The wait is over! Tiger is set to return this week for a home game at the Hero World Challenge, an unofficial money event that hosts 18 of the world’s best down in The Bahamas.
While the event won’t pad anyone’s FedExCup totals, golfers will receive OWGR points, which is nice for someone like Tiger who has been out of action for so long. Just by playing in an event with this field strength, he will take a nice leap up the rankings, not that OWGR matters all that much. If he returns to any resemblance of his old self he will easily soar up those rankings.
Other than Tiger, golfers like Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Adam Scott, and Ernie Els have also bought homes in the area. Only Rose and Tiger are in the field this week. Ernie Els is notable still, since his design company is responsible for the creation of this week’s host course.
The course, Albany, is a par 72 that stretches out to 7,309 yards. It’s a desert-links mix that almost looks like a video game creation. A very unique look in terms of mixing desert landscape, fescue, and extremely green grass.
The course is also unique in terms of course layout. First, there is no rough. If you miss the fairways then you’re hitting from the native area. Unlike the traditional par 72, there are actually five par 5s in addition to five par 3s. There are a few Euro Tour events that feature a similar setup, but I can’t think of any regular PGA TOUR stops that have that kind of hole orientation.
With five par 5s, that means plenty of scoring chances. Last year’s winner Hideki Matsuyama racked up 22 birdies and a pair of eagles en route to an 18-under 270 aggregate. He played the par 5s at 15-under on the week, without a single blemish on those lengthy holes. Clearly, it’s no walk in the park as he also swallowed four bogeys and a pair of doubles on the rest of the course.
Being right near the coast, even the slightest breeze could potentially cause trouble on this wide-open layout. As you can tell from the picture above (click for bigger picture), there are sand dunes and shrubbery/fescue but not many trees to protect from the wind.
Players to Watch
Jordan Spieth… Finished 6th here last year as he couldn’t avoid the big numbers (three doubles). Is arriving fresh from Australia where he snuck inside the top 10 despite showing a lot of rust on the greens. Spieth said he struck the ball great (better than his previous trips to Australia) but lost boatload of strokes on the greens. Sound like an easy fix for one of the world’s best putters. The Spring Break Crew is no stranger to golf in The Bahamas. Would not be shocking to see some kind of Spieth-Thomas-Fowler combination on the podium this week.
Brooks Koepka… Arrives with a WIN and RUNNER-UP in his last two worldwide starts, JUST LIKE LAST YEAR. He turned that into a mediocre T13 here, but I think he improves upon that this week. A big fan of links golf and a true beast on the par 5s.
Tiger Woods… The Tiger hype machine is clicking on all cylinders, especially after the Faxon Fake News spread about Tiger outdriving DJ on half the holes in their recent match with Donny Trump. Last year Tiger racked up 24 birdies here but also swallowed SIX DOUBLES. Playing in a semi-home-game this week, Tiger has the comfort factor. He also has way more motivation to succeed than the rest of the field who is just using this to pick up a nice Christmas bonus.
Justin Rose … The other “local” in the field, Rose is flying in straight from Hong Kong. He joked on social media that he should walk in the door around 4:45 a.m. Monday to be ready for an 8:00 a.m. range session. Despite the local knowledge he’s mustered up a 13th place and a WD. Last year he was still milking an injury so the WD can be ignored. Just added an Asian Tour event to his December schedule, so there is no burnout (yet) for the Englishman.
Tommy Fleetwood … Arrives with a lot of good play on his CV the past few months. Now he’ll take on a links layout which should be right up his alley. Have him ranked inside the top 10 in Euro Tour links performance over the last three years. Getting married in two weeks so will his attention be pulled elsewhere this week? That’s the fun/difficultly in handicapping golf. A win would certainly cap off a stellar year for the Race to Dubai champ.
Henrik Stenson… With such a small field, there is no reason to risk WD given his recent injury. Actually, I lied, if it’s midweek and it looks like no one will own Stenson on DraftKings then he’s worth a look. Would be 5th in my ranks if there were no injury concerns.
My Top 18 for the 2018 Hero World Challenge
1. Jordan Spieth
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Justin Rose
4. Brooks Koepka
5. Justin Thomas
6. Hideki Matsuyama
7. Rickie Fowler
8. Matt Kuchar
9. Tommy Fleetwood
10. Francesco Molinari
11. Patrick Reed
12. Tiger Woods
13. Alex Noren
14. Henrik Stenson
15. Daniel Berger
16. Kevin Chappell
17. Kevin Kisner
18. Charley Hoffman