The annual Tournament of Champions is, as the name suggests, reserved only for those who have hoisted a trophy the previous season and this week sees two Australians eligible.
Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith both enjoyed their best years as professionals in 2017 and their reward is four days at the spectacular Plantation Course at Kapalua where there is no cut and guaranteed minimum prizemoney of around US$60,000.
Leishman was the standout among the Australian contingent in 2017 and that is reflected by the fact he is now the nation’s highest ranked player with an Official World Golf Ranking of 12.
With two victories and almost $7 million in on course earnings the laidback Victorian took his game to new heights last year and expectations, from both outside and within, will be for more of the same in 2018.
While the year is less than a week old the PGA Tour has already played eight events of the new season, Leishman taking part in two of those and amassing more than $1 million.
A play-off loss to this week’s defending champion, Justin Thomas, at the newly created CJ Cup event in Korea in October was followed by some lacklustre play at the WGC event in China the following week.
However, Leishman looked in good form when finishing T4 at his last start, the Australian PGA championship at Royal Pines in December, and confidence will likely not be an issue as his first event of 2018 gets underway.
Smith, too, made his last tournament start at the Australian PGA Championship where an all world up and down at the second playoff hole earned him an emotional home state victory.
The win is Smith’s first individual title after he and Swede Jonas Blixt took out the Zurich Classic teams event in New Orleans earlier in the year, the victory which earned him this week’s start.
It is the 24-year-old’s first trip to Kapalua though is unlikely to be his last as his form in the new wraparound season has been at least as impressive as Leishman.
Smith played the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in the second week of October and posted bookend rounds of 64 to finish T5 before heading to Korea and finishing one shot out of the play-off between Leishman and Thomas.
Having parlayed that form into victory at Royal Pines Smith heads to Hawaii playing as well as at any time in his career and while he won’t be among the favourites could surprise a few this week.
The Tournament of Champions has been a happy hunting ground for Australians in the past with Stuart Appleby, Geoff Ogilvy and Steve Elkington combining for seven victories since the tournament was launched in 1970.
Elkington claimed the title twice at its former home of Carlsbad CC in California while Appleby claimed a hat-trick of trophies from 2004-2006. Geoff Ogilvy won in both 2009 and 2010.
While the field this week isn’t deep (just 34 players) it is strong (all PGA Tour winners) but if Smith and Leishman can produce their best golf an eighth Australian victory at the prestigious event is not out of the question.
Smith will play with Bryson de Chambeau in the opening round while Leishman will be paired with Jon Rahm.
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