Spieth, Kapalua a perfect fit

2016 Tournament of Champions winner has never finished worse than third in three starts

In his three times competing in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Jordan Spieth has finished first, second and tied for third. His victory at the Kapalua Plantation Course came in 2016, when he shot 30-under par. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAPALUA — In just three trips to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Jordan Spieth has recorded a win, a runner-up finish and a tie for third at the Kapalua Plantation Course.

“It’s nice coming back here,” Spieth said in a press conference Tuesday. “I look at four or five courses in a year where whatever — for whatever reason I seem to have success, whether I’m playing great or feel like I’m just getting through it and this is one of those places.”

He has won $2,204,000 here and is 64-under par in 12 rounds at the Plantation, including a 30-under-par romp in 2016 when he was just one stroke off the PGA Tour scoring record that Ernie Els set in his 2003 win here.

“To start the year out the way that I have, the previous three times, has been a nice springboard to kind of feeling like house money, right?” Spieth said. “Feeling like you’re kind of free rolling as you go in after a strong start in the beginning of the year.”

Spieth sees 2018 as possibly a year to remember in golf. His good friend Justin Thomas is the defending champion here and the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year after winning five times in the 2017 season — both are just 24 years old.

Kevin Kisner blasts from a practice bunker at the Kapalua Plantation Course on Tuesday morning.

This field includes the last three PGA Tour Players of the Year — Spieth (2015), Dustin Johnson (2016) and Thomas.

“I think this year, 2018, the unknowns are very exciting right now,” Spieth said. “I think with the amount of depth and talent at a younger age mixed with the guys in their 30s that are playing (well). No. 1 in the world, (Johnson, who is 33) … some other phenomenal players that you would call maybe in their prime, right? And then, obviously, the major question, which is, what’s it going to be like with Tiger coming back?

“So I think 2018, these unknowns are extremely exciting starting out and within the next six months it’s a pretty special time to be a part of professional golf.”

Australia’s Marc Leishman is back at Kapalua — the field comprises 34 PGA Tour winners from the 2017 calendar year — for the first time since 2013, when he finished tied for 23rd in an event shortened to three rounds due to weather.

Leishman arrives as No. 12 in the world rankings after 2017 wins in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the BMW Championship.

Billy Horschel watches the break of a long putt on the 18th green at the end of his practice round.

“I thought I could do it, but I’ve been (on) tour for eight or nine years and hadn’t done it,” Leishman said of his breakthrough year. “You don’t know if it’s ever going to happen and then to have that sort of year was really satisfying. I was just happy to play the way I did.”

There are 14 first-time winners in this field, 20 of the top-30 finishers in last season’s FedEx Cup standings and 21 of the top-50 ranked golfers in the world, including seven of the top 10.

The field also includes five players who won multiple PGA Tour titles in 2017 — Thomas (five), Johnson (four), Spieth (three), Hideki Matsuyama (two) and Xander Schauffele (two) — and 13 players who competed in the 2017 Presidents Cup.

Spieth feels right at home.

“This is probably a top-3 of the year,” he said. “Just to, you play so quick, it’s such an easy event, there’s 34 guys. And then the views that we have here, and I love this golf course and it seemed to fit me well the last few times I played it, so it’s certainly up there because of that, yeah.”

Hideki Matsuyama, who is ranked fifth in the world, works on his putting with caddie Daisuke Shindo.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

Tournament of Champions Field

By World Golf Ranking

No. 1 Dustin Johnson; No. 2 Jordan Spieth; No. 3 Justin Thomas; No. 4 Jon Rahm; No. 5 Hideki Matsuyama; No. 7 Rickie Fowler; No. 8 Brooks Koepka;

No. 12 Marc Leishman; No. 19 Pat Perez; No. 25 Xander Schauffele; No. 26 Kevin Kisner; No. 27 Brian Harman; No. 28 Daniel Berger; No. 34 Kevin Chappell; No. 38 Patrick Cantlay;

No. 41 Jason Dufner; No. 42 Si Woo Kim; No. 44 Jhonattan Vegas; No. 45 Brendan Steele; No. 46 Russell Henley; No. 48 Kyle Stanley;

No. 60 Adam Hadwin; No. 61 Cameron Smith; No. 67 Wesley Bryan; No. 70 Billy Horschel; No. 93 Hudson Swafford; No. 99 Bryson DeChambeau;

No. 118 Grayson Murray; No. 121 Patton Kizzire; No. 144 Austin Cook; No. 179 Ryan Armour; No. 189 Chris Stroud; No. 281 Jonas Blixt; No. 292 D.A. Points.