Players who should dominate the leaderboard come Monday afternoon
Adam Scott: The 2013 Masters champ makes his sixth visit to Kapalua fresh off a dominating summer in his native Australia. He almost won the Masters, PGA and Open in his home country but came up one hole short as Rory McIlroy pipped him at the Open on Sunday. He had two wins, a third and a second in his “off season”. In five previous starts his best finishes are T2, T5 and T7; his last two finishes here were T21 in 2011 and T18 in 2009. He’s looking to join fellow countrymen Stuart Appleby and Geoff Ogilvy in lifting the trophy.
Webb Simpson: His 19-under in 2012 saw him finish T3 in his first trip around Kapalua and he found three more rounds under par last year even in less than ideal conditions to finish T11. In two starts in the fall he won in Las Vegas and was T7 at Sea Island. He loves making birdies and will hit plenty of greens and make plenty of putts. No surprise if he lifts the trophy.
Matt Kuchar: It’s crazy that a guy who has finished third (2010), T6 (2011) and T9 last year is THIRD on this list. In four events in the last two months, he’s finished T7, fourth, T3 and combined with Harris English to run away with the Franklin-Templeton shootout. He’s automatic, just like the guys above him, if he’s entered. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
Dustin Johnson: The defending champion was 16-under last year in a tournament that was shrunk to 54-holes because of bad weather. He posted 24-under at the HSBC Champions in November and has kept busy by playing Tiger’s tournament and the Franklin Templeton shootout in December so rust is not a worry here. He’s never been over par in four previous visits and his worst finish is T16. He’s engaged and in a really good place so I suspect his 2014 will be quite excellent.
Brandt Snedeker: Another year, another injury for Snedeker but gamers please remember that he recovers quickly and usually isn’t out of form for long. He began the 2012 season with hip issues and had bone issues in the middle. All he did was win the FedExCup Playoffs and the $10 million bonus. His knee/leg injury occurred the first week in November so he should have had plenty of time to rehab and get his putting stroke back in rhythm. He has two top 10s in two starts at Kapalua, including a solo third last year. With that putter, making birdies is rarely a problem.
Bill Haas: I have to go all the way back to Doral last March to find the last time that Haas finished outside the top 28 when he made the weekend. This will be his fourth time around Kapalua and he should have all the strategy mapped out by now. His best finish here is solo eighth in 2011 but his consistent form makes this an easy selection.
Harris English: His excellent late season included a T7 in Malaysia, a victory at Mayakoba and he partnered with Kuchar to dominate the Franklin-Templeton Shootout. Winning consistently on TOUR isn’t easy but when he hits it a mile and putts LIGHTS OUT, he’s in the conversation especially on courses like where driving accuracy hardly matters. Usually rookies at Kapalua struggle but I’ll put him in the Webb Simpson category.
Chris Kirk: Similar to English, Kirk went to Georgia, makes a ton of birdies and is starting to flourish on TOUR. He finished 2013 16th in birdie percentage and 16th in the all-around ranking. After opening with 75 in his first trip around Kapalua in 2012, he bounced back with rounds of 66-70-67 to finish T7. He’s the proud papa of a new son on December 20 but that’s kid No. 2 so he should be fine.
Jimmy Walker: The No. 47-ranked player in the world has worked hard with Butch Harmon to crack the winner’s circle and the top 50 and I don’t see what’s going to slow DYNOMITE down in 2014. He followed his victory by playing three weeks in a row (T12, sixth and T46) before shutting it down for a well-deserved break. The only loose part of his game, driving accuracy, shouldn’t be in play too much this week and he’s shown in the past that he enjoys seaside courses (Torrey, Pebble).
Ryan Moore: This will be his third time around the track on Maui and his best finish was T6 in 2010. Moore has already eclipsed his 2013 cash haul in three events in 2013-14 with his win at CIMB and his T9 in defense of his title in Las Vegas. Moore makes all that cash by hitting fairways and holing plenty of putts. His confidence should be peaking and his ability to read greens will come in handy this week.
Jason Dufner: The 2013 PGA champ has teed it up twice in December so rust isn’t going to be a factor. Auburn football playing in the national championship game might be. The die-hard Tiger grad, known for his ball-striking and love for Auburn football, has only seen this track once, last year, so that factors in my decision of pushing him out of the top 10. Plus, his advantage is usually striping fairways and painting GIR not holing miles of putts, which is required this week.
Billy Horschel: He just finished up a trip snowboarding in Aspen and didn’t pull a David Duval/Paul Casey so he has that going for him, which is nice. He destroys par fours and fives and was ranked sixth in the all-around category in a break-out 2013 but not many rookies fare well around these parts.
Jordan Spieth: Just like his 2013, he’s in Maui based on merit, not reputation, as the 19-year old became the youngest winner on TOUR since early last century. Spieth’s numbers from 2013 were off the chart and it appears that he has a plan in place that he’s following. There’s not much weakness in his game, and like Horschel, he has no problems racking up birdies. His future is as bright as the magma that flows down from Mt. Kilauea.
