A host of famous names are missing from the first golf tournament of 2018, including Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tiger Woods. That is because only players that have won a PGA title in the past 12 months are eligible for the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. McIlroy, Day and Woods were among those that finished 2017 without a win to their names, so they are out. But an exceptionally strong field has gathered for this elite tournament, held on Kapalua’s Plantation Course, including last year’s winner Justin Thomas and 2016 champion Jordan Spieth. They head the betting from Rickie Fowler, world number one Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, US Open champion Brooks Koepka and many more superstars. All of them have tasted glory in the past year and they are all bidding for more, but only one can be named the champion of champions.
Spieth is the favorite, priced at 11/2 with Paddy Power, Betfred, Betway and various others, and he has a strong record at Kapalua. He won it in 2016 and finished third last year, so he should be among the frontrunners as he enjoys the course. Last year Spieth returned to form in style, winning the third major of his career when he claimed The Open at Royal Birkdale in July.
However, he was ultimately overshadowed in 2017 by Thomas, his childhood friend. These two grew up together, from junior golf to college and onto the PGA Tour, and both had phenomenal potential, but Spieth delivered on it first. He won two majors in 2015, announcing himself as golf’s next superstar, while Thomas kept plugging away in vain. But last year was Thomas’ breakout year. He was named Golfer of the Year in 2017 after winning the FedEx Cup, finishing the year as the money leader and earning his first major, the US PGA Championship. He narrowly beat Spieth to both the FedEx Cup and the summit of the earnings, so a friendly rivalry is really brewing between this duo.
Thomas’ remarkable run started at the Tournament of Champions last January, when he finished ahead of Hideku Matsuyama and Spieth to win it. He went on an upward curve from there and is excited about getting back to Hawaii, where he has a strong record. Thomas finished 2017 in exceptional form and there is no reason why he cannot maintain that going into 2018, so he looks a great bet at 7/1 with Paddy Power, Boyle Sports and Stan James to win this tournament.
Another interesting option is Johnson. It is rare to see the world number one ranked as the fourth favourite to win a tournament, but he finds himself behind Spieth, Thomas and Fowler in the betting. It is not really through any fault of his own, as Johnson achieved excellent consistency in 2017, overcoming injury problems to cling onto his spot atop the world rankings. This par-73, 7,452-yard course rewards length of the tee, which plays directly into Johnson’s hands. He won this tournament in 2013 and will be a real threat.
Fowler and Matsuyama can now both lay claim to the title of best active player without a major to his name, and both will be dangerous here. Of the 37 players eligible for the tournament, only three will not be in Hawaii: Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. The field is extremely competitive, meaning there are plenty of attractive long shots. One is Cameron Smith, who finished 2017 in fine form and should enjoy the course. The Australian has the length off the tee and the ability to play in the wind, so he looks an interesting bet at 40/1 with Boyle Sports and Stan James. Another youngster coming into the tournament in fine form is 24-year-old Patrick Cantlay (25/1 with Boyle Sports and Sun Bets), who gained the most ground
in the history of the Official Golf World Ranking last year and has the raw talent to make a splash at Kapalua this week.