2020 Sentry Tournament of Champions picks: Why our experts love Justin Thomas' chances this week
Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images
Two weeks. Well, actually, 17 days, to be exact. That’s how long we’ve gone without golf. In a sport where fans and media often wonder why there isn’t ever really an offseason, it’s stretches like this one that make you thankful that golf is quite literally a year-round sport. On Thursday, the PGA Tour is officially back, kicking off the 2020 portion of the season in Hawaii. The Sentry Tournament of Champions is the annual kickstart to the golf season, and a sign there’s plenty of good tournaments between now and the Masters to hold you over. This week, because of the time difference, we get live, primetime golf, picking up right where we left off with the Presidents Cup.
Though Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy will skip Sentry, the field is still strong, featuring Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and U.S. Open winner Gary Woodland. Defending champion Xander Schauffele will also tee it up, as will the Patricks, Reed and Cantlay. There are only 34 players in total, but still plenty of great betting opportunities to be had. What better way to ring in the new year than by winning some cash?
Our expert picks this week, just like every week, include a caddie offering insight from the range and putting green at the Sentry Tournament of Champions; picks from Jason Sobel, a senior writer at The Action Network, which is becoming the leader in sports betting and handicapping analysis, and it's growing its presence in golf; two of the most respected experts in the daily-fantasy community, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports, which tracks DFS ownership and sentiment; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
2020 Sentry Tournament of Champions Picks To Win (Odds from MGM Sportsbook)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the Week: Justin Thomas (5-1) — Seems to like this place, winning here in 2017 and finishing third last year. JT hits it long, a requirement to score here, and if the putter gets hot he'll be tough to beat.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Justin Thomas (5-1) — JT tied for the most points at the Presidents Cup, and he already has a win during the swing season. The 2017 champ rates out at the top in every ranking weighted on ball-striking and approach, the two key factors here.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Justin Thomas (5-1) — I'll make it three in a row. Thomas is the leader in the field in strokes gained on par 5s over the past 50 rounds, via FantasyNational, and he leads the field in strokes gained/tee-to-green. Thomas has the best statistical profile for what should matter at Kapalua.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Dustin Johnson (9-1) — We're willing to trust a larger sample size of stats here with DJ. The question mark is his injuries, but he played at the Presidents Cup, so the rust may be off. At full health, my model favors DJ slightly over JT, so with the odds break, I'd recommend taking a shot with DJ.
Jason Sobel, Action Network senior golf writer: Dustin Johnson (9-1) — When he missed the recent Hero World Challenge due to recovery from knee surgery, there might’ve been some trepidation about selecting DJ for impending events. A week later, though, he showed up at the Presidents Cup, and while he hardly played like a world-beater, he finished a respectable 2-2-0 for the week, including a rope-a-dope singles victory over Haotong Li. Now it’s business as usual, as he’ll return to Kapalua with top-10s in each of his previous seven starts here, including a pair of titles. This course often plays into the hands of long hitters who have competed here before, all of which fits DJ’s profile. With “only” the fourth-lowest odds on the board, I like his chances.
Golf Digest editors (Christopher Powers, assistant editor): Rickie Fowler (15-1) — Rickie Fowler doesn’t always make it to Kapalua, but when he does, he contends (T-6 in 2013, fifth in 2016, T-4 in 2018). He should be as fresh as ever, too, as he’s only played in the Hero and the Presidents Cup since East Lake.
Golf Digest editors (Stephen Hennessey, associate editor): Gary Woodland (15-1) — This was Gary Woodland's tournament last year until Xander Schauffele snatched it away with a Sunday 63. We love Woodland's form—he led the Hero World Challenge in his last appearance after 54 holes. And his elite off-the-tee game and approach game is a perfect fit for Kapalua, allowing him to revenge his defeat last year.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports golf expert: Jon Rahm (4-1) — Rahm’s form is electric – 9 top 5 finishes in his last 13 events. Ranks 1st in our course suitability metric in large part due to his excellent ball striking on these easy courses.
Results from this season: We correctly predicted six of the winners in the 10 official tournaments we forecasted in the fall! FanShare Sports' Lee Alldrick picked Rory McIlroy at the WGC-HSBC Champions, giving him three winning predictions early in the season. FanDuel's Brandon Gdula also has three victories, netting +127 units in less than two months (the equivalent of being up $1,270 on $10 bets). Three members of our expert panel correctly picked the favorite a couple weeks ago at the CJ Cup, Justin Thomas (8-1), so we have a lot of positive momentum—with 11 correct outright predictions in nine events. Check out everyone's records in the betting card above.
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2020 Sentry Tournament of Champions (odds from MGM Sportsbook)
Caddie: Brendon Todd (33-1) — Do I really need to explain this one? 33-1 odds seem nice in a small field. Sure, there's some elite talent here. But the guy nearly won three events in a row. He could absolutely win here.
