Sunday, January 23, 2022

2022 Tournament of Champions leaderboard: Cameron Smith narrowly leads heavyweights after Round 1 at Kapalua

Given the quality of the field, a great leaderboard after Round 1 of the Tournament of Champions was always a lock, but Thursday was also a great day of golf from start to finish. Cameron Smith — who shot an 8-under 65 — leads by one over Daniel Berger after a lights-out putting day, but he might need three more 65s over the next three days to hold off the caliber of players behind him.

Let’s take a look at his first round and an incredible first day at Kapalua.

The leader

After Smith started his first two holes 1 over, he was 9 under on his next 16, including two eagles. He putted the lights out, which is normally a warning sign for first-round leaders. It might end up that way with him, but his short game is so good and he’s so proven that I’m less inclined to fade him after a hot putter on Day One than I would be with a lesser player. Still, it’s something to consider going into the last three days, especially after he noted after his round that he hasn’t been playing all that much golf recently.

“I got in here on Thursday last week. The weather back in Jacksonville typically this time of year isn’t that great so I wanted to give myself a little bit of time to get used to the course and also the time change and stuff like that,” Smith said. “And, like I said, I haven’t been doing too much practice so being here made me practice and, yeah, it was good.”

Other contenders

T2: Jon Rahm, Daniel Berger, Patrick Cantlay (-7)

T5: Erik van Rooyen, Kevin Na, Sungjae Im (-6)

T8: Garrick Higgo, Joel Dahmen, Brooks Koepka, Talor Gooch, Collin Morikawa (-5)

The most surprising name on this board might actually be … Koepka? He doesn’t always show out at non-majors and played poorly in the fall. He didn’t hit the ball all that well in general on Thursday, but he did score and sounded encouraged by Round No. 1 of the new year. 

“Game feels good. I feel good. I should be playing good,” Koepka said. And he did.

Cantlay went full Steph Curry late in his round with five straight 3s before a 5 to finish off his 66. Berger didn’t even have his clubs until mid-week (more on that below). And Morikawa joined Cantlay in coming on late and could be a real problem given how this golf course favored iron players in Round 1 (see below, as well).

Rick Gehman and Kyle Porter discuss Thursday’s first round action at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Three takeaways

1. Kapalua played long: The PGA Tour implemented preferred lies after several days of rain in Hawaii, which put a greater emphasis on approach play. Of the 13 best approach players on the day, eight are currently in the top 10 on the leaderboard. This was already a course that valued approach play immensely over the last few years, and that increased on Thursday in Round 1.

2. Jon Rahm is such a problem: He had the most ho-hum 66 I’ve ever seen. He didn’t do anything amazing, just played quality, Jon Rahm-like golf for 18 straight holes. The level he played at in 2021 portended more than one win, and now he might receive that windfall in the subsequent season even if the statistical output isn’t as high.

3. Having golf back is so fun: There’s nothing like the first day of the year. Real “first day back at school” vibes with golf Twitter poppin’, Jordan Spieth hollering and everybody hyped to watch some primetime Hawaii golf. I was giddy all evening.

Shot of the day

Your shot of the day is courtesy of Koepka, who decided to raise the stakes on his feud with Bryson DeChambeau by hitting a ball to a completely different island in Hawaii.

Quote of the day

“I was a little stressed out because I knew I needed to play some golf. A lot of phone calls with American Airlines. That’s for sure.” -Daniel Berger

This is not even that great of a quote, but imagining Berger on hold with American Airlines to try and get his golf clubs to Hawaii for the first tournament of the year brought me great delight. He does not seem like the type of person who has a lot of patience for such things.

One thing I loved today

Erik Van Rooyen’s mustache was a nod to a different era. Perhaps the 70s or 80s. As in the 1870s or 1880s. I half expected him to ask a rules official if his monocle was considered a distance-measuring device. Van Rooyen said after his impressive round of 67 that he brushes it, shampoos it, conditions it and waxes it daily because, “You got to treat it well, otherwise it kind of bites back.”

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Getty Images

Another thing I loved today

Hideki Matsuyama, coming off “I’m playing with house money for the rest of my career” wins at Augusta National and in his home country of Japan last year, wore pants that said that very thing in Round 1 as he went out and shot 69.

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Getty Images

Great day/bad day

Several candidates here, but given my expectations for Justin Thomas today, I thought he had a lousy start to 2022, highlighted by a horrific 6 at the ninth hole after a massive block off the tee that required several seconds of dump button mashing by the Golf Channel producer. He shot 74 and is tied for last with Patrick Reed and Lucas Glover.

Best tweet

My guy Sean Zak insinuating that Pebble Beach is nothing more than a resort course (!) was pretty solid. Hovland is lurking after a 69 in Round 1, too.

Craziest ShotLink stat

Patrick Reed lost 3.98 strokes (!) off the tee in his 2022 debut with new equipment in the bag. There might be an adjustment period. He still shot an impressive 74 considering how bad he was with his driver.

Such a normal sport

Viktor Hovland and Koepka earnestly searching for errant shots on the short par-4 14th (after both hit provisionals off the tee!) was like a scene out of Field of Dreams. They both made 6 on the 294-yard hole, even though Hovland claimed he had a “pretty good lie” in thigh-deep weeds and junk.

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Golf Channel

New odds and pick

  • Jon Rahm: 4-1
  • Patrick Cantlay: 5-1
  • Cameron Smith: 6-1
  • Daniel Berger: 9-1
  • Collin Morikawa: 11-1
  • Sungjae Im: 12-1
  • Bryson DeChambeau: 14-1

DeChambeau lost strokes everywhere except off the tee and still shot 69, but the play for me here is either Berger or Morikawa. Approach play was so incredibly important Thursday, and if it remains that way, they should thrive. If you want a deeper pick in that same category, either Xander Schauffele at 18-1, Viktor Hovland at 18-1 or Talor Gooch at 33-1 are all great as well.

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