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Matt Cooper's PGA Tournament of Champions Tips

Matt Cooper's PGA Tournament of Champions Tips

Get 2021 off to a flyer with these two 80/1 selections!

THE Tournament of Champions, the PGA Tour’s traditional yearly curtain-raiser, is a little more than just winners this week. Had the usual limit been placed, an already limited field would have become extremely limited following last year’s disruptions to the schedule, so the top 30 in the rankings provide bulk.

No fewer than eight of the world’s top ten are in attendance, tempted by the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii – a dramatic venue with undulating fairways, huge greens, and a stunning Pacific Ocean backdrop. If the tradewinds blows – and they usually do – then the players will need to use their imagination (and those slopes) to fight for a good score. If conditions stay calm the test still demands inventiveness, but also aggression in the quest for birdies and eagles.

To win – Dustin Johnson 6/1

It goes without saying that we’re backing a short-priced favourite, but we did that in the Masters last month – with the very same player, in fact. He came up trumps then and there are plenty of reasons to believe that he can do so again, starting with the fact that it’s not only the world rankings which currently deem him to be the best in the business. When it comes to score average, it doesn’t matter if you choose to measure him against the field over three years, one year, six months or ten weeks – he always come out on top.

There’s also the little matter of his blistering course form: never outside the top ten in his last eight visits, a final round average of 68.40 (par is 73), and victories in both 2013 and 2018. Johnson also has two wins at Pebble Beach and really should have won the US Open there too. Like this week, that test throws together blustery wind, elevation changes and a dramatic backdrop. In point of fact, Kapalua plays even more into Johnson’s hands because he can attack the course with his length – it was here that he very nearly holed out with a 430-yard downhill tee shot on a par-4! With his wedge play now world class and his mind game as good as it’s ever been, he’s got a great chance to land a third win in his last seven starts.

Each way – Marc Leishman 80/1

Australians have always taken to the Plantation Course, most notably Stuart Appleby, who completed a hat trick of wins from 2004, and Geoff Ogilvy, who went back-to-back in 2009-10. Adam Scott has four top ten finishes on the track and Cameron Smith is attracting attention this week given that he tasted success in Hawaii at the Sony Open 12 months ago. They have strong cases, but I prefer the price of the third Aussie in the field, 37-year-old Marc Leishman.

The five-time PGA Tour winner got his 2020 off to a flying start with an assured victory in the Farmers Insurance Open, followed by a gutsy second when chasing Tyrrell Hatton in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Post-lockdown, however, he had a shocker, failing to land even one top ten. That explains his big price this week, but the fact he managed T13th at the Masters shortly before the break was a reminder of what he is capable of and his recent course form is superb. After an average debut in 2013, he led at halfway in 2018 before finishing seventh and was in the top five all week in 2019, eventually finishing fourth.

First round leader – Andrew Landry 80/1

I’ve always taken care to glance at players with a good record at TPC Deere Run ahead of this Kapalua test. Steve Stricker, Vijay Singh, Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Jonathan Byrd are all winners on both, whilst Brian Harman, Ryan Moore and Kenny Perry have landed places in Hawaii after wins there. Both layouts boast significant elevation changes, a factor which foxes – or just plain irritates – some golfers.

There was no return to the John Deere Classic last year, but Andrew Landry has enjoyed the venue, finishing eighth in 2016 and third in 2019, when he opened with a pair of 65s. His best golf on the PGA Tour, including both his wins, has come on Bermuda greens (which he’ll face this week) and he was last seen closing 65-64 to claim fourth at the RSM Classic in November. He’s also won on a holiday island on the second tier Korn Ferry Tour, albeit the other side of the mainland in the Bahamas. He’s a big price to get off to a flyer on Thursday.




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Matt Cooper
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