There are the usual predicted high temperatures (high for the US winter, anyway) of 27 or 28C each day for the next 10 days on Maui, as well as a purse of $US15 million that’s nearly double what it was in 2022, thanks to the PGA Tour’s new “elevated” status for some tournaments. And you only need to beat 38 other guys in the field to earn the first-place prize of $US2.7 million.
It’s a sweet gig for the PGA Tour players at Kapalua next week as they start the calendar year with the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Not surprisingly, the warm sun and cash have coaxed nearly every big-draw golfer to compete, with 17 of the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking entered when the deadline arrived on Friday. Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau … they will all be there.
There are, however, a couple of sizeable absences from the proceedings—both my choice, but for far different reasons. Here’s the field. Do the non-starters jump out below?
World No. 1 McIlroy, the reigning FedEx Cup champion, and a three-time winner last season, will not be in Hawaii, and that’s not a surprise, considering he’s only played in the TOC once despite numerous chances in his career; he notched a T-4 in 2019.
The Irishman hasn’t seen the need to make the trip, and in that he’s not alone among past stars. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson didn’t go to Kapalua much, choosing to start their January once the tour returned to the mainland. In McIlroy’s case, he’s bounced around for his first start on the West Coast Swing, beginning last year in Los Angeles and the two years before that in San Diego. However, now that McIlroy has skipped the TOC, he’s required to play in all of the rest of the tour’s 12 “elevated” events becauase he finished in the top 20 (at No. 2) in the tour’s 2022 Player Incentive Program. That means one of his starts has to come at the WM Phoenix Open, which will mark his first-ever appearance at TPC Scottsdale.
McIlroy is doing just fine and already off to a good start in the wraparound tour season, winning his only start in the CJ Cup in October. He is set to begin his 2023 in the Middle East swing of the DP World Tour later this month.
Smith, the World No 3, also won’t be in Maui, and he’s the reigning champion, having shot 34 under to beat Rahm by one shot last January. Smith is out because he chose in September to leave the PGA Tour for LIV Golf. He won last year’s TOC, Players Championship and Open Championship at St. Andrews, but is now banned from the PGA Tour and likely won’t compete against most of the world’s stars until April’s Masters.
Lowry is the third player in the world’s top 20 not competing. The Irishman has never entered the TOC despite being eligible while playing few events on the West Coast and often waiting until Florida to make an appearance in the States. Like some in this year’s TOC field, Lowry didn’t win last season, but was eligible because was among the 30 golfers to reach the Tour Championship.
The TOC is expected to feature the return of World No. 7 Will Zalatoris, whose stellar year included his maiden victory in the FedEx Cup’s St. Jude Classic, but then ended with a back injury the next week at the BMW. This could be considered something of a honeymoon for the 26-year-old, who married his college sweetheart, Caitlin Sellers, in mid-December.