The first round of the 2023 Tournament of Champions was everything you’d want from the opening event of a calendar year: Superstars at the top, birdies all over the yard and — of course! — Jordan Spieth doing his normal unicycle ride while juggling flaming torches.
A trio of leaders sit at the top of the field as Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm and J.J. Spaun all co-lead at 9 under on the par-73 Kapalua course. A crowded pack that includes Tom Kim, Tom Hoge, Sungjae Im and Scottie Scheffler is hot on their heels, however. That means there’s plenty of star power capable of making a run over the next three days.
We’ll dive into their rounds below, as well as what to expect the rest of the week from this loaded field. With the first event of 2023 underway, let’s dive into the first round of the Tournament of Champions.
T1. Jon Rahm, J.J. Spaun, Collin Morikawa (-9): Rahm followed his 33-under performance a year ago with a 9-under 63 on Thursday, and he now has 40 birdies and two eagles in his last 90 holes at Kapalua. After playing the front nine in 31, he got into a bothersome spot on the back with a bogey at the par-4 14th. That bogey set him back a bit, but he closed with three birdies in his last four holes, including a near-eagle at the last hole that turned into an easy bird.
Rahm is going to be extraordinarily difficult to keep up with if he putts like he did on Thursday when he led the field at nearly four strokes gained on the round (Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland were second best at 2.07). He likely won’t putt like that, but good luck to the field against somebody who is averaging 8.4 strokes under par in his last five rounds here.
4. Tom Kim (-8)
T5. Matt Fitzpatrick, Aaron Wise, Tom Hoge, Mackenzie Hughes, Sungjae Im, Scottie Scheffler (-7)
Scheffler was probably the most interesting out of this group. He putted horribly — he lost nearly two strokes on the greens and made one putt over 5 feet — but he still shot 66. That’s scary coming from the No. 2 player in the world. Scheffler has something at stake here beyond winning, too. He needs a top-three finish to regain the No. 1 ranking in the world from Rory McIlroy, who is not playing this week at Kapalua.
Kim exceeding expectations
It probably shouldn’t surprise me that Kim shot 65, but it still does. As bullish as I am on him as a person and a potential star, I’m equally dubious that his statistical profile meets the modern thriving top-10 player. And yet, at every level he’s played, he’s continued to win and win and win. In 81 OWGR starts, he has eight wins, and his PGA Tour winning percentage is slightly better. I want to be wrong about him in the long term because he’s so much fun to write about and cover (see below), but I have to say I didn’t necessarily see this round coming from him at Kapalua.
Shot of the day
Jordan Spieth had a very Jordan Spieth round. He missed a 2-foot putt but also took a full swing from 33 feet away on the 15th hole for par following some problems in the bunker on his third shot. If you’ve ever tried to take a full swing with any club from 30 feet, it’s basically impossible to hole the shot, but here we are.
Spieth also had an amazing exchange in which he asked two gentleman at the event if they could tone down the wagering chatter while he was putting. A very normal early season start for Spieth.
Shot of the day, Part II
The hole-out eagle was great, but Kim asking the cameras if they caught it was even better.
Morikawa is fine
about some of the consternation surrounding Collin Morikawa at the end of 2022, a year in which he did not win. This stat from Data Golf should sum up how I feel about where he’s at right now:
- Strokes gained 2020-21 season: 1.41 (3 wins)
- Strokes gained 2021-22 season: 1.41 (0 wins)
Furthermore, Morikawa’s ceiling didn’t really change. He went from third to sixth in the world in 95th percentile rounds. In other words, his best stuff was still among the best stuff of other top-10 players in the world. What did change is that he didn’t win, which can be attributed to so many other things (luck, good bounces, field makeup etc.). Morikawa was undervalued overall coming into 2023, and though he won’t play as well as he did on Thursday for the rest of the year, I think it’s emblematic of what we could be in for with him this year. There’s still time to buy low.
2023 Tournament of Champions updated odds and picks
- Jon Rahm: +240
- Collin Morikawa: +650
- Scottie Scheffler: 8-1
- Tom Kim: 12-1
- Sungjae Im: 14-1
- Tony Finau: 16-1
- Matt Fitzpatrick: 16-1
- Jordan Spieth: 22-1
- Viktor Hovland: 22-1
- Aaron Wise: 22-1
To the surprise of nobody, I’m in on Spieth at 22-1. He plays great at this golf course, and he’s helped when he has a lot of external things going on (slope, wind, etc.) because it gets him out of his own head. He didn’t even putt well on Thursday and still found a way to shoot 67. In terms of the leaders, Morikawa at +650 is the play for me. Rahm’s putting round was magnificent, which won’t continue, and Morikawa is still being a tad undervalued because he’s coming on off a year in which he didn’t win at all.