Hyundai experts' picks

January, 4, 2012
01/04/12
3:16
PM ET

Welcome to the 2012 PGA Tour season, golf fans. And with it comes the return of ESPN.com's prognostication. Each week of the season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories below: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows this track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who can take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: The Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua's Plantation Course in Hawaii.

ESPN.com senior golf writer Michael Collins

Horse for the Course: Rory Sabbatini
He's been in Maui since just before Christmas so the climate and wind will not affect him in the least. He's played well at this course in the past including the last time he played here in 2010 where he shot a final-round 63 and almost caught Geoff Ogilvy.

Birdie Buster: Steve Stricker
Coming off a year with two wins and a season where he went 19-for-19 in cuts made, Stricker looks to continue in 2012 what 2011 brought for him -- 15 top-25s. Captain consistency should again have a solid start to the year at a place he has had success in past. (He was tied for the lead last year to start the final round and also lost in a playoff to Daniel Chopra in 2008)

Super Sleeper: Sean O'Hair
From West Chester, Pa., O'Hair has had a hungry offseason because of the failures of his favorite sports teams (Phillies and Eagles). Other than a freak snow on Oct. 29, 2011, he has been able to get in some work on his game. He comes into the week as the guy who might be the most well rested in the field and that will pay off huge on the hardest course to walk on tour.

Winner: Bubba Watson
Expect the bombing left hander to destroy the course on his second go round. Last year after finishing tied for 25th, he now has the "local" knowledge of the subtle breaks on the greens and severe elevation changes of the course. And his ability to shape the ball both directions means he can play the wind to his desire which will be a key factor in winning this week.


ESPN.com senior golf writer Farrell Evans

Horse for the Course: Jonathan Byrd
Last year at Kapalua, five players finished the tournament 20 under par or better. Byrd, who beat Robert Garrigus in a playoff, only had three bogeys all week on the par-73 Plantation course. With five PGA Tour wins, the 33-year-old Columbia, S.C., native is compiling a quiet, but nice, career.

Birdie Buster: Ben Crane
If this former Oregon Duck never wins another PGA Tour event, he has a career as an actor and comedian after his funny performances last year in a couple of made-for-YouTube videos. But after a win at the McGladrey Classic in October, he's poised to carry that good play into the new season and, for now, continue his pro golf career.

Super Sleeper: Harrison Frazar
There wasn't a more surprising winner in 2011 than the 40-year-old Texan. It took him 355 starts to finally win a PGA Tour event, when he beat Robert Karlsson on the third extra hole at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June. He played poorly before and after his win at Memphis, which was his only top-10 finish of the year.

Winner: Webb Simpson
Perhaps only Luke Donald was better in 2011 than the 26-year-old Raleigh, N.C., native. Last year, Simpson went from average to great, amassing 12 top-10s, including two wins. His game has reached the level where he expects to be on the leaderboard at every tournament he enters. In the 28-man field at Kapalua, he'll have fewer players than normal to beat, which will make it easier for him to demonstrate how much better he is right now than the vast majority of PGA Tour players.


ESPN.com senior golf writer Bob Harig

Horse for the Course: Steve Stricker
The only player in the field who has been at Kapalua three times in the past four years, and all of them were top-10 finishes.

Birdie Buster: Bubba Watson
That 58 he shot on his home course in Arizona last week can't be a bad thing going into the first tournament of the year.

Super Sleeper: Michael Bradley
After winning the Puerto Rico Open in March, Bradley missed seven cuts in 17 tournaments and never finished better than 20th. This is a great chance to get off to a good start.

Winner: Gary Woodland
Those wide, sweeping fairways at Kapalua should suit Woodland beautifully. The long hitter should thrive there.


ESPN.com senior golf editor Kevin Maguire

Horse for the Course: Jonathan Byrd
Well, it has to be Byrd, doesn't it? No other player in the 28-man field has ever won at Kapalua. And he just won the event in 2011 on the par-73 track (36-37).

Birdie Buster: Nick Watney
Coming off a 2-win season that saw him double his career victory total, Watney has broken par in all eight career rounds at Kapalua.

Super Sleeper: Aaron Baddeley
Hard to pick sleepers in a field full of winners, but at least Badds' victory came nearly a year ago at the Northern Trust Open. And it helps that his fellow Aussies own this event, having claimed it five of the past eight years.

Winner: Bubba Watson
Kapalua's four par-5s were the four easiest holes last year, and the bomber Watson should feast on them. Oh, and it helps that he was tied for second in 2011 for eagle percentage on par-5s.

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