The Waggle: Finding an edge in the Harris English-Jason Kokrak Tournament of Champions match-up

Which of the two Americans is most likely to emerge on top in this week’s Tournament of Champions?

Harris English and Jason Kokrak are a lot alike - and also very different.

Both in their 30s, they also both debuted on the PGA Tour in 2012, they have a similar haul of titles (English four, Kokrak three), and both enjoyed excellent 2021s.

What of the differences?

Well, English was almost immediately at home at the top level, won twice in his second season, and then lost form.

Kokrak, in contrast, laboured before retaining his card, has been untroubled in doing so ever since, but it took him a long, long time to start winning.

The good news for both is that their troubles appear to be behind them.

English rebounded from the tough times to double his win tally last year and Kokrak has claimed three wins in his last 29 starts (four in 30 if you count the silly season QBE Shootout before Christmas).

They've been paired up in a match-bet at this week's Sentry Tournament of Champions on the Plantation Course in Kapalua, with both of them priced 10/11.

It makes for an intriguing tussle. Let's dig deep into the numbers.

Head-to-head: history

The stats back up the short histories of the two players mentioned above.

Since they turned professional Kokrak leads the count 97-88, but in the early years English just about held sway leading 65-49 until midway through 2017.

It was at that point his form slumped while Kokrak maintained his consistency, a lurch that is highlighted by the count: from August 2017 to the end of April 2019 Kokrak dominated by the giddy margin of 30-5.

Subsequently, as if to confirm the notion that his pair have had their differences before becoming very alike, the count is exactly 18 apiece!

Head-to-head: conditions

During that period of equality began how have the pair fared when in conditions similar to this week? If we just look at results on Bermuda grass greens English leads 9-5.

What about throughout their careers in Hawaii (at the Sony Open as well as this week's event)? Again, there is a significant difference. English leads 6-1.

Comparison of performance on the course

The Plantation Course at Kapalua is a distinct test: wide fairway and big greens to accommodate the trade winds and extreme undulations.

English was immediately at home on debut, finishing T11th, and then he confirmed that by lifting the trophy 12 months ago.

He's 8-for-8 at breaking par and his last five laps have all been sub-70.

Kokrak only made his debut last year, bettering par in his first three laps, with one sub-70 score, but never in the top 15 all week and a final round 76 saw him end the event T35th.

Strokes Gained numbers were limited in English's first appearance, but he ranked third for Tee to Green, was 13th for that category last year, and also led the Putting; Kokrak lost shots to the field in every category last year.

Conclusion

Kokrak has turned himself from a fine golfer into a fine-golfer-with-great-confidence. That was emphasised in his win alongside Kevin Na at the QBE Shootout - he was firing at pins throughout the final round like a man suddenly used to winning.

It's fair to believe that a) he has it in him to play well anywhere, and b) he can improve on last year's effort.

But English is in a sweetspot: Bermuda greens, blustery wind and he said last year that he "has a great game plan for the course".

Retaining his title might be beyond him, but there is value in this match-up. Their prices are the same, but English does have an edge.

READ MORE: Spotlight on: Justin Thomas targets a third victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions

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