The Sentry Golf 2024 Tips: Four picks for season opener

 | January 02 | 

15 mins read

jamie worsley pga tour

And like that it was 2024! For us here at Betfred Insights, that simply means more golf courtesy of our expert Jamie Worsley, who will be providing even greater coverage throughout the golfing year. Here is his preview for the opening PGA Tour tournament, newly named The Sentry at Kapalua and as always he gives us his suggested betting predictions. 

The Sentry Golf Tips

  • 3 pts Collin Morikawa each way (1/5 - 6 Places) - 12/1 
  • 2 pts Tom Kim each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 25/1 
  • 1 pt Wyndham Clark each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 45/1 
  • 1 pt Sahith Theegala each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 66/1

The PGA Tour returns to action this week following the Festive Period and though we’re back at the familiar surrounds of the Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course in Hawaii, the golfing landscape continues to shift.

As the PGA Tour reverts back to a calendar-year schedule, our first official event of the new season is the newly named: The Sentry. No longer is this an event designed to ease last year’s winners into the New Year, it is the first of eight Signature Events that will be played this season. All with limited fields, no cut and higher prizes on offer than before, with the aim of getting the very top players playing together more regularly. Hopefully they haven’t sacrificed too much of what makes the PGA Tour so special in the process of appeasing the already highest earners.

These new, more lucrative events weren’t enough to stop the PGA Tour suffering it’s biggest and most devastating casualty yet in the ongoing battle with LIV Golf. As Jon Rahm had a change of heart and decided that wheelbarrows of cash were probably more appealing to him than winning historic PGA Tour events, at least in the short-term.

As all sides continue to make what appear to be vacuous claims about “growing the game”, I’m looking forward to the golf once again being allowed to do the talking and with a stellar field entered in The Sentry, we should be in for an exciting week in Hawaii.

TOURNAMENT HISTORY

The Sentry drops the “Tournament of Champions” from its name this year, providing us with the first Signature Event of the new season and with that, a larger-than-usual field.

Since its inception in 1953, most editions of this event had consisted of fields solely open to tour winners from the previous season. However, this season, along with those winners from the 2022/23 season the top 50 from the previous FedExCup season also qualify for this season opener in Hawaii.

With the type of elite, limited field that the tournament attracts, it’s no surprise to see that many stars, past and present, have taken home this trophy. Jack Nicklaus sits atop this list with five victories, coming in 1963, 1964, 1971, 1973 and 1977.

Last five winners:

  • 2023: Jon Rahm -27
  • 2022: Cameron Smith -34 (Tournament record winning score)
  • 2021: Harris English -25
  • 2020: Justin Thomas -14
  • 2019: Xander Schauffele -23

The final round of last year’s renewal was an eventful one, as Collin Morikawa – who had built up a six-shot lead with eighteen to play – struggled and allowed a charging Jon Rahm to storm through to take the title. Unfortunately, with the Spaniard signing with LIV we are left without a defending champion this week.

THE COURSE

The Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort has been the host of The Sentry since 1999. It was initially designed by the Coore & Crenshaw design team in 1991, with the duo returning to renovate the course in 2019.

It’s a wide open, easy resort course that has routinely been taken apart since picking up hosting duties, averaging a winning score of -23.9 over the last ten renewals.

At 7596 yards, this is the third-longest course played on tour and plays as a par 73; containing eleven par 4s (301-550 yards), four par 5s (526-677 yards) and just three par 3s (161-219 yards).

Bermudagrass covers the undulating Plantation Course, from the extremely generous fairways to the slow greens, which at an average of 8722 sq.ft. are the largest on the PGA Tour.

Putting on said greens has been the most difficult aspect of play in this event and it’s imperative that players are dialled in with their approaches into the mammoth putting surfaces, or else enjoy a hot week with the flat stick.

With no water, real danger is sparse here, although the course is well bunkered, with ninety-three littering the fairways and greens. Whilst players will also need to contend with controlling their distances well with several elevation changes from tee-to-green.

These elevation changes come into play on the final two holes: the 550-yard par 4 17th and the 677-yard par 5 18th. Though both are monstrously long on paper, they both play severely downhill.

This is target golf at its simplest. Hit the ball to the correct spot of the wide fairways that gives you the best angle of attack into the greens and make the most of the countless birdie opportunities you engineer for yourself throughout the week.

THE STATS

Key Stats:

  • SG: Putting (Bermudagrass)
  • SG: Approach
  • Birdie or Better %

I’m going to keep it simple here on our return and I expect those who excel on and into these huge greens to dominate this week.

A hot putter has been the key to success in each of the last three renewals of this event, with Rahm last year, Cameron Smith in 2022 and Harris English in 2021 all leading the field on the greens. Whilst in the last two renewals, the second-best putters in the field have finished no worse than 3rd.

