Punter’s pointers: The PGA Tour kicks off 2022 with the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii

A field of 39 winners from last year have assembled at the Plantation Course in Kapalua.

If every PGA Tour year ends a little messily - with the Fall events followed by silly season - the New Year always starts in style.

A fortnight in Hawaii is splendid fun, starting with a shindig for the previous year's winners on the dramatic Plantation Course at Kapalua ahead of a regular event on the flat terrain of Waialae for next week's Sony Open.

The Tournament of Champions is elite-field, no-cut and great fun.

The course is a wild, sweeping test with wide fairways, vast undulation changes and also enormous putting surfaces.

Let's take a close look at the leading contenders.

Course form

What do the players say of the course?

Brooks Koepka says: "You're not going to find a slopier golf course than this. There's so many awkward little lies, balls above your feet, below your feet and then downhill and then you're hitting up the hill. Things like that you just don't find anywhere besides maybe here and Augusta or at least that I've played."

And Dustin Johnson added: "The wind is always blowing here and you've really got to use the wind to help your ball get close to the hole or stop the ball or however you want to do it. When it's blowing this hard, it's all about controlling the ball and hitting it solid."

The design also has plenty of curiosities. It is a par-73 for one thing, made up of the typical four par-5s, but just three par-3s.

That course par is also a little deceptive because, if the wind doesn't blow, the scores will be excellent. In fact, 10 of the last 13 winners ended the week at least 20-under-par and last year there were only 12 rounds over-par.

Then there is the slope factor. In normal circumstances that refers to the difficulty of the track. This week it refers to the terrain because the layout goes up and down the hilly property like no other on the PGA Tour.

A number of players have thrived on the examination.

Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth are both 4-for-4 at landing top 10s, but the American edges it with three top threes, one of them a victory in 2016.

Xander Schauffele struggled on his debut in 2018, but since then has won, lost a play-off and finished fifth.

Geoff Ogilvy - a two-time winner at the course - said: "It's a real wedge-based course."

Maybe that explains why perhaps the best of all course log-books is owned by Justin Thomas, who has two victories and two third place finishes in his last five starts. He also ended 16 of his last 20 rounds in the top six and is 6-for-6 at going sub-70 in the final round.

Momentum

Last year Harris English won off the back of landing two top six finishes to end 2020, plus victory in the QBE Shootout alongside Matt Kuchar.

A year earlier the winner Justin Thomas had ended 2019 with victory in the CJ Cup (and his first win in 2017 came shortly after he won the CIMB Classic).

What about Xander Schauffele? He also ended the previous year with the boost of a win, in his case the WGC HSBC Champions.

Dustin Johnson really ought to have achieved that double himself, but he blew a six-shot 54 hole lead in the WGC event before rebounding in Hawaii.

Jordan Spieth in 2016? Not quite a win, but he did close 2015 with second at the Australian Open (and had won the Tour Championship).

A year before that Patrick Reed finished second in the Hero World Challenge ahead of lifting this week's title.

In 2014 Zach Johnson let the side down (although he did win in September at the BMW Championship).

The trail completely runs cold with Dustin Johnson's triumph in 2013 because he'd had a sticky end to 2012.

But that's seven of the last seven winners with a win or second in the final three months of the previous year (and eight in the final four months).

That's good news for the following players:

Winners in Oct/Nov/Dec - Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na, Viktor Hovland, Talor Gooch, Lucas Herbert, Hideki Matsuyama and Sungjae Im.

Runners-up - Billy Horschel, Patrick Reed and Collin Morikawa.

Reed, of course, won at the course in 2015, but he was also second in 2016 and a play-off loser in 2020.

Undulations

A glance at the list of former winners at Kapalua drops some pretty big hints about what it takes to win on the Plantation Course.

Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Reed and Spieth are all past Masters champions at Augusta National.

And Singh, (Zach) Johnson, Spieth, Jonathan Byrd and Steve Stricker have all won at TPC Deere Run.

What do the three courses have in common? They're all undulating (in fact, Koepka referenced it above). Tee shots are hit up hills and down hills. Approach shots are similarly tricky, but often with the added difficulty of uneven stances. There are players who thrive in such circumstances and others who struggle.

Justin Thomas on a Kapalua slope.
Justin Thomas on a Kapalua slope.

Of the most recent winners at Augusta and Deere Run, one stands out and one might be sneaky.

Hideki Matsuyama struggled when he played this event 12 months ago (T41st), but he wasn't actually a winner on that occasion and, when he has been, he's performed far better.

He was the 54 hole leader on debut in 2015 ahead of finishing third, second in 2017 and fourth in 2018.

And when he was last seen in 2021 he was winning for a second time in the Zozo Championship on home soil.

At first glance, the Masters champion looks a better bet than wild outsider Lucas Glover, who earned his spot via a win at Deere Run, but the American's course record might be better than it initially looks.

He's only played twice, but he was sixth in tricky conditions on debut way back in 2006 and in his only other start he led the field after 18, 36 and 54 holes before tripping up with a Sunday 76 that left him T14th.

Conclusion

Matsuyama might be the answer. He has course form, end-of-2021 form and he's now a winner on another undulating track (Augusta National).

READ MORE: Bryson DeChambeau in the 2022 Major Championships: Unleashing the Beast and hoping for good luck

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