Eat The Chalk or Make The Pivot, Tournament of Champions

Golf is returning in the form of the PGA Tour. The calendar year season kicks off with the annual trip to Hawaii for the Tournament of Champions. Kapalua Resort is the host for the par 73 7,500+ yard course. This is a true resort course with huge fairways (average 65 yards wide) and enormous slow bermuda greens (average almost 9,000 sq ft).  The topography of the course makes this perhaps the most difficult course to walk on tour. The elevation changes often while the course has severe undulations from tee to green. Players face one fewer par 3 with an additional par 4. Eight of the par 4’s play under 450 yards with three over 500 yards. Birdies are abundant making scoring easy. Don’t be surprised when multiple players find their way to -20 with -30 not out of play.

The goal of this article is to determine the chalk plays within the pricing ranges and should we potentially pivot to lower owned players. Every week people discuss whether to eat the chalk in golf as it’s a huge topic due to the variance within the game. With the “elevated” purses we should see much stronger fields on a week to week basis. This will help deflate chalk and make the ownership much more balanced the majority of weeks. Most weeks I will discuss the ranges from 10k+, 9k, 8k and 7k. I will avoid the 6k range as quite frankly chalk rarely appears. Typically the highest owned 6k players is sub 7-8%. Depending upon pricing set up and tournament style I may adjust occasionally.

9K and Above
With only two players priced above 10k playing I am starting with this range. In general pricing is softer at the top for this tournament than prior. In the past we have seen 4-6 players priced 10k+ and even some in the 11k range. This is only going to make these players more popular because you can fit more into one roster lineup than previous. In the end all of these players will be popular, 15-30%+. Perhaps one falls sub 15% and 1-2 over 30%.

Let’s start with Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Over the past 4 years these four players have dominated this tournament. In 5 trips Rahm has never finished worse than 10th. He has two 2nd place finishes with the other three outside the T5. JT has a win and three other T5’s over the past four years. Schauffele has a win, 2nd, 5th and 12th while Cantlay has two T5’s. In all four years at least two have finished in the T5 twice and twice 3 of the four have finished T5. With that said, twice 2 of the 4 have won.

If playing MME you have to play all four within your pool. Three max and single entry players have a tough decision because you can’t play all four. From a roster construction perspective playing two is the sweet spot. Going with three really limits your roster variations while forcing you to play the cheaper plays. In most birdie fest, no cut, limited field tournaments a large portion of the field goes studs and duds. This would be forcing 3 9k+ players in lineups. That’s not a route I want to go with these four players because the dud’s typically dud at this tournament.

For me it’s Rahm and JT up top in the 3 max and single entries. I will have some lineups with both and some with just one while perhaps one with neither. Rahm enters with great history and very good fall season form. JT just plays well here every year. In MME tournaments I will play all four in different variations. With this being a tournament we’re you have to hit the nuts just to cash I will limit my play to around 10 teams total.

So who are the pivots off these four players. I am taking a stand on Scottie Scheffler and not playing. He went on an incredible run last year due to a very hot putter. Remove that run and his putter is quite inconsistent and often not the best. Collin Morikawa hasn’t been his same for several months. I can’t blame you for playing him, very good history here, but it’s another stand I am taking.

Tony Finau 
is my first target pivot. Tony came on very strong after struggling early last year. Since the summer of 20022 he has three wins and several other top finishes. He hasn’t played well here in the past but he is entering perhaps in his best form. A win here would be big for him with his ties to Hawaii. Matthew Fitzpatrick is my other pivot. I expect him to be the lowest owned 9k+ player. Why Fitz? If you look at the past 9 winners they are all very good putters or we’re at their time of win with the exception of JT. He is also very good around the green. Most won’t think that’s an important piece here but it is. The P5’s and P4’s aren’t reachable leaving many short chips on approach.

8K Range
Expect 3-4 players in this range to be popular. Tom Kim, Cam Young, Sungjae Im and Brian Harmon. Can’t blame anyone for playing Kim and Young as they are both on the rise due to their results. First timers here haven’t played their best. A finish outside the T10 or even 20th or worse based on history wouldn’t be a surprise. With that said, both have the game set up to succeed here. Perhaps it burns me but currently I am taking a stand and not playing either. If I do decide to play them it will be probably just one and mixed in with a Finau and or Fitzpatrick. Based on history and the results of 1st timers I don’t think playing both together is a good idea. Perhaps one does well but getting both to play well is going against the numbers.

Brian Harman should be popular especially with how he ended his season. Personally I am not a Harman lover and will pass. He has mixed results in his two appearances here. Sungjae Im is the player I will play who should be popular. Sungjae has played twice here finishing 8th and 5th. He has upside and the ability to win is the reason I prefer him. Of the last 9 winners all have either won The Masters or finished inside the T5. Sungjae fits this bill.

I am targeting three pivots in this range. Let’s start with Sam Burns. Burns didn’t finish 2022 well and being a first timer he should be on the lower owned side. Yes he fits the same bill as Young and Kim but I am willing to take the chances he can beat both at much lower ownership. Will Zalatoris hasn’t played in months due to injury. This alone will keep people away. I also like that he plays Augusta National very well, similar topography traits as here. My concern, can he putt well for 4 days and like others mentioned above he is a first timer. The one player I will have is Viktor Hovland. He has struggled here finishing 30th or worse both times. The reason he has struggled is his chipping has been horrific here. Minus chipping the remainder of his game sets up well for the course.

Below 8k
This is the range that will make or break your teams. The cream rises to the top in this tournament. When looking over prior leaderboards we find 1-2 players within this range that find the T10. The 4-5 most popular players in this range will be 20-30%+ owned. Most people will combine this chalk with the upper tier chalk. I have more confidence in the upper tier chalk thus that will be the chalk I play.

I see four players garnering the ownership. Aaron Wise, Tom Hoge, Mac Hughes and Seamus Power. Hoge is a pass for me because I see him being the highest owned down low. Wise is on the rise but I question his putter over four days. Hughes and Power are the two I would consider. I wouldn’t be surprised if Power is the 2nd most owned within the range. He excels at birdie fest tournaments and finished last year on fire. Hughes has added some distance and can get very hot with the putter. Of the four he interests me the most and I feel of the four least owned.

Three pivots I am targeting starting with Adam Scott. The clock is ticking on his career to be a competitive player when it comes to winning. He appears committed to the PGA tour instead of LIV which makes me feel he wants to make one last run. His game fits the course it just all comes down to that putter. He has been playing plenty of golf down under in Australia and I don’t think he gets ownership. Sahith Theegala grew his game quite a bit last season. He is on the verge of being a very good golfer. Once he wins I feel we see many more right behind the first. Packed in between Wise and Power his ownership should be moderate at best. Chances for no reason must be taken and for me it’s Trey Mullinax. He is long and should have plenty of birdie opportunities.

That’s a wrap for week one. Play enough to get your feet wait but don’t go crazy blowing your bankroll. We have plenty of tournaments coming up with full fields and cuts. Let’s start the season strong Running Pure!


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