Xander Schauffele also putted well in 2019, ranking 3rd but was almost equally as good in approach, ranking 4th. Justin Thomas ranked 2nd in approach when winning in 2020 and was the best iron player in the field when finishing 3rd the following year.

Others to excel in approach include Tom Hoge, who finished 3rd in 2023 and was the best player in approach and Joaquin Niemann ranked 2nd in approach when finishing 2nd to Harris English in 2021.

Additionally, with this event one of the lowest-scoring on the PGA Tour, it makes sense to apply extra focus on to those most prolific birdie makers on tour.

CORRELATING EVENTS

Form-ties are a little less meaningful for an event that, in the past, has attracted a high-class, limited field and therefore a generally elite list of winners. Though there are a few obvious avenues we can explore when searching for comp events this week.

First of these is the island golf route, with conditions that players have to contend with typically similar across these events. Though the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club and the Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Course take place on much shorter courses, they both possess large bermudagrass greens and generally see low scoring if the weather doesn’t cause any problems. The Corales Puntacana Championship, which takes place in the Dominican at Corales Golf Club, and the Puerto Rico Open at Grand Reserve Country Club are also worth a look in this regard.

The RSM Classic at the Sea Island Resort is another course that mixes a coastal location, large bermudagrass greens and typically favourable scoring conditions.

With its wide fairways and huge greens, the new host of the World Wide Technology Championship as of last year, El Cardonal, looks another course worth considering.

Finally, the AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch and the Shriners Open at TPC Summerlin can provide us with further clues. Both courses have given us some of the lowest scoring events on the PGA Tour over recent years and usually rank among the easiest courses from tee-to-green on tour.

THE WEATHER

The players are going to be welcomed back with some kind conditions this week in Hawaii. Barring a little afternoon rain on Saturday, the forecast is predicting dry and warm conditions throughout the rest of the week and with a gentle 6mph breeze there should be little to trouble the field.

THE FIELD

This week’s 59-man field is the largest in the history of the event and is packed full of star quality.

It boasts thirty-eight of the world’s top 50, led by world #1 Scottie Scheffler and includes a further seven of the world’s top 10. Rory McIlroy is the only eligible player from this bunch not in attendance.

Mackenzie Hughes is the lucky man to benefit from Jon Rahm’s move, as he rises one spot from #51 to #50 in last year’s FedExCup rankings to make it into this field.

With each of the last two winners now at LIV, 2021 winner, Harris English is our most recent past champion and one of three former winners set to tee it up, joined by Xander Schauffele (2019) and Jordan Spieth (2016).

There are several high profile debutants starting their year in Hawaii, including last year’s US Open winner, Wyndham Clark; the top-class English duo of Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood and one of the most talked about golfers in the world at the moment, Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg.

SELECTIONS

Market Leaders: Scottie Scheffler 11/2, Viktor Hovland 17/2, Collin Morikawa 12/1, Max Homa 12/1, Patrick Cantlay 12/1, Ludvig Aberg 14/1, Xander Schauffele 14/1

A strong field calls for a strong approach this week and with an excellent record here - that should almost certainly include a victory -  combined with some positive end-of-year form in 2023, I’m taking Collin Morikawa to get the season off to a flying start at Kapalua.

3 pts Collin Morikawa each way (1/5 - 6 Places) - 12/1 

Like many of the top players, Morikawa didn’t play a whole lot over the final few months of 2023, making just two starts from September onwards, but he made sure to make the most of it.

Back in October, he recorded his first win in nearly two years in the ZOZO Championship in Japan. He fired the two best rounds of the week at Narashino CC, opening with a 6-under 64 and closing with a 7-under 63 to run out an impressive six-stroke winner.

Morikawa then looked solid enough when closing out his year at the Hero World Challenge in The Bahamas at the start of December, finishing 7th despite enduring an unusually off week with his irons.

I say unusual as despite some underwhelming results through the middle part of 2023, Morikawa was once again one of the standout players in approach on the PGA Tour, ranking 2nd only to Scottie Scheffler and was comfortably ahead of the third-best player in this area, Xander Schauffele. This made up part of an all-round excellent ball-striking game, as he ranked 21st off-the-tee; compensating somewhat for his inconsistencies with the short game.

Having said that, for a player who can be unreliable on the greens, he has gained strokes with the putter in each of his four starts here at the Plantation Course, which has helped him amass a very strong record in this event; recording finishes of 7th (2020), 7th (2021), 5th (2022) and 2nd (2023), with him ranking 2nd on the greens in that latest and closest effort last year.

