Every PGA Tour field is packed with winners. It takes a lot of wins at various amateur and lower levels just to make it onto the PGA Tour and the winning doesn’t stop for the best golfers in the world. The Sentry Tournament of Champions takes things up another level though and this is a unique event and one that dates all the way back to 1953 too.
Always the first PGA Tour event of the calendar year, the Tournament of Champions is open only to players who won on tour during the previous calendar year. That ensures that some of the biggest names in golf make the trip to Kapalua Resort on the Hawaiian island of Maui each year. The competition is always high but the Plantation Course is far from the most challenging of the year so birdies and thrilling finishes are the norm at the Tournament of Champions. Of course, being on Hawaii, the scenery is stunning and this combination of solid money, beautiful surroundings, a gettable course and relatively relaxed feel means this is always a popular event with the players.
|2021||Kapalua Resort||Harris English|
|2020||Kapalua Resort||Justin Thomas|
|2019||Kapalua Resort||Xander Schauffele|
|2018||Kapalua Resort||Dustin Johnson|
2021: Harris English
The disruption of the 2020 PGA Tour season due to the shutdown of the sport meant the qualification criteria for a place at the 2021 Tournament of Champions had to be relaxed. For one year only, the 30 players who qualified for the season ending Tour Championship could compete at Kapalua Resort. Harris English was one of the beneficiaries and he took full advantage by earning his first win on the PGA Tour for over seven years.
English had an outside chance to win the Tournament of Champions in style on the final hole. An eagle chance came and went but he gathered himself after missing that putt for the task ahead. That task was a playoff against the Chilean Joaquin Niemann, who fired in a 64 on Sunday to haul himself from seventh to a share of the lead on an impressive 25 under par. Such is the scoring at this event that was not even the lowest score in recent times, with Jordan Spieth’s -30 in 2016 holding that honour.
Even so, the momentum was very much with Niemann after such a high class final round but his best golf deserted him at the worst moment. His approach shot into the par five 18th hole on the first playoff hole missed in a horrible spot and although he was able to get up and down for par, English played the hole properly and secured the winning birdie. The win was a huge relief and ensured that English would be back in the Tournament of Champions field in 2022.
2020: Justin Thomas
Xander Schauffele showed that he has the game to take the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort apart with a stunning 62 in the final round of 2019’s Tournament of Champions that earned him the title. He came so close to defending his title too and it was no surprise that Schauffele found himself right in the heat of the battle for 2020’s edition. However, he was the first man eliminated from a three-man playoff which also involved Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed. Schauffele’s involvement ended on the first extra hole and it took two more for Thomas to get the better of Reed after the three Americans finished tied on a relatively modest total of -14.
Relief was the overwhelming emotion for Thomas when he had secured the win. He took control of the tournament over his front nine on Sunday, usurping Schauffele at the top of the leaderboard. However, a series of sloppy mistakes opened the door for both Reed and Schauffele who had two putts to win the tournament outright on the final hole only to take three and set up the playoff.
“I got very, very lucky,” Thomas admitted in his post tournament interview. “I also stuck to my process and tried to stay positive. Just tried to tell myself, ‘There’s a reason I’m still here and we still got a chance to win’, and we were fortunate to do that.”
2019: Xander Schauffele
As impressive as Dustin Johnson’s runaway win by eight shots was at Kapaula Resort in 2018, golf fans really had their appetite whet for the coming year with an engrossing finish to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions. Johnson was one of a number of players involved in the mix on a thrilling Sunday of action in which Xander Schauffele’s course record-tying round of 62 was enough to win by a single shot.
As so many great rounds seem to, Schauffele’s final round opened with a bogey. It would be the only blemish on a scorecard which included eight birdies and two eagles. Schauffele needed to be that good to win given that he started Sunday five shots behind Gary Woodland who himself went round in a more than respectable 68, five shots under par. Woodland did nothing wrong and ended with a bogey-free card but he was kicking himself that the 18th was the only par five that he failed to birdie.
“It was a crazy day,” Schauffele said as he was asked to sum up how he felt after the second lowest final round in PGA Tour history. “I knew it was going to be a birdie fest coming in,” he continued before adding, “We kept our head down and tried to run for it.” That proved to be the right strategy during a well deserved and highly impressive win.
2018: Dustin Johnson
The field for the 2018 Tournament of Champions was as strong as ever. With each of the world’s top five competing at Kapalua Resort, this was a chance for one of golf’s big names to lay down a marker for the year ahead. That’s exactly what the best of the lot Dustin Johnson did. He became the third player ranked number one in the world to win the tournament, doing so by a beefy eight shots from runner up Jon Rahm.
Johnson hasn’t always found it easy to close tournaments out even when the beneficiary of a head-start on Sunday. This time around he had no problems converting his overnight lead of two shots though. Showing extreme confidence in the state of his game, Johnson decided that attack was the best form of defence when it came to maintaining his lead. Some stunning golf on Maui saw the two shot lead become six after the front nine and he wasn’t done pouring on the aggression there. Johnson’s blend of power and technique was summed up perfectly on the 14th hole. Not only did he drive the green but his tee shot finished just six inches from the pin, setting up the simplest of eagle putts.
Driving well has always been important on the Plantation Course. That gave Johnson ample confidence as he made his return after the festive break. “I was driving it well this week,” Johnson said. “I knew as long as I could keep doing that I was going to do well.” Typically understated from a man who blew away this field of champions to take home a cheque for a rather handy $1.26m.