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Monday, December 30, 2013

Hyundai Tournament of Champions - Power Rankings

I've decided to mix it up a bit for the 2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions power rankings. Perhaps I've caught Bowl fever, spent a little too much time catching the Under Armour All-American Bowl practice on the television, or just completely lost my mind, but I'm taking a "star" approach to this week's field. That is, assigning stars to players, similar to recruiting grades handed out for football players coming out of high school.

In reality, I sort of like the approach, and see it as a bit more efficient than trying to justify if someone is fourth or fifth, or eighth or ninth. As I've mentioned many times in this space, players tend to show up in pods of value, with little separating certain groups.

Additionally, these players within the "stars" are in no particular order.

Five Stars - For the sake of this, a five-star option is perfect in virtually every way. Their course history is pristine, their form is as solid is it can be coming off a break, and their statistics fit the criteria of a successful player on this venue. Just like in football, they can bust, but probably not. This week there are two.

  • Dustin Johnson - The defending champion has the power to tame the par 5s on the Plantation Course and recently flexed his form with a win in the WGC-HSBC Champions. Looking back at his 2013 season splits, he ranked second in driving distance, 18th in par breakers, 21st in par-4 birdie or better percentage and sixth in proximity from the fairway. The difference in a top 10 and a win this week will be the putter. He's the investment in virtually every format, perhaps even the one-and-done if your league allows a defending champion to be submitted. 
  • Adam Scott - Absolutely the class of this field in the height of his prime, coming off an amazing run in Australia. He's finished as high as second here, and posted numerous top 10s. While he doesn't measure up quite as well statistically as DJ, he's inside the top 30 in par breakers and driving distance. Keep in mind, his elite schedule renders most of his play on tougher courses and makes it a little harder for him to rack up the stats of guys that play numerous TOUR events.
Four Stars - Any of theses guys could emerge and win this thing, but most have some sort of flaw that prevents them from being a five star. Maybe it's lack of course history, a recent lapse in form or some questionable stats. Either way, expect these guys to be featured in formats such as Yahoo! and Golf Channel among others.
  • Brandt Snedeker - Would have been a five star were it not for him coming off an injury. Has finished as high as third here, and his stats (minus driving distance) set up incredibly well for Kapalua. I would caution anyone against burning a one-and-done on him, as there will be other times where you'll want that play back. Unless, of course, he wins.
  • Matt Kuchar - Hardly bears explanation, but the main knock on him revolves around his statistical splits. Like Snedeker, Kuchar has finished as high as third and also like Snedeker, his knock is distance off the tee.
  • Chris Kirk - Another near miss in terms of an upgrade to the top tier, his stats were the best compilation of the 30 players in the field, and it really wasn't close. Claimed The McGladrey Classic title in the fall of 2013, so form is seemingly as good as it can be. One wildcard; he celebrated the birth of his second child within the last few weeks so his focus and preparation can be called into question. He could be a sleeper one-and-done for those wishing to go against the DJ grain.
  • Jimmy Walker - Stats and form line up well for the Plantation Course, but this is his first trip. In yesterday's preview, I cautioned against putting too much faith into a first timer. However, if I were to pull the trigger on a HTOC rookie, it would either be Walker or Harris English.
  • Harris English - See Jimmy Walker.
  • Webb Simpson - He's the fourth consecutive name on this list that won in the fall of 2013 (fifth when you count DJ), and the only one with a major championship to his name. His stats suggest a solid showing in important areas like par breakers, par-4 birdie or better and putting from 5-15 feet, but questions arise on his fairway proximity and driving distance. Best finish is a T3. 
  • Gary Woodland - He would seem on the surface to be perfect fit for the Plantation Course's forgiving fairways and longer holes, but finished a distant 24th in his only start. That must be reconciled. It's not just distance that makes his game appealing, but other categories I've deemed critical with the exception of putting. Perhaps that was why he didn't score well here in 2012. You have to convert birdies.
  • Billy Horschel - Mentioned earlier that Kirk was at the top of my statistical breakdown, it just so happens that Horschel finished second on that list. Still, he cooled off as 2013 wore on, so form is a bit of a question. This also marks his first trip to the winner's only event.
Three Stars - Essentially, there's something meaningful to like and something to give a major pause. Punters will likely find some value bets among these, but Yahoo! gamers will find many of these a little too big of a risk. Here we go...
  • Russell Henley - Given how different this week's venue is from the Sony Open where he won, perhaps one should steer clear. But, there's enough to like. Sure, this is his first time, but the stats suggest he could find the Plantation Course to his liking. Ranked seventh in the statistical breakdown ahead of names like Kuchar, Scott and Simpson due to his blend of power, putting and making birdies.
  • Sang-moon Bae - Well, he hasn't finished better than T31 on the PGA TOUR since his win at the HP Byron Nelson, so there's that. He also has never seen the Plantation Course before, so "X" there as well. Why the mention? Another guy who statistically mirrors successful players. Don't play him in Yahoo!. Don't play him as a one-and-done. But, if you are playing the odds and his are long enough, he could be worth a couple of dollars.
  • Jordan Spieth - The last time he played in a tournament with 30 competitors, he tied for second at the TOUR Championship.There's plenty we don't know about how he'll acclimate himself to Kapalua, but he's pleasantly surprised us enough for a nod here without question.
  • Jason Dufner - Tied of 18th last year, but hard to compartmentalize how the wind truly impacted the result. An overall elite player, he absolutely deserves a mention here.
  • Bill Haas - One of the few guys that has seen his results steadily go backwards in his three trips to Kapalua, began with a T6 in 2011. Probably a better fit on a tougher layout when you look back at his wins, but this is another nod to class.
  • Zach Johnson - While I'm not convinced you have to be a bomber to win here, you probably need a little more pop that ZJ offers. Still, his record across the board the last six months speaks for itself and he did post a T6 once in Kapalua.
  • Martin Laird - I buried him this deep so only the most loyal readers would find this gem. He's played here twice, finishing alone in second and tying for fourth in his attempts. Nothing about his form suggests this is a great fit, and his season-long 2013 stats aren't all that impressive. Still, there's something about the Plantation Course (probably the generous fairways) that gels with his game. He is a must play in the Golf Channel Group 4. 
Since the tournament doesn't begin until Friday, I'm taking New Years Eve off. On Wednesday evening I'll return with a look at some games.

Until then, best of luck and happy research. 

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