January 4, 2017 - 6:46pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Charles Howell III
USA Today Sports Images
Here's a look at five players -- all PGA Tour winners -- who are underrated, perhaps under-appreciated -- and who you might just see hoisting some hardware in 2017, including Charles Howell III.

Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and more. They're the stars of the PGA Tour and, understandably as well as deservingly, steal most of the headlines.

But, the Tour is pretty darned deep.

Here's a look at five players -- all PGA Tour winners -- who are underrated, perhaps under-appreciated -- and who you might just see hoisting some hardware in 2017.

Charley Hoffman
PGA Tour victories:
Career earnings/all-time ranking (through 2016): $20,917,085/57th
Notes: Known most notably for his "Hulk Hogan" flowing blonde locks until chopping them off in recent years, Hoffman deserves credit for his play on the course. He's a streaky player, but certainly not one to be overlooked. When he's in a position to win, he cashes in evidenced by his four Tour wins. From 2013-15, Hoffman collected 17 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour. He had just one in 2016... but if you're only going to have one, it was the one you want to have -- a victory in the Valero Texas Open. Expect more highlights than lowlights from Hoffman in 2017.

Sean O'Hair
PGA Tour victories:
Career earnings/all-time ranking (through 2016): $20,943,883/56th
Notes: It's almost hard to believe that O'Hair is only 34 years old. He's been around forever, it seems. He's experienced the highs and the lows and looks to be on the comeback trail now. O'Hair's breakout season came in 2009, when he won the Quail Hollow Championship and finished No. 5 in the FedExCup standings. That, it turned out, would be his last Tour Championship appearance until this past September, where he ended the 2015-16 season in 27th. Things could be looking up again for O'Hair.

Ryan Palmer
PGA Tour victories:
Career earnings/all-time ranking (through 2016): $20,949,477/55th
Notes: A three-time PGA Tour winner, Palmer has enjoyed a solid, solid career on the PGA Tour. Though he's only made two Tour Championship starts (2010 and 2014), Palmer has seven consecutive seasons in which he's made no less than $1.5 million, highlighted by his $2,924,300 in earnings in 2014 when he recorded eight top-10 finishes.

Bill Haas
PGA Tour victories:
Career earnings/all-time ranking (through 2016): $26,417,450/34th
Notes: Winning six times on the PGA Tour is no joke. But much like his father -- Jay, a 9-time Tour winner with 16 major top 10s -- the younger Haas has had a highly successful, highly under-appreciated PGA Tour career up to this point. He's a quiet gentleman who doesn't show a lot of outward emotion on the course, but has proven he can put a dagger in your heart with shots like the one he hit from the water on the 17th hole at East Lake on his way to winning the 2011 Tour Championship and FedExCup. Perhaps the reason Haas flies under the radar is because of his lack of production in the majors. In 29 major starts, Haas's lone top 10 was a T19 in the Open Championship last summer.

Charles Howell III
PGA Tour victories:
Career earnings/all-time ranking (through 2016): $31,294,095/23rd
Notes: If I told you Howell has just two victories in his PGA Tour career and hasn't won since 2007, I wouldn't blame you for calling me a liar. It seems unimaginable for a guy who has banked over $31.2 million -- inside the top-25 in career earnings -- doesn't it? Yet that's where we stand with Howell. Hard to feel bad for the guy, I know, but something's got to give in the win column, right? 

5 underrated golfers to watch out for in 2017
January 4, 2017 - 6:26pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Tiger Woods
USA Today Sports Images
Tiger Woods has committed to play in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Jan. 26-29. It will be his 2016-17 PGA Tour season debut and his first start on Tour since a T10 at the 2015 Wyndham Championship.

Back in December, Tiger Woods announced he would be teeing it up in the Genesis Open at Riviera this February.

As it turns out, that won't be his first PGA Tour start since a tie for 10th at the 2015 Wyndham Championship.

On Wednesday, Woods committed to the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Jan. 26-29.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines -- including the epic 2008 U.S. Open, his last major victory. It's one of three PGA Tour venues along with Bay Hill and Firestone, where Woods boasts eight victories, a PGA Tour record.

The recently turned 41-year-old is a 79-time PGA Tour winner (second all time) and 14-time major winner (second). His last PGA Tour victory came at the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He won five times that season.

Tiger's first competitive rounds since the 2015 Wyndham were last month in the Hero World Challenge. He played four rounds without any setbacks and finished 15th in the 17-man field. 

Tiger Woods will play Torrey Pines
January 4, 2017 - 3:31pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
USA Today Sports Images
The 663-yard, par-5 18th hole at Kapalua's Plantation Course yields some of the coolest shots you'll see on the PGA Tour all year long. We'll get to see it again this week when the SBS Tournament of Champions tees off on Thursday.

One of the wildest holes in golf will be on display this week at Kapalua's Plantation Course, home of the PGA Tour's SBS Tournament of Champions.

The hole we're talking about? The rollercoaster that is the 663-yard, par-5 18th.

This hole is, well, just awesome.

The backdrop is magnificent. As you tee it up on the final hole, you're looking out at the Pacific Ocean and the island of Molokai. It's not uncommon to see whales breaching throughout the day in that spot.

