2023 Sentry Tournament of Champions Odds: Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland Among Expert Picks
Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Thomas.
- The Sentry Tournament of Champions kicks off the PGA Tour's 2023 schedule.
- Jason Sobel has laid out his picks, starting with a former champion at the event.
- Check out his bets and breakdowns below.
Click arrow to expand 2023 Sentry Tournament of Champions odds via FanDuel
It happens every year. For me, at least. The calendar reaches mid-December and I decide that I’ve seen just about all the golf shots that I want to see for a while.
The professional game seemingly never stops, from the West Coast Swing to Florida, from the majors to the playoffs, from the fall wraparound schedule to silly season. You could make the case that it all goes on way too long – and I’ve made this case myself countless times – as even the most ardent golf diehard wants to chill on the couch and watch a few football games by the time it’s all said and done.
Nothing wrong with that. The pros all need a little time to put away the clubs, we need a little time to change the channel. I’m telling you from experience: Those last two weeks of the year are key. Those are the recharge weeks.
This will be my 20th year covering the PGA Tour and all other aspects of the game. I can honestly tell you that I’m as excited about this campaign as any of the previous 19 of ‘em. Two weeks ago, I wasn’t sure I’d get here. But on the eve of the 2023 opener at stunningly beautiful Kapalua, I find myself fired up to watch the game’s best players compete at the highest level. I’m all-in. Again.
I sincerely hope you are, too.
As the NFL races toward the postseason, the NBA and NHL hit the malaise of the winter months and MLB remains a rite of spring, it’s right around this time each year that I find myself waxing poetic about golf being a 12-month-a-year — OK, 11-and-a-half-month-a-year — sport.
For those of you already familiar with my weekly preview columns and accustomed to firing golf bets, welcome back. If you’re new to golf betting and starting to dip a toe into the shallow end, welcome in.
I’ve already written a handful of 2023 preview columns, as I’ll sprinkle some links within the content below.
This one is all about this week’s tournament, the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which features 39 competitors, culled from the pool of those who have won in the past year and those who reached last season’s Tour Championship.
A few tips before we get to the picks.
This one has largely been the domain of the elite-level players, especially in recent years. Even with Cameron Smith (+2500) and Harris English (+3000) claiming the last two editions of this one, winners have owned average pre-tournament odds of just over 15-1 in the past eight years, according to the archive at golfodds.com.
This makes a fair amount of sense, of course. With a smaller field – this year’s 39-player field is bigger than most have been – prices are always going to be a bit depressed for the top of the board, while there exists a greater disparity between the superstars and those who might’ve qualified after one week of glory last year.
Here’s another which goes hand in hand with that one: No player has won at Kapalua in his tournament debut since Daniel Chopra did it 15 years ago. I’m not suggesting a first-timer can’t play well, nor am I saying that this venue requires a ton of experience. The truth is, five of those last eight champions had only played here once previously.
It does, however, seem like one of those courses where you’ve gotta play a few rounds before you get the hang of it. Either that, or the debutantes become too distracted by the mai-tais and the paddle boarding to play their best golf. It’s enough to keep 13 of the 39 off my card this week, including Matt Fitzpatrick, Cameron Young, Tom Kim, Will Zalatoris and Sahith Theegala.
And then there’s this: We all remember last year’s event, when a long-but-soft track led to a winning total of 34-under, with the top three on the final board combining to shoot a gaudy 99-under. That might’ve been an outlier, but only by a little bit. Of those last eight editions of this one, seven have been won with a score of at least 20-under. I usually see these birdie-fests as an advantage toward the best players, as well. Not to go all analytic nerd on you, but here’s a stat: The best players make the most birdies, which should correlate nicely here.
Sooo … we’re looking for a low-priced superstar with experience on this course who can post birdies in bunches? I’ve got just the guy. Let’s get to the picks.
Outright Winner (Short Odds)
One player to win the tournament
Justin Thomas (+1000)
Before I get into JT’s prospects for this week’s event, a quick note on a small addition to the column this year. As you’ll see, I’ve separated the erstwhile “favorite outright” category into separate sections — one listing a player from somewhere among the top of the board, one offering someone further down the list. (At some point, I might make a more definitive cutoff — say, one pick shorter than 30/1 odds and one pick longer — but for now, I’ll leave it with the nebulous terminology of simply shorter and longer.)
Unlike some in the industry who post their betting cards or list only props or DFS, I’ve always wanted these previews to be as inclusive as possible, so I’ve tried to cover all possible investments for a given week. (That’s hardly a knock on anyone else; there’s no right or wrong way to do this stuff.) I’ve never wanted to alienate the prop bettor by only giving outrights or the OAD player by only offering DFS plays. Sure, there’s always going to be some overlap — if a player is my favorite outright, chances are I probably like him for a top-10 or as a DFS piece, as well — but to me, it’s all about listing enough options.