Morikawa dominated the field throughout this event last year before his stumbling final round and with his superb winning ability hopefully reignited following his late-year success in Japan, I’m expecting nothing but a strong challenge from him this week.

Collin Morikawa 12-1

2 pts Tom Kim each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 25/1 

Tom Kim was the best iron player/putter in this field over the final three months of last year and after a promising 5th on his debut in this event in 2023, he looks well placed to be one of the main contenders this week.

He arrives here after a year where his star continued to grow. Whilst a third PGA Tour victory in a little over twelve months - when successfully defending his Shriners Open title in October – was his only victory of the year, the most impressive result for the likeable Korean was his (albeit distant) runner-up finish to Brian Harman in The Open at Hoylake. Where he battled on over the four days despite tearing his ankle in a freak accident after the opening round.

That was his second major top 10 of the year after finishing 8th in the US Open the month previous and a 16th-place finish on his Augusta debut shows further how at home he is at this level. After ending the year with no finish worse than 24th over his final nine starts, he begins 2024 just outside the world top 10, at a career high of #11.

It was Kim’s approach play that stood out most last year, ranking 10th for the season on the PGA Tour. Although, in the second half of the year he was also putting excellently, ranking 3rd on the greens in this field over the last six months. A combined quality that saw him rank 16th on tour in birdie or better % and makes him an ideal fit for this event.

He displayed his suitability to the test last year, opening with an 8-under 65 to sit 4th after round one and never left the top 5 all week, eventually finishing 5th; a performance that was engineered by a field-leading tee-to-green performance.

Kim’s two wins in the Shriners Open provide us with extra evidence of how comfortable he is in these birdie-laden contests and I think there’s a real chance he finds a big performance this week that can push him inside the world’s top 10 for the first time.

Tom kim 25-1

1 pt Wyndham Clark each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 45/1 

After taking down a trio of major champions in the US Open, Wyndham Clark was the talk of the golfing world through much of the middle part of last year. With the batteries recharged following a no doubt energy-sapping year, I’m taking him to start 2024 strong on debut in Hawaii.

Clark had been on the radar of many since turning pro in 2017, with his excellent touch on and around-the-greens, married with a power-packed driving game, suggesting a player for whom it could all just fall into place if and when he was to find some improvements in his approach play.

2023 was indeed that year, as after failing to crack the top 150 in approach over any of his prior years on tour, Clark turned himself into a top 30 approach player and maintaining the strength of the rest of his game, he was one of the most eye-catching performers in the first half of the year.

He only missed one cut in the year in total, which came at the PGA Championship in May and put up some impressive top 10 performances over his first ten starts, including a 5th in the Valspar Championship.

Rewards for his early-year consistency came in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, where he beat off a strong field by four strokes for a first PGA Tour success. Then following with a terrifically determined and gutsy performance in the US Open, where he worked his short-game magic to claim a first major title, leaving Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Smith in behind.

He understandably failed to maintain this level of performance through the rest of the year, including a disappointing Ryder Cup debut but there was little to be concerned about and he remained perfectly solid in regular events. With a 3rd-place finish in his first Tour Championship appearance at East Lake a standout result over the latter months.

Clark’s coastal record - where he’s finished 2nd in the Bermuda Championship, 6th in the Corales Puntacana and recorded top 10s in the RSM Classic and Puerto Rico Open – give me the belief that the test at Kapalua will be well suited to him and as one of the top 25 players in birdie or better % on tour, he should have no trouble finding the glut of birdies needed to contend here.

wyndham clark 45-1

1 pt Sahith Theegala each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 66/1

This week’s outright selections are completed by Sahith Theegala. He had a breakthrough of his own towards the end of 2023, gaining a first PGA Tour win in the Fortinet Championship and though he struggled to really get anything going on his debut here last season, he looks an attractive price in relation to the talent he possesses.

Theegala started last year in excellent form, making each of his first ten cuts and recorded four top 10s, with a best of 4th in the Farmers Insurance Open and also hit the top 10 at The Masters on debut.

His game went off the boil in the middle part of the year, though he found consistency again towards the end, hitting the top 20 in four of his last six starts. Including that victory in the Fortinet Championship.

The ball-striking blew hot and cold over the course of the year but he could continually rely on the strength of his short game, with the putter a particular standout, ranking 17th and his general creativity sees him making plenty of birdies, ranking 20th in birdie or better %.

Whilst Theegala only finished 33rd of 38 players in this event last year, he did show encouraging signs in the first round, opening with a 6-under 67. A runner-up finish in the 2022 RSM Classic is another plus and offers additional promise that he can make an even quicker start to his year in 2024.

sahith theegala 66-1

You can find all Jamie's latest Golf Betting Tips on our dedicated Betfred Insights golf hub.

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