EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Mull is a former caddie who spent several years walking alongside the world’s best players inside the ropes on the PGA Tour. Throughout the 2019-20 season, he will be filing a gambling picks piece — as well as a weekly fantasy golf picks piece — applying the expert knowledge he’s acquired over the years by following the players and courses on Tour so closely.
If you’re reading this, we made it to 2020. So congratulations to us all. While we’re here we might as well enjoy ourselves, seeking the sharp angle and the smart plays on the PGA Tour each week until the Tour Championship.
I’ve followed the Tour since the early 1980s in one form or another. Back then, I waited for the latest issue of Golf World to land in the mailbox so I could comb the money list and peruse the stats, as limited as they were. Then again, in those ancient days of persimmon and balata, driving accuracy meant something. A man who found the fairway also knew the path to the bank. But those were different days. Power rules now and putting will always matter. I’ll aim to identify the players who are on form and primed to finish atop the leaderboard.
Whether you’re chasing Bitcoin or Benjamins, keep it light and fun. Each week we’ll offer insight on the week’s best bets, and a long-shot or two. On occasion, perhaps add a colorful tale from days spent inside the ropes or hanging around the yard.
The Sentry Tournament of Champions returns every January as a clear reminder that we should all pack up our stuff and move to Hawaii. Sure, it’s remote and expensive, but who cares? The 34-man field this week is competing for a $6.7 million purse.
Expert picks and best bets
Dustin Johnson (+900): This could be like stealing. Most years, DJ would come into Kapalua as the favorite or much closer. He’s won the TOC twice at the Plantation course and is the career money leader in the event. But ever since he fell short on the back nine at Bethpage against his buddy Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship last May, the former World No. 1 has been in the most prolonged slump of his career. He’s played eight events and hasn’t finished better than tied for 20th. He missed the entire fall season recovering from knee surgery and showed up at Royal Melbourne for the Presidents Cup trying to uncover his game. He putted horribly in the team matches but switched blades for the singles and played with the power and touch we expect. Returning to the Plantation course where he’s enjoyed such success is the cure for his recent ailments. If indeed the layout is more difficult after undergoing a ‘revitalization,’ then the most talented players will have an edge. He can still pound drives 340 yards and has more career victories (20) than any player in the field.
Joaquin Niemann (+5000): He’s 21 years old and I’m not sure if he’s even been to Hawaii before, but there’s plenty to love about this future superstar. He has the talent of a young Sergio Garcia, but the poise of a 15-year veteran. His short game hasn’t been sharp in ‘19-20 (151st strokes gained). His ball-striking puts him among the Tour’s elite. That combination of power and accuracy will serve him well in his debut on a Kapalua layout where all the players must learn the new slopes and angles.
Dustin Johnson (+100) vs. Patrick Cantlay: DJ an underdog? He’s in the rare position and there’s no comparison between the two players’ form, however one can’t overlook his prolific record on Maui.