After starting 2019 with a 25/1 winner and 33/1 place, don't miss Ben Coley's take on the Sony Open - where Jordan Spieth returns to action.
Dismayed not to have earned himself an invite to the Tournament of Champions, Jordan Spieth gets his 2019 campaign under way earlier than scheduled in the Sony Open.
Spieth was a late entry to the event last Friday and there are different ways to interpret that. Perhaps he's playing so well at home that he wants to go and give himself a chance to win; on the other hand, it could be that he feels a week in Hawaii is required to get the rust out of his system.
The course, Waialae Country Club, is one he likes the shape of. This flat par 70, diametrically opposed to last week's Plantation but for the fact both do share location in common, suits a proper shot-maker like the 2017 Open champion and he's won at Colonial, one of the many courses which corresponds so well with this one.
Presumably, most will be willing to quickly overlook the sliding world number 17 on account of a largely dismal 2018, a year which peaked with a brace of third-places in the spring. Having amassed 14 titles between the summers of 2013 and 2017, to go 18 months and change without one tells you that he's been a long way short of his best.
Of course, you don't win three majors before you've established facial hair without being both a physical and mental freak of nature, and at 16/1 and bigger he needs considering here because you can be certain he's determined to get back to his best and remind Justin Thomas and the rest that they're still playing catch-up when it comes to the numbers which matter most.
Personally speaking, I've gone back and forth. Then I look at the names immediately above and below Spieth in the betting and surmise that, whether he wins doing handsprings or labours to another missed cut, there will be no regrets in taking the price on offer. If the putter fires, it will look a gift.
Thomas, clearly, is a more likely winner. He arrives on the back of third place in the Tournament of Champions having shaped throughout the latter part of 2018 as though a break would do him good. Reinvigorated and returning to the course at which he won by seven shots in 2017, it's little wonder the 7/1 has been taken.
The trouble with the Sony is that it offers conflicting evidence. On the one hand you've that victory for Thomas, engraver called in to work early, and Jimmy Walker's nine-shot demolition job in 2015. Both displays of dominance came from players who'd finished inside the top three in the preceding Tournament of Champions and they suggest that the likes of Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Gary Woodland and Marc Leishman should all fancy their chances.
Then again, it's a course which brings almost every player in the field into the conversation, being short, hostage to wind (albeit little of significance is forecast) and vulnerable to a hot putter from any bag. Putting, as you'll well know, is extremely hard to predict over four rounds of golf.
That's why we've seen a Web.com Tour graduate effectively win straight out of the gate without ever being troubled in Russell Henley, and why Fabian Gomez and Patton Kizzire have since added their names to the lengthy list of surprise champions. The latter duo lost considerable ground off the tee yet a blend of aggressive approach shots and cup-finding putts earned each a play-off victory.
The Sony Open is therefore one of those events where if one of the in-form players at the front is to win, so be it - they can do so without my money. I find it hard to envisage having a strong fancy at the very head of the betting here, as I would the RBC Heritage, though it doesn't mean to say any of those mentioned is opposed with real confidence and Spieth, of course, has been given the benefit of the doubt.
One way to cut down on myriad alternatives is to first assess last week's field, because it's now five years in succession that the winner of the Sony had player at Kapalua. That sequence includes Gomez and Kizzire, although it ought to be said that the second and third last year both arrived fresh, so to speak, as did Brian Stuard in fourth.
The most obvious options from last week have been mentioned and of them it would be Leishman for me, but he's gone from 33/1 to beat 30-something players to half that to see off 150-odd and, as touched upon, this really is the type of event where anything goes.
Instead, it's Andrew Putnam who I'm chancing to show the benefits of a pipe-opener and double his PGA Tour tally.
Since winning the low-key Barracuda Championship last year, Putnam has been transformed from slow burner to fast improver and 14th place in the Tournament of Champions is a perfectly encouraging start to the next phase of his career.
Putnam wouldn't be the sort of powerhouse whose skills really suit that course whereas Waialae should be ideal for a player whose strongest department is probably iron play (39th in strokes-gained approach last year), and whose work on and around the greens has always been neat and tidy.
The latter phrase - neat and tidy - works well at this golf course and while form figures of MC-69 here might suggest that there's something about the place Putnam really doesn't like, to my mind it's nowhere near enough evidence to leap to such conclusions.
He is, quite simply, a vastly different animal from the one who was 371st in the world entering this event last year and we've seen him show it elsewhere as he's climbed towards the top 50.
In Memphis, he improved on a debut missed cut (74-80) to chase home Dustin Johnson, while eighth place in Canada came despite his sole previous look at the course having been similarly poor.
Over in Reno, where he became a PGA Tour winner, he'd been 65th on his one prior visit while the Texas Open at TPC San Antonio saw him leave behind a hopeless 72nd to finish well inside the top 10.
Of those performances, second in the St Jude Classic stands out as particularly worthwhile form with this assignment in mind and while he couldn't be a confident fancy given his history in Hawaii, at 80/1 (or slightly shorter with eight places) he's certainly considered an excellent bet.
Ian Poulter, who turns 43 on Thursday, is another who may well leave behind a dated, low-key previous start here, although I didn't necessarily feel that his chance had been underestimated. Poulter tied for first in greens last week but putted abysmally, and a similarly solid ball-striking display might be better rewarded this time.
Of the others who played at the Plantation, Troy Merritt tempted me at 150/1 as a two-time winner under low-scoring conditions, whose form at the aforementioned St Jude, excellent Colonial debut, contending effort at Hilton Head and hints of promise here put him on the lengthy shortlist.