OK, enough about that: Let’s get to the pick.
A few weeks ago, I hosted my SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio show “Hitting the Green” with my co-host Michael Collins from on-site at the PNC Championship. Among our guests during the week was Thomas, who was competing alongside his father, Mike. When I asked JT to assess his performance for the year — a year which included his second PGA Championship victory — here's his answer.
“I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this and even after all that, I’m still not sure what the answer is. But I do have to step back and understand and realize that I won a major. I know Tiger always says that if you win a major, it’s a great year no matter what. I have a hard time saying it was a great year. I didn’t finish it the way I would’ve liked.
"But if you look at the year as a whole, I played a lot of really, really good golf. I felt like I got better in a lot of different ways. I had a lot of chances to win tournaments, I just didn’t play quite well enough when I needed to. … Then again, if I play this tour for 20 more years and have the same year I had this year, I’ll be pretty happy.”
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I followed up by asking him to get a little introspect and interpret what it means that he can win a major and still not be completely satisfied with his year. His reply: “I need to not be as hard on myself, to be perfectly honest. I set expectations very high, but I also need to understand that there’s a lot of really good players out here and the talent is only getting better.”
Anyway, I appreciated the self-reflection and came away from the interview thinking that this is going to be a big season for JT. In a preview post that's coming tomorrow, I took Jon Rahm, who we'll get to shortly, over Thomas over the course of the season, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they each have massive campaigns which could include another major.
As for this week, well, there’s the not-insignificant fact that Thomas is a two-time winner of this event, with three other top-fives in seven career starts. If you’re into patterns, he won those first two titles three years apart and this signifies Year 3 since the most recent one.
And for the last little nugget, I’ll mention the PNC once again. Yes, I get that it’s a silly season, parent-child hit-and-giggle, but I walked with the Thomas group for much of the two rounds and can tell you he was doing a lot more hitting than giggling, seemingly locked in on the task at hand the entire time.
During a week on Maui when plenty of his peers are still shaking off the cobwebs, JT has most recently played some competitive rounds, which could make all the difference this week.
Outright Winner (Long Odds)
One player to win the tournament
Russell Henley (+5000, Caesars)
I was planning to save all my Henley love for next week’s Sony Open preview, but you’ll have to read it all over again because I love him there and love his pricing here.
For about 18-24 months, I believed Henley was among the unluckiest players on the PGA Tour. Now, I’m not talking about bad bounces and lipped-out putts. What I mean by this is that his performance outclassed his results. My NFL colleagues at Action Network have devised their Luck Rankings, which essentially identifies and quantifies bad beats (and undeserving wins) for bettors. Don’t be surprised if you see something like this on our site/app for PGA Tour golfers in the not-too-distant future.
Until the math whizzes get their hands on the data, I’ll stick with Henley as my pick in this department, the golf equivalent of a 6-14 pitcher with a 2.74 ERA – or at least he was, until he won at Mayakoba a few months ago. I still think he’s got a little more positive regression coming his way and at this price, I’m willing to bet it could come this week.
And if not? Well, that’ll just keep his number from dropping too low next week, when he’ll undeniably be one of my favorite plays. Let’s call it a win-win situation.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Once again, I’ve written an OAD cheat sheet for the growing number of people getting into these pools, complete with strategies, tips and a few options for every event on this year’s schedule. That's coming on Wednesday. (What a tease!)
In any case, my theory on making OAD selections in short-field events has evolved over the years, but I do think there are different schools of thought, so I’ve listed an option for both.
Jon Rahm (+800)
I know what you might be thinking: Man, I ain’t picking Rahm at a place where everyone gets a check anyway. He’s a stud, so I’m saving him for a major! I used to think the same way, not wanting to burn a big-time player so early in the year.
Think about it, though. His win equity will never be greater in a major (or other full-field event) than it is against 38 other players on a course he’s never finished outside of the top-10 in five career appearances. There’s no such thing as a sure thing, but I can assure you that Rahm’s top-10 percentage isn’t better than 100% at any other tournament.
You can also think of it as a leverage play. Will others in your OAD pick Rahm for the U.S. Open? Probably. Will they pick him here? Maybe not. (Come on, nobody else is reading this part.) We all try to get contrarian in DFS each week, but I believe that’s also a valuable tool in OADs, which largely gets overlooked.
Scott Stallings (+10000)
Here’s your other school of thought.
Stallings opened Sunday night at Caesars with the 36th-highest odds in this field. He still rates as a leverage play, since most of your fellow poolsters won’t dip this low. But the thinking here isn’t that he’s going to win. It’s that you’ll never be kicking yourself for using him too early and – more importantly – with no cut at this one, he’s guaranteed to make a check.
