The PGA Tour’s brief offseason has officially come to a close. It’s time to get back to work, at least for 34 of the players who won PGA Tour events in 2019 and will tee it up this week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
A trip to Maui is one of the most coveted invites in professional golf, and it’s proof that the previous year contained a highlight to remember. But with the time to rest and reflect now over, the focus shifts to the work at hand. From DJ’s knee to Cameron Champ’s driver, here are four questions to ponder during the first Tour event of the new year:
Is Dustin Johnson ready to bounce back?
Johnson made it to Royal Melbourne and helped the U.S. squad to a comeback victory at the Presidents Cup, but his recovery following arthroscopic knee surgery was still longer than anticipated. This will mark his first stroke-play start since the Tour Championship in August, when he bottomed out and finished last among the 30-player field. Johnson was on a tear in the first half of 2019, winning twice and finishing second at two majors, but he was largely a non-factor once the calendar hit June. If he’s going to return to the upper echelon and challenge the likes of Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy on a regular basis, he’ll need a clean bill of health. This week, on a course where he’s won twice before, could offer some hints as to whether Johnson’s ready to mount a comeback.
Can Patrick Reed avoid controversy?
It was a December to forget for Captain America, who became embroiled in a rules controversy at the Hero World Challenge and then continued to stir the pot (along with his caddie) while going 1-3 at the Presidents Cup Australia. A singles victory and U.S. team win helped heal some of the wounds that opened up Down Under, but the former Masters champ remains a lightning rod for on-course controversy. Returning to a venue where he won five years ago, this could provide Reed a much-needed opportunity to put the focus back on his play – which included a run of eight straight top-25s and a playoff victory to close out last season.
Will Cameron Champ break ShotLink?
Champ led the PGA Tour in driving distance last season, finishing more than 4 yards ahead of McIlroy, and this season he’s again leading the pack at more than 327 yards per poke. Thanks to his emotional victory at the Safeway Open in September, he’ll now get a second crack at the Plantation Course after a T-11 finish last year. Annually the site of some of the Tour’s longest tee shots, Kapalua was where Champ uncorked a 409-yard drive during the second round a year ago and where this time around the sky might be the limit for the Tour’s longest player.
Who can be the next Jonathan Byrd?
While the limited field in Maui has produced a recent run of top-tier winners, there have been a handful of surprising champions (looking at you, Daniel Chopra). But to find a winner who started the week outside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings you have to go all the way back to 2011, when Jonathan Byrd beat Robert Garrigus in a playoff. More than half of this week’s field sits outside the top 50, and primary contenders to follow in Byrd’s footsteps include Brendon Todd, who was the best player of the fall while winning twice and notching another top-5 result, Collin Morikawa, whose surprising debut season as a pro included a victory in Reno, and Corey Conners, whose win at the Valero Texas Open sparked a run to the Tour Championship and who closed out the fall with four straight top-20 finishes.