn’t yielded any great results. His finishes of 27th and 30th in fields of not much more than 27 or 30 are enough to convince me to keep Vegas on the bench this week.
Billy Horschel — Billy Horschel makes this list for one reason and one reason only — and it’s the same reason he usually makes this list: lack of consistency. After a year of on and off course ups and downs, the 2013 FedExCup champion, I believe, will have a big 2018 — it just doesn’t start this week in Kapalua.