Recap of the day
It was a breezy day in The Bahamas and the tee times followed suit. There were no slow-play issues in this limited, 18-man field. Each pairing slid right through in less than four hours. It probably felt a lot longer for Tony Finau who swallowed a 7-over 79. On the flip side, more than half the field (10) was able to record a red number today with seven golfers carding a sub-70 round. As you'll see with the trends below, it hasn't always been a blessing to roar out of the gate in this event.
Thursday weather forecast
Partly cloudy with a high of 77 degrees. The wind is forecasted to be much calmer on day two. Look for Moving Day to come a round early this week because tomorrow looks like the best chance to fire a low round.
Leaders at 18 holes
Gary Woodland (66) – He cited accuracy off the tee as a reason for his ability to score today. Growing up in windy conditions in Kansas, today was probably suited to him more than most in the field. His only bogeys came at the par-3 2nd and par-5 9th which played as the second and third-hardest holes on the course today, relative to par.
Patrick Reed (66) – He's gained at least three strokes over the field average in 5-of-16 rounds played at Albany and that will move to 6-of-17 after today (+5.22 SG Total today). Four of his seven birdies came on the par 5s so he really did stay patient today and let the birdies come to him. Similar to Woodland, Reed is no stranger to practicing in the wind as he sets up shop in Texas.
Fate of the favorites
Jon Rahm (70) – A ho-hum round that had him flirting with the lead for the first 11 holes but the birdies stalled out and he finished with six pars and a bogey. This round certainly keeps him in the hunt but he'll need a real low round to become the favorite again.
Justin Thomas (69) – A busy scorecard with six birdies and three bogeys. Got some good luck on errant drives but then got a horrendous lie in the bunker at the 17th (bogey). He's finished outside the top 10 in both trips to Albany but he's on pace to change that trend after round one.
Patrick Cantlay (74) – Was bobbing and weaving along until he hit the difficult, par-4 18th. Cantlay found the water twice en route to a finishing snowman. Finishing bogey-quad is not going to make dinner taste any better.
Tiger Woods (72) – It was a rollercoaster of a round for Woods who traded three bogeys with a birdie on the outward nine before heating up three birdies and an eagle in a four-hole stretch. The highlight was a chip-in eagle at the par-5 15th. Then he faded down the stretch with a bogey at the 17th (plugged lie in the bunker) and a double at the 18th (three-putt).
Gary Woodland (66): "The wind was very tricky. There are some holes out here you just have long irons into so the golf course sets up pretty tough but fortunately, I drove the ball really well to give myself a lot of looks from the fairway which is what you got to do."
Patrick Reed (66): "The biggest thing on a day like today where it's really windy is to stay patient. You got to play from the fairway. You got to hit greens and give yourself opportunities. "
Road to victory at Albany
Notes: With a limited field, it wouldn't be the biggest surprise to find a wire-to-wire winner or players who were in the top two or three after every round. However, that isn't quite the case. Rahm wasn't in the top half of the field after 18 holes before making his surge with a second-round 63 while Fowler was only fifth after 54 holes after middle rounds of 70-72 before a stunning 61 on his closing lap. Bubba was fourth at the midpoint.
Fate of the 18-hole leaders at Albany – where did they finish?
Notes: It's overplaying the final outcomes to say leading after round one has been a bit of a course but only one of the seven players to have had a piece of the 18-hole lead has made the top four and none have finished in the top two. Considering just 18 players take part, it's a surprise that three first-round leaders have finished 11th or worse.
Focus on - The importance of current form
Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama and Bubba Watson - the four winners at Albany - all had one thing in common. Well, they probably had several but the one I'm thinking of is that they all arrived in the Bahamas in good form. In fact, to be precise, all those eventual winners had place in the top four on their previous start.
For that trend to extend to 5-for-5 at Albany, there are only four candidates with the right credentials to fit the bill.
Tiger Woods (winner at the ZOZO last time)
Jon Rahm (winner at the DP World Tour Championship last time)
Xander Schauffele (runner-up at the WGC-HSBC last time)
Webb Simpson (runner-up at the RSM Classic last time)
Admittedly, that's a juicy quarter to have batting for you.
Their scores/positions after day one:
Not the best start for this trend but it's still early.
Focus on - Presidents Cup
All but one of Tiger's Team USA are honing their games in the Bahamas this week before they make the long trip to Australia to take on the Internationals in Melbourne. The odd man out is Dustin Johnson, who said in a statement this week: "After a lot of careful thought and consultation, I have decided that it is in my best interest if I withdraw from the Hero World Challenge. While my recovery from knee surgery is complete, I feel another week of physical therapy and practice will best prepare me for the Presidents Cup. I have informed Captain [Tiger] Woods of my decision, which he fully supports and understands, and cannot wait to tee it up with him and my team-mates next week in Australia."
A reminder that, unlike the Ryder Cup in the last 25 years, the United States have absolutely dominated the Internationals, winning 10 of the 12 editions and halving another. The one defeat? That came at next week's venue, Royal Melbourne, in 1998 and was an absolute mauling as the Internationals won 20½–11½. However, the two teams did battle at the famed Aussie venue again in 2011, the US taking revenge 19-15. Four players survive from eight years ago - DJ, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson and Tiger. Of that quartet, only Simpson emerged with a winning record (3-2-0).