Mayo: Matt Kuchar (40-1) — It’s tough to peg a “Dark Horse” at this event. In the past decade, the Tournament of Champions is almost exclusively won by a player inside the top 25 in the World Golf Rankings, and first timers generally do not fare well. Only six golfers have finished inside the top 5 in their first appearance since 2014. So, that leaves Kuchar. He excels on coastal tracks and is always better on Bermuda greens. And yes, he's inside the top 25 in the world, and this is a great price.
Gdula: Corey Conners (50-1) — Conners is long enough off the tee and is definitely accurate, so he can contend if we’re seeking long shots. Conners rates out second in strokes gained/off-the-tee and is sixth in strokes gained/approach over the past 50 rounds. He can get into scoring position; he just needs to make his putts.
Riccio: Joaquin Niemann (50-1) — As it did all year, my model likes Niemann based on the strength of his off-the-tee game and strong approach ability. My model gives him projected odds of 27-1, and you're getting nearly double that. So this is an easy recommended play.
Sobel, Action Network: Sebastian Munoz (66-1) — There are enough value names on the bottom of the board—after all, everyone here has already won a PGA Tour event—that many will glance past Munoz’s name to a more accomplished one. Give the guy some credit, though: In seven starts during the fall part of this season, he finished in the top-seven on three occasions, including a victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship. If you're playing DFS, let others go with Kevin Na or Keith Mitchell at around the same price; Munoz should come as a low-owned option.
Golf Digest editors (Powers): Matthew Wolff (60-1) — Might as well take the kid at 66/1 while you still can, especially in a smaller field at a course that’s been kind to big hitters. Once he starts contending with regularity, you can kiss this number goodbye forever.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Adam Long (100-1) — Long finished second at the Mayakoba two events ago, so we know he's in form. Couple that with his excellent approach and around-the-green work on these style of courses, and that tells us Long should like Kapalua this week. Maybe sprinkle a little on a top-10 bet, too.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Collin Morikawa (20-1) — It's tough to pick somebody in such a stacked field. But Morikawa is competing here for a first time, and is likely just thankful to be here.
Mayo: Collin Morikawa (20-1) — Again, fade the first timer. Morikawa is great, but he’s priced up as one of the favorites. There’s really no difference between him an Matthew Wolff at this point in time, and Wolff is almost three times the odds. Wolff also isn’t a good bet, but at least the odds are far deeper.
Gdula: Collin Morikawa (20-1) — Morikawa sets up pretty well for this course but isn’t particularly long relative to this field, and he’s priced too close to other studs with better profiles and more experience at Kapalua, as Morikawa has none. There’s better value elsewhere.
Riccio: Patrick Cantlay (12-1) — The model doesn't like Cantlay this week ... actually it hates him. My stats rank Cantlay out to be the 18th most likely player to win this week, behind guys like Chez Reavie and Keith Mitchell. His recent stats plus course history would make me pivot here.
Sobel, Action Network: Max Homa (175-1) — Talk about a recency bias: Homa spent the short offseason elevating himself to the position of King of #GolfTwitter, based largely around his hilarious clapbacks when roasting swing videos. A small subsection of gamblers might look at Homa this week and think: I really like this guy, I want to root for him and in a short field, I’m going to take my chances on him. I appreciate that idea, but you might want to save it for a later date. Since winning the Wells Fargo Championship last May, he hasn’t finished inside the top 25 in a single PGA Tour event. Even though a T-5 result at the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Tour in his final start of last year should offer a little confidence booster, right now he’s more valuable on your Twitter feed than your betting card.
Golf Digest editors: Patrick Cantlay (12-1) — In his only appearance here (2018), Cantlay didn't break 70 once at Kapalua en route to a T-15. Cantlay wasn't razor-sharp at the Presidents Cup, but his impressive stats over a larger sample size elicit these lower odds. Though this course should suit his game: bomb it and hit your approaches close, we're not confident at these lower odds.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Patrick Cantlay (12-1) — Cantlay has been a disaster with the putter of late. He’ll also be up against it on this course too; we have him ranked sixth last in the field this week for course suitability.
2020 Sentry Tournament of Champions: Matchups
Caddie: Kevin Kisner (+100) over Joaquin Niemann (Sportsbook) — I think Kiz will show up this week with a chip on his shoulder after getting left off that Presidents Cup team. Plus Niemann might be a little golfed out from all the events he played in 2019, whereas Kisner will be well-rested after taking some time off in the fall.
Mayo: Cameron Champ (+100) over Joaquin Niemann (Bet365) — That win at Sanderson Farms two years ago could prove very valuable to Cameron Champ. At least in tis matchup. As I mentioned, first timers don’t fare very well at Kapalua, so, Champ, in his second appearance, should hold an experience advantage over Niemann. Plus, Champ’s regained his elite driving ability after a malaise for most of 2019, and has a track record of solid putting on Bermuda greens. Niemann, always a target on Bentgrass, rarely on Bermuda.
