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Justin Thomas starts the new year in Hawaii, not a bad place to start. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Justin Thomas starts the new year in Hawaii, not a bad place to start. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)|Associated Press
Golf

PGA: Mike Kern starts off 2020 picking Justin Thomas, Gary Woodland and 2 longshots at the Sentry Tournament of Champions

Tee times start Jan.1 at 8 am EST.

Mike Kern

Mike Kern

Forget the last few months. For most of us, this is the real start of the PGA golf season: the Sentry Tournament of Champions from Maui. Is there really anything that gets golfers stoked more than seeing guys hitting the ball with the Pacific Ocean as the background?

We had a good year in 2019, with a half-dozen winners, several at nice odds, and a bunch of close calls, which don’t count unless you back them up by placing some “to finish in the top five” bets as well. Insurance is sometimes a very good thing.

So here we go. Let’s hope we can get out of the gate fast.

The favorite at Kapalua is Jon Rahm, who’s been as hot as anyone recently, mainly in Europe. But he never seems to come up quite big enough in the big spots. And this isn’t necessarily one of them. So maybe that works in his favor. He’s going off at 4-1 in this 30-something field that includes, as the name implies, all the event winners from last year.

Justin Thomas, who’s been hot as well, including the President’s Cup, where he was the American’s top points scorer, is next at 5-1. He won this thing three years ago and was third last January.

Defending champ Xander Schauffele is 8-1. Dustin Johnson, the champ in 2013 and ’18, is 10-1. But he hasn’t played very well since the middle of last year, after undergoing knee surgery. It happens. Patrick Cantlay is 12-1, Patrick Reed (another past winner) 14-1. As is Gary Woodland, who was the runnerup here 12 months ago.

Rickie Fowler, who hasn’t done a whole lot for anyone in awhile, is still only 16-1. Paul Casey is 20-1, Collin Morikawa 22-1. Matt Kuchar, Cameron Champ and Brendon Todd are 40-1. Todd won twice and nearly made it a threepeat a few months back, after not doing anything for a few years.

Joaquin Niemann, Kevin Kisner, Corey Conners and Matthew Wolff are all listed at 50-1. Chez Reavie, Ryan Fritelli, J.T. Poston and Kevin Na are each 60-1.

And don’t look for Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy. They decided not to show up. McIlroy did play last year. Oh well.

I’m not usually much of a chalk guy, but I’m looking hard at Justin Thomas. Of course I could look hard at him almost any week. I know he’s not going to pay back much, but I really think he has a good chance of getting it done again at this course. So we’ll take him.

For backup, we’ll go with Gary Woodland at 14-1. He almost won last year, so why not?

Then I’ll give you two longshots, because it’s more fun that way. Let’s try Brendon Todd at 40-1. It’s probably asking too much, but he’s won as much as anyone in the last few months. You might want to back him up with one of the those top five hedges, just because. I would say the same about Kevin Na, who I’m also putting a little on at 60-1. He’s won three times in his last 30-some starts worldwide, so at this number it seems like a risk worth taking.

See you next week at the Sony Hawaii Open. Maybe we’ll already have something to celebrate in the New Year. And I’ll be back with my pro football picks for the first weekend of the playoffs on Friday.

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