He's not dismissed lightly at the price having been in good nick during the formative stages of the wrap-around season, whereas I found it fairly easy to talk myself out of Matt Kuchar, despite the fact he'd be the latest to secure a Mexico-Hawaii double (Kizzire, Johnson Wagner and Mark Wilson) after winning November's Mayakoba Classic.
Charles Howell is the archetypal horse-for-the-course and finally landed his third PGA Tour title late last year, but he's being backed at around 33/1 and looks short enough. It may be nothing, but his form in this event has dipped when he's prepared the Tournament of Champions; a meaningless quirk that could well be, but backing Howell at 33/1 requires a flawless case.
With those completing a fortnight's golf in Hawaii largely making limited appeal, I'll take a chance on Chris Kirk making a winning return to action.
Kirk has been in Hawaii for a week with his family, presumably playing enough golf when he can as has been the case previously, and I thought his fairly frequent range bulletins prior to Christmas were a positive given that he's been known in the past to put the clubs away for a while.
Speaking of clubs, Kirk confirmed a deal with Mizuno late last year which has seen him pad out his bag with their gear, having played a smorgasbord of stuff (including Mizuno) since parting company with PXG in 2017.
Given that there will be others here who are starting afresh with new equipment deals - including one of my selections to come - it's a boost to Kirk's prospects that he's got three tournaments under his belt, all reasonably promising, since signing up as a Mizuno staffer.
Rewind to 2013, and Kirk finished fifth here having done the same thing in November of the previous campaign, this time swapping Titleist for Callaway, and that's one of several impressive performances at Waialae along with second place in 2014.
A share of 10th was one of just three top-10 finishes he managed throughout last year and there's absolutely no doubt that Waialae is up there with his favourite courses on the circuit, something he elaborated on a few years back.
"I think it's a good right to left players' course," said Kirk. "I think here and Colonial are kind of two of my favorites of the year.
"You kind of have to play the ball on the ground a little bit, get firm and fast greens and small greens, so you've got to have a good short game, too. I think all those kind of things together plays into my hands a little bit."
Given that he's already a winner at Colonial, those words are particularly encouraging and so is the fact that he ranked inside the top 20 on the PGA Tour for approach play last year, a part of his game which has long been a strength but which had gone missing in 2017.
At his best, which admittedly means four or five years ago, Kirk was also a deadly putter and if he can find some form on these familiar bermuda greens then there's every reason to expect another fast start.
Brian Harman should go well again, having contended on Sunday last year as his friend Kizzire went on to win. The Georgia bulldog loves this layout and having combined with Kizzire to win the QBE Classic in December, he should be ready to put a previously poor run behind him and make a run at the Presidents Cup team.
Ollie Schniederjans is another with course form and new caddie Damon Green, formerly by the side of Zach Johnson, could help him to reach his potential in 2019. The trouble is, he ended 2018 playing so poorly, particularly from tee-to-green, that he can't be relied upon to perform well just yet.
Ryan Armour might be at the other end of the spectrum when it comes to age and potential, but nous is no bad thing at this course and I fancy him to return in the same sort of form he showed towards the end of 2018.
Given that he was playing whenever he could, taking advantage of his status as PGA Tour winner, Armour played some really solid golf and after passing on his trophy to Cameron Champ at the Sanderson Farms, he improved markedly to finish 21st in Mexico and 15th in Georgia.
Had this event been the very next week, I fancy Armour would have been on many a radar having played nicely for the first 54 holes last January, when making his first Sony Open appearance in a decade and opening with a trio of 67s.
It's hard to know what shape he'll be in for his return from a Christmas break, but any doubt is factored into three-figure quotes and this late bloomer showed when second in the Quicken Loans last year that he can keep on contending when accuracy is the order of the day.
Over the last few years, finding fairways has become less important across the entire sport and that does include here, but even so there have been plenty of similar players go close. That phrase 'neat and tidy' again applies and this dead-eye driver, who has hit 52 consecutive fairways, can go well.
Finally, this largely speculative staking plan ends with Dominic Bozzelli and Scott Langley.
Bozzelli is playing his final start on a major medical extension and needs a top-five finish to climb out of the conditional category. It's significant, perhaps, that he's chosen to put down his final card at the Sony Open rather than the CareerBuilder, where he was fifth back in 2017.
And he's right to have done so, because last year's debut 39th here, all four rounds under par, was a perfectly solid effort and it ties in with much of his best work, including third at the Valspar, 13th at the Honda and 10th at the St Jude Classic. All those events involve the sort of bermuda greens he's grown used to, having been to Auburn University and now living in Florida.
Bozzelli ended 2018 with 11th place in the RSM Classic, one week after he'd held the round one lead in Mexico and sat third at halfway, and Xander Schauffele's win last week serves as a reminder that players are often able to pick up where they left off.
That was certainly the case with surprise packages Tom Hoge and Stuard last year and as well as Bozzelli, I'm hoping Langley is one who can build on what he was showing when last in action.
The left-hander was part of my team for the RSM Classic, where he finished a solid 23rd having been 29th in Mexico, and he's worth sticking with for many of the same reasons.
First and foremost, Langley has long been at his best on coastal courses, as he showed when winning in Panama last year, and the fact that came during an early-season hot streak suggests that he could be one to follow during the early months of 2019.
Perhaps his preparedness stems from the decision to move out to Arizona a couple of years ago but whatever the case, he's shown previously that he can ping the lids - including when third behind Henley on his debut in this event, also his debut as a PGA Tour member.
Langley is starting out with PXG equipment, which could prove a negative, but at 200/1 and bigger that's a chance I'm willing to take with any wind arriving certain to improve his prospects.
Posted at 2000 GMT on 07/01/19.