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PGA Tour Season Preview: Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii

Preview – PGA Tour – Hyundai Tournament of Champions – Jan. 9-12 – Kapalua Resort Plantation Course – Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii –

Professional golf returns this week, headlined by the PGA Tour’s 2015 calendar season opener at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui, Hawaii.

Kapalua’s Plantation course (par-73 at 7,452 yards) hosts the 72-hole event.

The field includes Masters champion Bubba Watson, WGC-Match Play winner Jason Day, defending champion Zach Johnson and FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel. Hunter Mahan, winner at The Barclays during the FedEx Cup Playoffs, is also teeing it up.

To qualify for this invitational, players needed to win PGA Tour event last season or in the 2014 fall season as part of the wrap-around schedule.

While Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson are among those skipping this tournament, several new faces and “I remember him” faces open the year in Hawaii including Sang-Moon Bae, Patrick Reed, Camilo Villegas, Chris Kirk, Kevin Stadler, Hideki Matsuyama and Tim Clark.

A few veteran players also qualified including John Senden, Jimmy Walker, Angel Cabrera and Geoff Ogilvy, who qualified by capturing the Reno Tahoe Open last summer.

Look for a long hitter to triumph in Hawaii to jump-start the season. The event carries FedEx Cup points for the competitors. The tournament could come down to who plays the “Home Hole” the best — the par-5 18th hole that measures 663 yards.

Trade Winds are expected to challenge players along with the Plantation Course’s sloppy greens. Look for 400+ yard drives in Hawaii this week thanks to elevation changes and sloped fairways.

Australian-born players won this tournament five of seven years from 2004-2010 (Stuart Appleby three times and Oglivy twice). But, Americans have captured the last four editions: Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Jonathan Byrd and last year’s champion Zach Johnson.

2014 Result:

  • Zach Johnson (19-under overall) carded a final-round 7-under-66 to edge Jordan Spieth by a shot. Zach, who finished near the bottom in Driving Distance, continued to hit fairways and greens all week and give himself chances. Kevin Streelman and Webb Simpson were T-3 at 17-under. Jason Dufner, Adam Scott, Kuchar, Dustin Johnson and Horschel logged Top 10s. Zach had just one top 15 in six previous attempts in Hawaii.

Golf Channel has television coverage Friday through Sunday and Monday’s final round. NBC Sports will feature prime time Sunday coverage.

FANTASY: This week can be difficult to handicap with rusty players, equipment changes and first-time visitors to Kapalua’s sloppy greens. Take Ogilvy, who returns to a tournament he won twice. For players in form, consider Watson, a winner at in China at the WGC-HSBC Champions in the fall. He was also T-4 here in 2013. Kuchar is a Top 10 machine and especially here. He logged 11 Top 10s last season. Take Kirk, who finished second in the FedEx Cup standings. He’s hungry for more. Ryan Moore, a fall winner at the CIMB Classic in December, could play well in this spot.

BETTORS: Bubba (6 1/2-to-1 at www.skybet.com) is the outright betting favorite this week as the top-ranked player in the field at No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Take Day (7 1/2-1) in this spot to contend. One of just two Top 10 players in the field, he is fresh off injury and fits the Aussie mold for this spot, playing several events during the winter months. Streelman (28-1) could be a sleeper here. He was T-3 last year. Take long-shot fliers with Charley Hoffman, the PGA Tour’s most-recent champ at the OHL Classic in Mexico, at 45-1 and Senden at 40-1.

Other golf news:

  • The LPGA Tour opens the 2015 season in late January at the inaugural Coates Golf Championship in Ocala, Florida before heading to international destinations including the Bahamas, Australia, Thailand and Singapore.
  • The European Tour re-starts its 2015 season Thursday at the South African Open Championship in Johannesburg. Ernie Els and Henrik Stenson are recent champions at the event. The field features co-betting favorites Branden Grace, a recent run-away winner at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, and former Masters champ Charl Schwartzel. Both are 7-1 picks at Skybet.com.
  • The Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai hosts the Champions Tour 2015 opener in Hawaii beginning Jan. 19.
  • Rory McIlroy, who captured two majors in 2014, is currently  a 4-1 betting favorite to win the 2015 Masters, according to www.ladbrokes.com. He is also a 6-to-5 pick to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai and a 5-to-2 selection to win the PGA Tour’s Money Title.