Webb looks a champion wager

  • By: Ben Coley
  • Last Updated: January 2 2013, 21:13 GMT

Webb Simpson can get his season off to a flying start by winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions says our Ben Coley.

Webb Simpson: Fancied to get off to a winning start

Thirty PGA Tour winners have the honour of kicking off the 2013 season in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, which gets under way on Friday.

The Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii is the venue and has been since before the turn of the century, so while qualification criteria and sponsorship deals mean the names change, there is at least one constant.

While this 7,411 yard course - which plays to a par of 73 - is very much exposed to winds, most years have seen that wind remain consistent throughout the week and winning this tournament requires exceptional scoring.

The last four champions have had to card scores of 22-under or better and all have played the par-fives well, although that's a relatively typical requirement on the PGA Tour and it is certainly possible to win the event without dominating the longer holes.

In terms of finding an identikit winner, well, that's no easy task. From 2002 to 2010 there was a run of nine consecutive international champions, but Jonathan Byrd and Steve Stricker have notched for the home team since to buck that particular trend.

And while several players have noted that distance is an advantage on a course that has wide open fairways, that really isn't borne out in the results. Distance will help some, but it's surely not as crucial as a bit of know-how and experience - the last 10 champions have been over 30 years old and I'd be comfortable describing each of them as methodical.

Why is experience and patience crucial? For one thing it's very hard to get a flat lie at Kapalua, a course which takes some walking, while several players have spoken of the need to play a wide variety of shots here: you can't just grip and rip.

Other dynamics in play are how players will fare after a break from the game and how much they value winning this event as opposed to using it to get rid of the rust, making this a tricky start to the season from a betting point of view.

Indeed, a look at the prices shows almost a dozen players pitched between 12/1 and 20/1, so it looks like the bookmakers aren't sure what to expect this week.

All factors considered, for me the most likely winner is Webb Simpson and for that reason he gets the headline vote.

If we're looking for a methodical player who can go low, who putts well, knows how to get the job done and has shown a liking for this course and others like it, then clearly Simpson ticks a lot of boxes.

Patient enough to win a US Open, this is a guy who thinks every shot through and that showed as he shot four good rounds to finish in a tie for fourth last year, the only player in the frame who hadn't played the Plantation Course before.

Simpson described the layout as 'beautiful' after opening with a round of 68, one which saw him miss a couple of short putts as he got used to the bermuda greens, and it's also worth noting that he said it took him until just the second hole of round one to feel like the competitive juices were flowing once again.

That speaks to how seriously Webb takes every tournament and he'll be desperate to get off to a fast start this year and validate his US Open triumph.

His breakthrough major success actually came during what's now to be considered an uncharacteristic run of inconsistent form, but Simpson ended the season on a high with top-10 finishes in both the TOUR Championship and at the Chevron World Challenge, making an impressive Ryder Cup debut in-between.

Second in both birdie average and par breakers last season, we know Simpson can go exceptionally low and as one of the best lag putters on Tour these big surfaces are no issue whatsoever.

Simpson also ranked sixth for approach proximity from 75-100 yards and we can expect him to be firing at flags from that sort of range again, so take the general 14/1.

Getting embroiled in stats is a dangerous policy in my opinion, but one thing did strike me when looking as past champions: all are fantastic birdie-range putters.

By that I mean putts from five to 20 feet; Ogilvy was once among the world's best from this range, Stricker's putting ability from all distances needs no introduction and neither does that of Stuart Appleby.

It stands to reason that good putters will go close in an event that requires such low numbers, and with that in mind Carl Pettersson made his way towards the top of my list.

The burly Swede took his game to another level in 2012, winning the RBC Heritage on a seaside track before finishing third in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

Clearly, his ability to not only cope but to go low when the wind blows is there for all to see, and a fourth-placed finish on his last visit to this course further underlines that fact.

Last season, Pettersson ranked 15th on Tour for putts from five to 15 feet and 20th overall in strokes gained putting, so if he can set up some chances then it's fair to expect him to take them.

Two seventh-placed finishes in his last three starts of 2012 suggest the game is in good shape, and what's even more encouraging is his record at the start of the season.

Last year, he started off with a share of second in the Sony Open - an event also played in Hawaii - and he was placed on his first starts of 2010 and 2011 too.

Interestingly, Pettersson spoke of working harder than he ever had before during the off-season of 2010/11, and clearly it has paid off. At 25/1 I think he's a perfectly fair price.

In a field of this size I was prepared to go to war with just two selections, but at 80/1 I am compelled to include a small bet on Johnson Wagner.

Wagner is a fast-starter with two top-10 finishes in as many starts here, and last season he won the Sony Open to demonstrate that he just loves coming to Hawaii.

That success at Wailea wasn't a surprise to the man himself as he'd promised his wife that he'd win early in 2012 having followed Pettersson's lead in working harder than ever before in the off-season.

Of course, he rather went off the boil during the latter part of the year but that was the case in 2011, and it only served to make him hit the gym and the range in a search for improvement.

Too unfashionable a player to ever be a truly household name, Wagner has won three PGA Tour titles in less than five years, all in the first few months of the year, and having slipped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Rankings he has every incentive to get off to another fast start.

Quite simply, he shouldn't be 80/1 in this limited field having carded an under-par round on every attempt here at the Plantation Course.

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