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PREVIEW: 2023 PGA Tour – Sentry Tournament of Champions

The first PGA Tour event of 2023 sees a strong field head to Hawaii for the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Damien Kayat previews.

Patrick Cantlay
Image: EPA/ERIK S. LESSER

The first PGA Tour event of 2023 sees a strong field head to Hawaii for the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Damien Kayat previews.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

2022/2023 US PGA Tour
Sentry Tournament of Champions
Plantation Course at Kapulua, Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
5th-8th January

It feels like a lifetime ago that Viktor Hovland defended his Hero World Challenge (the final individual stroke play event of 2022). But it was actually little over a month ago.

Time does strange things during this time of the year. The PGA Tour returns to action with the traditional curtain raiser for the year: the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

The tournament was first staged in 1953. And was the de facto season opener between 1986 and 2013. But the advent of the wraparound schedule in 2014 now sees this event take place about a quarter way through the season.

The Sentry Tournament of Champions

This year’s event is open to all 2022 winners and non-winners who managed to reach East Lake. To dissuade any more LIV defection, the Tour has announced massive increases in prize money for certain events. 

This event has seen a dramatic rise from 8.2 million dollars to 15 million dollars. This has ensured that 17 of the world’s top 20 will be in attendance. World No.1 Rory McIlroy will be absent while defending champion Cameron Smith will obviously not be attendance due to his high-profile rebellion to LIV.

This is guaranteed to be a hugely entertaining start to the year as low scoring is the order of the day at the Plantation Course.

Plantation Course at Kapulua

Co-designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, the Plantation Course at Kapalua is the only par 73 on the entire PGA Tour roster. This is an absolute monster at nearly 7,600 yards. But don’t let that fool you.

This is a scoring paradise and really gives the players the chance to build some confidence. The almost comically wide fairways invite the bombers to let loose without fear of repercussions.

And the large Bermuda greens only run at 10 on the stimp (which is an open invitation to the strongest iron players in the world). Also, there are only three par 3’s around the Plantation Course.

Ernie Els previously held the PGA Tour’s 72-hole low score with 31-under-par here in 2003. But Cam Smith and Jon Rahm left that in the dust last year, with Cam Smith ending with a one-shot victory at 34-under-par. This course is going to be devastated this week.

The Contenders

There will be 39 players in attendance this week (ten of which qualified via the Tour Championship route). Jon Rahm decimated this course last year and would have sauntered towards victory had it not been for Cam Smith’s genius.

He had a disappointing campaign before bursting into life during the dying embers of 2022. He will be licking his lips in anticipation this week.

Scottie Scheffler is coming off a banner year but lost a little bit of steam in the closing stages of last season. Conversely, Tony Finau was in sublime form towards the end of last year and most certainly has the tools to bring Plantation to its knees.

Past winners such as Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele have to be considered contenders. Thomas- in particular- is a past master of these limited field events.

Past Winners

2022: Cam Smith (-34)
2021: Harris English (-25) *playoff
2020: Justin Thomas (-14) *playoff
2019: Xander Schauffele (-23)
2018: Dustin Johnson (-24)

To Win Outright:

Jon Rahm 13/2 | Scottie Scheffler 10/1 | Justin Thomas 11/1 | Xander Schauffele 11/1 | Patrick Cantlay 12/1

Value Bets

Cameron Young- To Win 18/1 | To Place 32/10

I’m really liking the look of Cameron Young this week. 2022’s PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is yet to win his maiden PGA Tour title. But he came within a whisker, didn’t he? He finished tied for 2nd at the Genesis Invitational before a stunning solo 2nd at the Open Championship. The key to Young’s game is his absolutely massive driving. He should prosper on a course that traditionally rewards the longer hitters. Rivera has also proven a decent corollary course to Plantation (he finished in a tie for second there last year).

The Man to Beat- Patrick Cantlay- To Win 12/1 | To Place 43/20

World no.4 Patrick Cantlay has to do more in Major Championships. But he is still one of the most consistent performers in regular tour events. He picked up a win and two second place finishes in his last five appearances pre-Christmas. Cantlay also has the power and precision to annihilate this golf course. He just hasn’t quite been able to string together four consistent rounds here. But he still has two fourth place finishes. I think he represents great value at 12/1 this week.

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