If you consider that anyone outside, oh, the top-five isn’t getting you serious leaderboard-movement money this week, then you might as well use someone way off the radar.
As an added bonus, you’re getting a guy who grinds on every shot and could see this as a big opportunity. There’s a reason I’m throwing Stallings’ name out here and not someone else near the bottom of the board.
One player to finish top-five
Sungjae Im (+360 for top-five)
From nomad to newlywed, this promises to be a big year for Im, who owns the necessary talent to be a top-five player in the world. (He’s currently 19th and has never been better than 16th.)
At 24, he’s still younger than Will Zalatoris or Sahith Theegala, and he has more experience than just about any other player his age. With top-fives in three of his last eight official starts of last year and one in two starts at the TOC, Im is primed for a campaign that could yield multiple wins and should double up his career major championship top-10 total of two. It starts this week.
One player to finish top-10
Adam Scott (+260 for top-10)
I’ve got a theory about Aussies at this event. Even though most of ‘em who have played here over the years have long since moved away from their native land, I often believe there’s something in their biorhythms which reminds them that January is the middle of their summer and was part of the competitive season in their junior golf days.
Do you have a better explanation for why six of the last 19 winners have been Australian? The list includes Stuart Appleby (three straight years), Geoff Ogilvy (twice) and Cameron Smith (last year).
Scott’s record here is spotty, with four finishes of seventh or better and none since 2014, but not as spotty as his decision to play, considering he’s skipped this one for an extended vacation more often than he’s played it.
Even so, as the lone Aussie in the field, I don’t believe asking for him to finish in the top-quarter of the leaderboard is too much this week.
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I’m not gonna sugarcoat it: Hovland has been terrible here in his previous two starts, finishing 30th and 31st.
There are definitely reasons to like him this week, though. Foremost is the fact that he won the Hero World Challenge in his most recent start – yet another victory on a coastal resort course, which seems to be the bread-and-butter for this Norwegian. (I asked him before that Hero win why he plays so well on these types of tracks. His answer: “I don’t know!”) Not only does that fall in line with Kapalua, but these are the biggest green complexes you’ll see anywhere.
I know, I know. Hovland is currently ranked sixth in the early part of this season in Strokes Gained: Around the Green, but last season’s bigger sample size had him dead last on the PGA Tour. Unless he drives the ball to around these greens and is chipping for eagle, he likely won’t have to deal with too many short-game shots this week.
And lastly, in a week when lineups will be loaded with the likes of JT and Rahm, Hovland’s record here should scare away a decent percentage of the masses, leaving him as a contrarian play amongst the studs.
A medium-priced option for DFS lineups
The keen readers amongst you might have noticed that this, too, is a new category for the new year. Just giving y’all one extra option when filling out those lineups.
I’m also giving myself one more option to find a spot for Power, whom I considered for the OAD and top-10 categories. The Irishman finished T-15 in his debut last year, an opening 71 perhaps due to some inexperience, only to be followed by rounds of 65-69-67. It’s tough not to like a guy who doesn’t really have any weaknesses in his game, though an improvement on his iron game should lead to a few more final-round leaderboard visits this year.
A lower-priced option for DFS lineups
Despite playing 7,596 yards on the scorecard, Kapalua isn’t always considered a bomber’s paradise, as evidenced by wins from Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker alone in the last decade.
That said, long and straight never hurts and the big-hitting Mullinax could mash some behemoths down these fairways this week. I’m largely staying away from the guys who haven’t played this tourney before, but I do think there’s some value in this play.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
I was looking for a way to get some Wise investment throughout this column and an FRL play seems to make the most sense. I’m very bullish on Wise taking a big step in his production this year, as you’ll see his name in my weekly previews on a pretty regular basis. While that will often mean four-round investments, he’s shown a propensity for starting hot.
Coming off a season during which Wise ranked fifth in R1 scoring average at 68.46, he’s currently 10th this season at 66.75, never failing to break 70 in four starts. It’ll take a low one to cash this ticket – last year, Smith opened with an 8-under 65 on this par-73 track – but Wise is more than capable of posting a number.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Collin Morikawa (+2000)
In three previous starts here, Morikawa has never finished worse than seventh. While I don’t like him enough to add him to the outright card – like Henley, this is another name you’ll see in next week’s Sony Open coverage – I like him against some of the other players listed at similar odds that you should be able to get him matched against.
Tony Finau might be in the midst of turning into a world-beater, but he doesn’t have a great record at this one. Jordan Spieth won in 2016, but has gotten progressively worse ever since. Matt Fitzpatrick, Tom Kim and Cameron Young have never played here. I’d play Morikawa at even-money against any of them and I’d play it up to -110.