The PGA Tour arrives in beautiful Hawaii for its annual resumption at Kapalua, with Masters champ Dustin Johnson as the favorite, Jon Rahm sporting an all new bag and look, and Bryson DeChambeau licking his chops.
Here's everything you need – and some stuff you didn't think you needed – to know for the Sentry Tournament of Champions:
All eyes on
Dustin Johnson. The last time we saw DJ, he was slipping on a green jacket. Now, the Masters champion is making his first start since his breakthrough performance at Augusta National – and it comes at a comfortable spot for the world No. 1.
Johnson’s record at Kapalua is impressive (two wins, four other top-7 finishes), and who could forget the near ace he made two years ago at the 433-yard, par-4 12th hole? But is Johnson ready to pick up where he left off in November?
“How sharp I’m going to be? I can’t really say yet,” Johnson told Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis on Monday.
“I got over here last week, so I’ve been here for a little bit. Got a little practice in, not a whole lot, more enjoying the beach and the family. But the game’s fine, I mean, I played this morning and then went and practiced a little bit on the range. It’s all right; it’s about where it normally is this time of year, a lot of things to work on. But yeah, still feels pretty good. Probably not quite as strong, but this is a good golf course to be a little rusty on.”
Bettors apparently agree: Johnson is currently the favorite to win, at +615 odds, according to PointsBet Sportsbook.
What else we’re talking about
New year, new gear. The biggest equipment move of the offseason was easily world No. 2 Jon Rahm going from TaylorMade to Callaway. Rahm will play Callaway’s driver, irons, wedges and ball, and an Odyssey putter, though he could begin the year just with the driver, irons and ball as he dials in the other clubs.
In the past, other high-profile players have had adjustment periods with new equipment, including Rory McIlroy after switching from Titleist to Nike, but Rahm appears confident that he’ll hit the ground running. He said he shot 59 in his first round with the new sticks. “The equipment is already performing well for me,” said Rahm, who also changed apparel sponsors, switching from Adidas to Travis Mathew.
Other equipment news includes Adam Scott being seen Monday at Kapalua with an arm-lock putter (and a UNIQLO hat) and Patrick Reed now sporting G/FORE attire. Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa have been pictured playing the new TaylorMade SIM2 driver and wearing new and unreleased Adidas footwear.
Bryson DeChambeau. Did you really expect him not to be mentioned? DeChambeau’s quest to get bigger and longer continued over the holidays, and after nearly breaking 200 mph ball speed in competition in 2020, that threshold could be broken as soon as this week.
In speaking Tuesday with Golf Channel's Todd Lewis, DeChambeau said that a day earlier he hit 211 mph ball speed on the range while "pretty easily" reaching 201 mph ball speed on No. 18. He also hit an 8-iron 205 yards.
"Whether it happens this week or not, we'll see," he said.
As he chases his desired goal of 210 mph average ball speed, DeChambeau will be expected to send it early and often at the 7,596-yard course, where he’ll play the first round alongside Brendon Todd in the ultimate juxtaposition. DeChambeau (337.8 yards) currently leads the Tour in driving distance while Todd (276.6) is last among players with more than 16 rounds this season. The difference between them is more than 50 yards.
There’s also another reason we’ll be paying close attention to DeChambeau …
Pace of play. After much anticipation, the Tour’s new pace-of-play policy will debut (finally) at Kapalua. In what was initially supposed to be a 2020 rollout at the RBC Heritage, the new policy is designed to focus on slow individuals rather than slow groups.
Here are more details from Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard: “The most dramatic change to the policy will be the creation of an observation list of the Tour’s habitually slow players. The list will include players who take longer than 45 seconds on average to hit a shot, based on ShotLink data. The average will be based on a 10-tournament rolling window, which will allow players to improve their pace. Players who land on the observation list will be monitored during rounds and will be subject to a 60-second limit for all shots. If a player on the list exceeds 60 seconds they will be individually timed even if their group is not considered out of position.”
If a player receives a bad time during a tournament, that player will receive a warning for the first offense. One-stroke penalties will be given starting with the second offense.
Xander Schauffele will win. Technically, Schauffele hasn’t won since 2019 at Kapalua, though as Schauffele himself contended on Tuesday, he did shoot the lowest 72-hole score at last summer’s Tour Championship. After last year’s bitter playoff defeat at the TOC – here’s the quote: “I should have won the tournament. I know it. Everyone knows it” – Schauffele should be extra motivated to get it done again in Hawaii and make up for a title-less 2020.
It won't be easy, though. He is getting over COVID-19 after testing positive on Dec. 18 and only recently turning out a negative result. Schauffele, who said he woke up that morning "sick as a dog and dragged myself to the clinic," has slowly been getting his strength back. He returned to practice after his quarantine ended, on Dec. 29, but admits he's still "not in great shape."
"Kind of in a weird place physically, I should say," he said. "But mentally, I can fake it until I make it. So I'll have to fall back on some good memories from the past couple years."
Remember when …
Dustin Johnson won his first Tournament of Champions? The year was 2013, and Hyundai was still the tournament’s title sponsor. Oh, and it was really windy.
The weather was so bad that Rickie Fowler hit the first shot of the year three times. Yes, three. Friday’s opening round was scrapped with the first group through eight holes. Saturday’s planned restart also fell through. So, too, did Sunday’s, where players again had scores wiped clean.
“We got balls rolling all over the green,” Tour rules official Slugger White said after Saturday, as 50 mph gusts wreaked havoc on the field. White also added this gem of a quote in reference to Sunday’s forecast: “A little less moisture, more like pineapple showers than these downpours that we have had.”
Finally, the Tour was able to get its new year rolling on Monday, where players completed 36 holes before finishing the 54-hole shortened event on Tuesday. Johnson shot 16 under to clip runner-up Steve Stricker by four shots.
Did you know?
With the worst odds in the field, Nick Taylor (+35000) may need a few red shells and Bullet Bills this week at Kapalua. Don’t get the reference? Taylor is a self-proclaimed top-5 player in the world when it comes to playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64.
Taylor’s college coach at Washington, Matt Thurmond, who is now at Arizona State, said Taylor played religiously while in college, but that didn’t mean Thurmond kept a console at the Huskies’ practice facility. “They played plenty at their apartment,” he said.
Taylor, whose fellow gamers included teammate, roommate and now fellow Tour pro Joel Dahmen, agreed with that statement.
“'Too often' would be the best remark,” Taylor told ESPN back in 2016. “When we first got it, we started playing NFL Blitz, then we went to Mario Kart. Essentially, we got addicted and there were three or four of us in the house playing all the time. We played too much but got pretty good. We kept playing and playing. It was in the winter, so there was more Mario Kart than golf.”