Gdula: Patrick Reed (-108) over Patrick Cantlay (FanDuel) — I prefer Cantlay over Reed straight up, which shouldn’t sound like a surprise, but most matchups are tight in the small field, and Reed is a former winner here with improving form in recent rounds. While there’s emphasis on bombers this week, Reed’s around-the-green game can also be a differentiator based on how this course has played over the years.
Riccio: Xander Schauffele (-125) over Patrick Cantlay (MGM) — We'll take the defending champion on a course that we know suits his eye over my fade of the week, and someone who finished 14 strokes worse than Xander in his only appearance.
Sobel, Action Network: Sung Kang (+100) over Lanto Griffin (Sportsbook) — More specifically, I like Kang in the underdog role to win his matchup against Lanto Griffin at even-money. In his final three starts of last year, Kang posted finishes of 29-26-17, while Griffin chased his first career victory with results of 18-76-MC. There aren’t too many H2H numbers I love this week, but this one is among the best of ‘em.
Golf Digest editors: Brendon Todd (+120) over Collin Morikawa (MGM) — A near majority of our experts are fading Morikawa this week, and Todd has done way more than Morikawa of late. At plus-money, this is worth a sprinkle.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Patrick Reed (-108) over Patrick Cantlay (FanDuel) — Like I wrote above, I'm fading Cantlay in all cases this week. Reed, on the other hand, has four top 10s in his past six events, and the course will suit his game.
Matchup results last event: Sobel, Action Network: 1 for 1 (Brian Harman (+120) over Adam Hadwin); GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Brendon Todd (+105) over Aaron Wise); Riccio: 1 for 1 (Vaughn Taylor (-130) over Brice Garnett; Caddie and Alldrick pushed; Mayo, Gdula: 0 for 1
Matchup results this season (assuming each matchup is a one-unit wager): Tour Caddies: 5 for 6, and a push (up 3.82 units); Alldrick, FanShare Sports: 6 for 8 with a push (up 2.85 units); Mayo: 6 for 10 (up 1.73 units); Riccio: 5 wins, 4 losses, 1 push (up 0.91 units); Action Network: 5 for 9 (up 0.70 units); GD Editors: 5 for 9 (down 0.52 units); Gdula: 4 for 10 (down 2.45 units).
Top 10 picks (Odds via DraftKings)
Caddie: Cameron Champ (+188) — This is a bomber's paradise, and Champ is the tour leader in driving. If he chips and putts halfway decent he shouldn't have a problem racking up a top 10.
Mayo: Patrick Reed (+110) — While it seems arbitrary, every player who has finished inside the Top 5 at the Hero World Challenge since 2012 has finished inside the Top 10 at the Tournament of Champions a month later. Reed’s close to even money and finished T3 that week. Plus, he’s a former winner.
Gdula: Paul Casey (+110) — Casey isn’t overly long off the tee but makes up for it with stellar stats elsewhere, and he’s actually second in this field tee-to-green over the past 50 rounds on the PGA Tour. Casey knocked off rust by returning to this course a year ago and now offers solid value for a top-10 in the short field.
Riccio: Cameron Champ (+188) — Champ finished T-11 here last year, and his game is stronger overall entering 2020 with a second win under his belt. These are enticing odds.
Sobel, Action Network: Dylan Frittelli (+225) — I believe Frittelli is on the verge of flying up the world ranking. It all starts this week, as the South African’s ability to play in breezy conditions should be useful in the Kona winds. He’s not a flashy player, but consistency could be enough to beat a bunch of guys on an extended vacation. At above 2-to-1 to finish in the top 30 percent of the field, I love these odds.
Golf Digest editors: Brendon Todd (+188) — You won't get great top-10 odds in a sub-30 person field. But at nearly 2-1 odds, you're getting one of the hottest golfers on the planet over the past two months. We like it.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Ryan Palmer (+350) — The Texan ranks fourth in our course-suitability metric, largely due to his excellent approach play on easy courses and ability to putt well on Bermuda. He has also recorded two top-12 finishes in his last two events, so he has the form.
Top 10 results last week: Everybody: 0 for 1
Top-10 results for the year (assuming a one-unit wager): Top-10 results for the year (assuming a one-unit wager): Mayo: 1 for 9 (up 7 units); Alldrick: 2 for 10 (up 4.5 units); Gdula: 2 for 10 (up 0.3 units); GD Editors: 2 for 10 (down 1.15 units); Action Network: 1 for 10 (down 5.5 units); Riccio: 1 for 10 (down 6.5 units); Tour Caddie: 0 for 9 (down 9 units)
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the 2020 Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Jason Sobel is a senior writer for The Action Network. For more golf content from The Action Network, click here.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.
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