Experts' predictions, Kapalua edition

January, 5, 2011
01/05/11
8:59
AM ET

Each week during the PGA Tour season, our panel of experts will share their insight into which players fit the criteria for our four categories below: Birdie Buster, Horse for the Course, Super Sleeper and Winner.

This week's tournament: The Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig

Birdie Buster: Graeme McDowell.

The Northern Irishman is playing the Hyundai Tournament of Champions for the first time, but he's in prime golf condition, having just last month completed a seven-week world journey that included two victories. A win would be a natural progression after an outstanding 2010 season.

Horse for the Course: Geoff Ogilvy.

With apologies to Stuart Appleby -- who is back in the Kapalua field -- Ogilvy gets the nod as the two-time defending champion. He didn't win again on the PGA Tour after his victory in Hawaii a year ago, but did have a strong surge in his native Australia at the end of the year, capturing the Australian Open and losing the Australian PGA in a playoff.

Super Sleeper: Derek Lamely.

He punched his ticket to Hawaii way back in March at the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open -- then never finished in the top 10 the rest of the season. Lamely missed 10 cuts in 19 starts the rest of the way and managed to finish just 95th on the money list despite his victory. This tournament offers the chance to get a nice head start on 2011.

Winner: Ernie Els.

The Big Easy arrived in Hawaii off a big victory a few weeks ago at the South African Open, his fifth in his home country's national championship. It was his third victory of the year (although it counts for 2011 on the European Tour). A second victory at Kapalua to go along with his 2003 title would be a big boost to start a year in which he will clearly be focusing on the major championships.


ESPN.com senior golf editor Kevin Maguire

Birdie Buster: Matt Kuchar.

He posted three rounds of 68 or better last year when he finished tied for third. That fast start kicked off his career year that saw him win the PGA Tour money title.

Horse for the Course: Geoff Ogilvy.

He's shot no worse than 69 in his past eight rounds at Kapalua's Plantation Course. That led to back-to-back victories. Not bad.

Super Sleeper: Jason Day.

Tough to pick a guy to sneak up on the field from a list of 2010 winners, but the 23-year-old Australian fits that bill.

Winner: Stuart Appleby.

He captured this event from 2004-06 and earned a return ticket to Hawaii after shooting 59 in the final round of the Greenbrier Classic. In his three victories in Hawaii, Appleby has won with scores of 8 under, 21 under and 22 under, proving he can win amid vastly different conditions that are a trademark of the Hawaiian winds.


ESPN.com golf writer and blogger Jason Sobel

Birdie Buster: Dustin Johnson.

DJ told me recently that he doesn't mind some ribbing about his Whistling Straits gaffe. OK, I'll start: Good thing all bunkers are clearly marked this week! Johnson has the length to overpower this course and he's been working on his wedge game a lot recently. Expect plenty of red numbers.

Horse for the Course: Geoff Ogilvy.

Yeah, I know -- it's like picking the hammer to beat the nail. But hey, there's a reason he's back-to-back champion at this event. As an Aussie, this is midseason on Ogilvy's body clock, and coming off his Australian Open win, he's right on target for another strong showing at Kapalua.

Super Sleeper: Matt Bettencourt.

With a few reachable par-4s and a few par-5s that are gettable in two, depending on the winds, the Plantation Course has been known to yield some eagles at times. Well, here's some good trivia for you: No player posted more eagles last season than Bettencourt, who is looking to card a few more this week.

Winner: Bubba Watson.

Here's a little secret that Bubba told me (and 58,000 or so Twitter followers): Last week in Scottsdale, he set a new course record at not one, but two separate tracks on back-to-back days. While many of the competitors are coming in cold, Watson is already warmed up and looking for win No. 2 of his burgeoning career.

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