By Tom LaMarre
After a short vacation for the holidays, the PGA Tour is back this week for the Sentry Tournament of Champions on the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort outside Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii.
And defending champion Justin Thomas can’t wait for what is normally a winners-only tournament.
“Nothing makes me happier than locking that ticket up early, for sure,” said Thomas, who was the first player to clinch his spot in the 2021 field when he beat Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele on the third hole of a playoff at Kapalua last year. “I think it’s a course that’s good for me. It’s not overly long, there’s a lot of par-5s, so I feel like I’m able to take advantage of them with short clubs, which is a strength of my game.
“It also helps being a (limited) field; it’s a little less people deep. So, that’s definitely going to help your winning percentage to start the week, but it’s just such a good, relaxing week, but also I feel like I’ve taken it very seriously the last couple weeks because it’s a great opportunity to get (the year) off to a good start.”
Usually, the field consists of only winners from the previous PGA Tour season, but because much of the 2019-20 season was wiped out because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the criteria has changed for this year’s Sentry TOC.
Any player who won an event during the 2019-20 season or in the early part of the 2020-21 season is eligible to tee it up, along with the top 30 on the 2019-20 FedEx Cup points list, with a total of 42 of them ready to do so.
Players who were eligible to play in the TOC but have decided not to play are fourth-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, 10th-ranked Tyrrell Hatton of England and Jim Herman.
“That’s the thing about that field and that event, is you know what you’re going to get every year,” said the third-ranked Thomas, who also won the tournament in 2017 and then captured the Sony Open in Hawaii the following week. “This year is obviously different, but you know what you’re going to get for guys that are going to be there. There’s not going to be any surprises.
“It’s always fun. You look around the guys at Kapalua and, again, this year being different, but you look around and know that everybody else has won and they’ve earned the right to be there. So, it’s always a very, very strong field with a lot of players that are ready to have a good week, but also enjoy the week in Hawaii.”
Other former Sony TOC champions who have committed to play in the first tournament of 2021 are top-ranked Dustin Johnson (who won it in 2013 and 2018), Sergio Garcia of Spain (2002), Reed (2017) and the sixth-ranked Schauffele (2019).
Thomas and Johnson will be trying to equal Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Gene Littler and Stuart Appleby of Australia, who all had three victories in the tournament that dates to 1953 at Desert Inn Country Club in Las Vegas, while Jack Nicklaus holds the record with five TOC titles.
Others among the top-10 in the world in the field are second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, fifth-ranked Bryson DeChambeau, sixth-ranked Webb Simpson, seventh-ranked Collin Morikawa and ninth-ranked Patrick Cantlay.
Among the young guys player are Viktor Hovland of Norway, Carlos Ortiz of Mexico, Scottie Scheffler, Lanto Griffin, Cameron Champ, Joaquin Niemann of Chile, Richy Werenski and Sungjae Im of South Korea.
They’re all hoping to win and earn that return trip ticket for 2022.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – Not only is DJ ranked No. 1 in the world, he is the reigning FedEx Cup champion and leads the standings in the new season after winning the Masters, tying for sixth in the U.S. Open and tying for second in the Houston Open. Johnson won the Sentry TOC in 2013 and 2018 among eight straight top-10 finishes.
- Justin Thomas, United States – Defending Sentry TOC champion won the tournament for the second time last year in a playoff over Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed. Thomas, who finished fourth in the Masters, tied for eighth in the U.S. Open and tied for second in Zozo this season, also won at Kapalua in 2017 and tied for third in 2018.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – The second-ranked Rahm tied for second in the Zozo Championship and tied for seventh in the U.S. Open in his last two starts this season, after a tie for 23rd in the U.S. Open. In his three appearances in the Sentry TOC, he was solo second in 2018, tied for eighth the next year and wound up solo 10th last season.
- Viktor Hovland, Norway – The 23-year-old Hovland is making his Sentry TOC debut after claiming his first two PGA Tour victories last year in the Puerto Rico Open and the Mayakoba Golf Classic. He also tied for 13th in the U.S. Open, tied for 12th in the CJ Cup and tied for 15th in Houston Open to rank third in the FedEx Cup point standings.
- Xander Schauffele, United States – The sixth-ranked Schauffele claimed the last of his four PGA Tour victories by one shot over Gary Woodland in the 2019 Sentry TOC and lost in a playoff to Justin Thomas last year. In the new season, he was solo fifth in the U.S. Open, tied for second in CJ Cup and tied for 17th in both the Masters and the Zozo.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – After claiming his first major championship by six strokes in the U.S. Open and tying for eighth in the Shriners in the new season, DeChambeau ranks fifth in the World Golf Rankings and second in the FedEx Cup standings. He finished seventh in his second appearance in the Sony TOC last year.
- Patrick Reed, United States – Lost in a playoff to Justin Thomas in the Sentry TOC last year after winning the tournament in a playoff over Jimmy Walker in 2015, finishing second in his title defense and tying for sixth in 2017. So far in the new season, Reed tied for 13th in the U.S. Open, tied for 10th in the Masters and tied for 14th in the Zozo.
- Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – Has had great success in three previous appearances in the Sentry TOC, tying for third in 2015, finishing solo second in 2017 and tying for fourth a year later. Matsuyama has tied for 17th in the U.S. Open, tied for 13th in the Masters and tied for second in the Vivint Houston Open early in the 2020-21 season.
- Webb Simpson, United States – The eighth-ranked Simpson tied for third in the Sentry TOC in 2012 and 2014, tied for eighth last year and his worst finish was a tie for 11th in 2013. So far in the new season, he tied for eighth in the U.S. Open, tied for 10th in the Masters, tied for 13th in the Shriners and tied for 17th in the Zozo Championship.
- Patrick Cantlay, United States – Ranked ninth in the world, Cantlay claimed his third PGA Tour victory in the Zozo Championship in October, in addition to tying for 15th in the Masters and tying for eighth in the Shriners to sit fifth in the FedEx Cup point standings. He finished solo fourth in the Sentry TOC last year and tied for 15th in 2018.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH—Collin Morikawa, United States; Tony Finau, United States; Sungjae Im, South Korea; Daniel Berger, United States; Marc Leishman, Australia; Mackenzie Hughes, Canada; Stewart Cink, United States; Martin Laird, Scotland; Adam Scott, Australia; Sergio Garcia, Spain.
- Joaquin Niemann, Chile – The 22-year-old Niemann, who won in 2019 at the Greenbrier, finished T-5 in his first Sentry TOC. Has six T-25s in the new season.
- Carlos Oritz, Mexico – Claimed first PGA title in the Houston Open in November and is making his debut at Kapalua. Also finished T-8 in Mayakoba Classic in his last start.
- Lanto Griffin, United States – Won the 2019 Houston and open and was solo 13th in 2020 Sony TOC. Griffin was T7 in CJ Cup, T11 Zozo Championship early this season.
- Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Has 14 top-10s on PGA Tour in recent seasons without winning and is making first start in Sentry TOC. Four top-20 finishes early this season.
- Richy Werenski, United States – Earned first PGA Tour victory in 2020 Barracuda Championship and makes his Kapalua debut. Also was T3 at Greenbrier and 3M Open.
For first round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html