By Tom LaMarre
The PGA Tour returns this week after a five-week hiatus for the holidays and for some of the golfers this will be a two-week golf/family vacation in Hawaii.
It starts on Thursday with the Sentry Tournament of Champions on the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort https://golfatkapalua.com/plantation_course outside Lahaina on the island of Maui, and will be followed next week by the Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club outside Honolulu on Oahu.
“I love the combination of playing tournament and vacation,” said Matt Kuchar, who last year claimed his first victory in the islands, winning the Sony Open in Hawaii by four strokes over Andrew Putnam.
“I know … the kids have some activities where I have not been able to participate in, and I kind of get a little bit jealous. I would like to be out in the water, hiking, whatever it might be that they are doing.
“(We) love having the combination of a tournament or two and a couple of weeks if vacation time.”
The Kuchar family has headed to Hawaii even in years when Kuchar did not claim a title to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, so Kooch gets an extra week of vacation free from competition, but he has played in the Sony 14 times.
Kuchar qualified for the TOC this year for the eighth time by winning the Mayakoba Golf Classic and the Sony, and has recorded four finishes in the top 10 at Kapalua.
Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State claimed his fourth PGA Tour title at Kapalua last January by one stroke over Gary Woodland by closing with an 11-under-par 62, and will defend his title this week against another strong field
It could be even better, but the likes of top-ranked Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, Shane Lowry of Ireland and Francesco Molinari of Italy are not playing despite being eligible.
Schauffele will defend his title against a field of 34 players, including former TOC champions Justin Thomas (2017), Patrick Reed (2015) and Dustin Johnson (2013, 2018), plus Jon Rahm of Spain (pictured), Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, Paul Casey of England and Patrick Reed.
Woodland, the U.S. Open champion, is the only reigning major champ in the field.
There are 15 first-time winners making their TOC debuts, including Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal, Max Homa of Valencia and Cal, Matthew Wolff of Agoura Hills, Sebastian Munoz of Colombia, Joaquin Niemann of Chile, Corey Conners of Canada, Tyler Duncan, Dylan Frittelli of South Africa, Lanto Griffin, Sung Kang of South Korea, Nate Lashley, Adam Long, Keith Mitchell, J.T. Poston and Martin Trainer.
Those fans who have been going through withdrawals while watching reruns on Golf Channel can’t wait for the first tee shot of 2020.
- Jon Rahm, Spain — Four victories in 2019 lifted Rahm to No. 3 in the world, possibly en route to No. 1. He teamed with Ryan Palmer to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and also won the Irish Open, the Open De Espana and the DP World Tour Championship Dubai. Rahm tied for eighth in Kapaula last year and finished solo second in 2018.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – Fifth-ranked DJ won the TOC in 2013 and 2018, and has five other top-10 finishes in seven appearances at Kapaula. Johnson won the WGC-Mexico Championship for the third time last season to give him 20 PGA Tour victories. He beat Haotong Li in singles to finish 2-2 and help the U.S. retain the Presidents Cup.
- Justin Thomas, United States – Coming off a 3-1-1 record that helped the U.S. retain the Presidents Cup, Thomas won the TOC in 2017 by three shots over Hideki Matsuyama and was third last year. JT, ranked fourth in the world, won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in 2019, and has 11 PGA Tour titles.
- Patrick Cantlay, United States – His victory by two strokes over Adam Scott in the Memorial Tournament gave Cantlay his second PGA Tour victory and helped him climb to No. 7 in the world. He beat Joaquin Niemann in singles to go 3-2 in the Presidents Cup after claiming his second PGA Tour victory by two strokes in the Memorial Tournament.
- Xander Schauffele, United States – The defending champion in the TOC, ranked ninth in the world, beat Adam Scott in singles to finish with a 3-2 mark and help the U.S. retain the Presidents Cup. Schauffele closed with a tournament record tying 11-under-par 62 on the Plantation Course last year to beat Gary Woodland by one stroke.
- Rickie Fowler, United States – Coming off a 1-0-3 record that helped the U.S. retain the Presidents Cup, Fowler makes his fourth start at Kapalua, having tied for fourth last year, finished fifth in 2016 and tied for sixth in 2013. Rickie claimed his fifth PGA Tour victory by two shots over Branden Grace in the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
- Paul Casey, England – With a successful title defense in the Valspar Championship, Casey claimed his 20th pro victory, with 14 coming on the European Tour and three on the PGA Tour. In his two previous appearances at Kapalua, the Englishman tied for 10th in 2010 and tied for 16th last year. Casey also captured the 2019 European Open.
- Matt Kuchar, United States – Kooch comes into the TOC having claimed the winning half-point for the U.S. in the Presidents Cup by halving his match with Louis Oosthuizen to finish at 0-1-3. Kuchar earned his spot in the TOC by winning the 2019 Sony Open in Hawaii and has four straight top-10 finishes at Kapalua, including third in 2010.
- Gary Woodland, United States – The reigning U.S. Open champion, coming off a 1-2-1 record in the Presidents Cup in Australia, is making his fourth appearance in the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He chased Xander Schauffele all the way to the finish last year with four rounds in the 60s before finishing one stroke back in solo second.
- Patrick Reed, United States – Was 0-2 in the Presidents Cup before playing his best golf to defeat C.T. Pan of Taiwan in singles, 4 and 2, and help the U.S. prevail. Reed claimed his seventh PGA Tour victory by one shot over Abraham Ancer in the Northern Trust to earn a return trip to Kapalua, where beat Jimmy Walker in a playoff in 2015.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH – Cameron Champ, United States; J.B.Holmes, United States; Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland; Kevin Na, United States; Kevin Kisner, United States; Chez Reavie, United States; Brendon Todd, United States; Sungjae Im, South Korea.
- Sebastian Munoz, Colombia – Thanks to a victory in the Sanderson Farms, a third in the RSM and a T-7 at the Greenbrier, Munoz is second in the early FedEx Cup standings.
- Lanto Griffin, United States – Punched his ticket to Kapalua by winning Houston Open, and six top-25 finishes put him third in the 2019-20 FedEx Cup standings.
- Joaquin Niemann, Chile – The 21-year-old won at the Greenbrier early in the new campaign after recording four top-10 finishes near the end of the 2018-19 season.
- Dylan Frittelli, South Africa – After winning the 2019 John Deere Classic, he opened the new season with a T-6 in the Sanderson Farms and a T-7 in the Safeway Open.
- Collin Morikawa, United States – Earned his trip to Kapalua by winning the Barracuda Championship and opened the new season with a T-10 in Safeway Open.
For first-round tee times visit https://www.pgatour.com/competition/2020/sentry-tournament-of-champions/leaderboard.html