Zach Johnson: The good news is that he’s played 23 rounds at Kapalua. The bad news is only six of them have been in the 60s. His wedge and putter will have to be on point as his lack of length off the tee doesn’t help matters. He’s only cracked the top 18 once in six tries (T6, 2009) which is crazy for a player of his ability. Remember, some courses just don’t fit some players eyes.
Kevin Streelman: Congratulations to him and his wife on the birth of their first child on December 26. I won’t blame him if he doesn’t show up or isn’t into it mentally. His last outing was a T8 at Royal Melbourne but that was with 74-74 to close.
D.A. Points: He only made 15 of 28 cuts in 2013 but he found a way to win and claimed a solo second in a four tournament span in spring. In his only appearance in 2012, Points fired all four rounds under par to finish 12-under and T12.
Jonas Blixt: The FSU grad, like Dufner, will have one eye on the BCS title game and one eye on the putting line. Blixt makes all his cash with the flat stick and will have to trust his stroke this week if he’s going to contend. He’s also going to have to trust that all the putts break towards the mountain.
Scott Brown: After T3 at Frys.com, T4 at The McGladrey and T16 at Mayakoba, Brown is essentially playing with house money for the rest of 2013-14. His win last year in Puerto Rico was his only top 10 of the season so his confidence should be through the roof. One of 13 first-timers here, it will take a special week to crack the top half of this field.
Boo Weekley: Remember, when you see T15 and T23 in his history here, remember, there are rarely more than 30 players teeing it up. Weekley loses his advantage when the fairways are large enough to land A340s and the greens can accommodate landing a Sikorsky. His putter isn’t strong enough for me.
Brian Gay: He’s played here twice and never has fired a round in the 60s. Do yourself a favor and follow his caddy @KipHenley on Twitter if you like golf and like to laugh.
Russell Henley: His last top 25 was June 2nd and he has nothing in his last three events inside T61. It’s hard to believe that he was THIRD in total putting in 2013 based on his last six months of the season. His win came at the Sony Open so maybe he can recreate the Hawaii vibe this week. I’ll pass.
John Merrick: Another first-timer whose best finish in the late season was T55. Only three of his last 12 rounds were in the 60s on courses where 24-under, 24-under and 14-under were the winning scores. I’d be surprised to see him contend.
Patrick Reed: In his last three tournaments he failed to break 70 and had a WD with injury. Since his win at the Wyndham, his best finish is just T40. His length and solid putter will help him this week. His lack of experience on Kapalua and most recent form will not.
Michael Thompson: Last season he was 175th in birdie average, 148th in driving distance, 139th in the all-around and his first trip to Maui. I’m going to stop typing now.
Sang-Moon Bae: In two late events, his lowest round was 71. He makes plenty of birdies because he’s an excellent putter but his current form, plus being a rookie here, pushes me far, far away. Bad moon rising.
Ken Duke: In the 11 events after his first-ever win at the Travelers back in June, Duke fired exactly eight rounds in the 60s. Three of those were in a T15 finish in Las Vegas in October. He’ll hit every fairway but he’ll also be hitting first every time. Bad combo.
Derek Ernst: He missed 14 of 21 cuts in 2013 yet he won the Wells Fargo Championship. In four events this fall, he MC twice and had finishes of T61 and T69. Just punt if you are digging this deep.
Woody Austin: The good news is that he’s played this event twice, finishing 12th and T18. The bad news is his lack of length off the tee and a suspect putter. Oh, and he turns 50 on January 27. Happy 50th in advance, Aquaman!
The Man with His Own Section
Martin Laird: He’s played here twice and has fired 18-under in 2010 and 20-under in 2012. His worst round is 70. Those rounds, all eight of them under par, led to a T4 and a second-place finish, respectively. His last three starts on TOUR have seen him post rounds in the 60s but he followed all of those with rounds in the 70s. His last event he was T20 at ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf. He’s wonderfully inconsistent but truly a horse-for-course at Kapalua.
Jordan Spieth of the Week Last Week
The column was taken over and thrashed by the kid from Texas last year. Out of respect, I’m not changing the title of it for 2013-14. It will remind me just how good Spieth was in the last three months of the season. This year, we’ll still identify an up-and-coming player and/or rookie that fantasy players should have on their radar.
Frys.com: Hideki Matsuyama, T3; Brooks Koepka, T3; Max Homa, T9.
SHCO: Ryo Ishikawa is only 22, don’t forget, T2; Chesson Hadley, T5.
CIMB: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 24, might have enough money after this week to earn Special Temporary Membership. Pay attention!
WGC-HSBC: Jordan Spieth was 17th. Tommy Fleetwood (T18) is only 22 and plays in Europe. Matsuyama WD with a bad back.
McGladrey: Scott Langley turned 24 last April and is in his second season on TOUR. He finished T22 last week and No. 124 last season. #slimpickinngsthisweek
OHL Mayakoba: Harris English turned 24 last July. He won.