RELATED: SBS Tournament of Champions tee times/pairings | Groups to watch at Kapalua

The terrain is dramatic. If you thought the paradise that is Maui was relatively flat, you'd be wrong. The elevation changes at Kapalua can be crazy and no hole out there is more dramatic than the last. It's straight downhill and -- when caught in a downwind situation -- can lead to some of the longest drives you'll ever see.

Tiger Woods blasted a 498-yard drive on the 18th at Kapalua during the 2002 Tournament of Champions, which remains the longest drive in PGA Tour history recorded by ShotLink.

According to our friends at Golf News Net, 11 of the longest drives in PGA Tour history were hit on Kapalua's 18th hole with a remarkable 10 of those coming in 2002.

GNN also has this incredible nugget:

Kapalua's Plantation Course has given up the overwhelming number of 400-yard-plus drives in PGA Tour history. In the history of the PGA Tour's use of ShotLink, there have been 437 drives of 400 or more yards dating back to Casey Martin being the first to do it in 2001. Of those 437 drives of 400 yards or more, 233 were at the Plantation Course. Another 56 have come at Firestone Country Club's South Course, home of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Another 41 came at LaCantera Country Club, former home to the Valero Texas Open. Three courses account for 330 of the 437 400-yard-plus drives in the PGA Tour's history of using ShotLink.

Many of those 233 at the Plantation Course were on 18.

Davis Love III, who recently captained the winning 2016 Ryder Cup USA team at Hazeltine, smashed a 476-yard drive on the hole in 2004.

While watching players absolutely unload at the 18th hole is a thrill, there are other mind-blowing shots that have been struck there, most notably, this driver off the deck by Bubba Watson with his second shot in 2011:



How good was that?

In 2015, Jason Day thumped the grandstands to the right of the 18th fairway with a wayward approach and got a gift of a bounce from the golf gods that set up an up and down for birdie:



Patrick Reed has a sweet eagle on No. 18 in the opening round of the 2016 tournament thanks to this approach:



In last year's third round, Jordan Spieth nearly had a walk-off albatross, missing the hole by inches with a 3-iron from 250 yards out:



How about this 56-foot eagle putt that Robert Garrigus canned in 2011?



So, yeah, with shots like those -- more of which we're almost guaranteed to see this week -- we're pretty pumped about golf that matters on TV starting up again on Thursday.

No. 18 at Kapalua could be one of the most fun holes in golf
January 4, 2017 - 1:19pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth
USA Today Sports Images
Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth will be the marquee pairing at Kapalua this week. Both players are major winners and both have won at Kapalua.

After a month-and-a-half long layoff, the PGA Tour's 2016-17 schedule resumes this week in paradise -- the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort on the Hawaiian island of Maui -- for the SBS Tournament of Champions.

As the tournament's name indicates, criteria for eligibility of this event requires players to have won on Tour over the last 12 months.

In all, 32 players will be teeing it up this week, with world No. 1 Jason Day headlining and making his first start since having to withdraw die to back discomfort at the Tour Championship back in September.

RELATED: SBS Tournament of Champions tee times/pairings | Bubba debuts pink golf ball

Here's a look at three pairings you'll want to focus your attention on in the first two rounds of the tournament...

3. Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama. Arguably two of the best young players in the game today, both players already boast victories in the new season. Thomas was a repeat winner in October -- his first PGA Tour title defense -- at the CIMB Classic.

For his part, it's safe to say that Matsuyama is the hottest player on the planet going into Kapalua. The Japanese star enters 2017 after closing out 2016 win three consecutive victories, including the WGC-HSBC Champions and the unofficial Hero World Challenge. He's had a stretch of five tournaments with four victories. The 24-year-old, already a three-time PGA Tour winner, could be the breakout star of the new year.

2. Patrick Reed and Jason Day. Remember Patrick Reed's interview a few years back when he said he considered himself a "top-5 player in the world," and we all laughed at his brash arrogance? Though he hasn't reached top-5 status just yet, the joke could be on all of us very soon. The Ryder Cup USA hero begins 2017 as the No. 8-ranked player in the world... and his last two starts at Kapalua have resulted in a playoff win (2015) and a runner up (2016). With a strong finish to the 2015-16 Tour season and that awesome performance at Hazeltine, there's no reason to think Reed won't be a tough customer at Kapalua.

As we already mentioned, Day will be making his first start since the Tour Championship. The current world No. 1 withdrew in his last two starts on Tour back in September because of back problems. Are those behind him now? We'll see soon enough. But it's always exciting to see the Aussie in action, a player who has racked up eight wins on the PGA Tour since February of 2015.

1. Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson. These Ryder Cup USA teammates will be "THE" pairing to follow through the first two rounds at Kapalua, a course where the pair of major champions have a win apiece.

Over the last several years, both players have proven themselves to be contenders nearly every time they tee it up. That should be no different this week. Spieth enters as the fifth-ranked player in the world, while Johnson comes in at No. 3 after a career year on Tour in which he won his first major championship (the U.S. Open at Oakmont).

Kapalua is already a birdie-friendly venue. With these two, the "best ball" number will be crazy, crazy low. 

PGA Tour: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth headline marquee groups at Kapalua