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Hero World Challenge Preview

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The PGA TOUR pops back into the frame to squeeze in one more event before the new year.

This week’s field is capped at just 20 golfers who are guaranteed four rounds of action and at least a couple OWGR points for their effort. Last year’s winner, Viktor Hovland, scooped up 48 OWGR points last year while last-place finisher, Jordan Spieth, grabbed 2.4 points for his showing.

The Course

The host venue this week is Albany, an Ernie Els design that was established in 2010.

Albany is unique as a desert-links style setup that almost looks like a video game creation.

The scorecard shows a par 72 that stretches out past 7,400 yards.

The course is unique in the hole-by-hole layout as there are five par 3s and five par 5s. It’s a good balance as the abundance of par 3s puts an emphasis on smart and steady iron play while the par 5s often reward the elite drivers. On top of that, a pair of driveable par 4s also put a premium on controlling your metals/woods.

Off the tee, golfers will see generous landing areas but plenty of sand and other trouble (bushes) waiting to gobble up errant tee balls. Water is in play on five holes.

For turf, this coastal course features wall-to-wall bermudagrass that can be very tricky at times, particularly around the greens.

Looking at the scoring environment, the weather dictates how low they can go at Albany. Bubba Watson won the 2015 edition at 25-under but the other five Albany champs have finished at 18-under or 20-under. That’s probably tougher than you might expect for a resort course with five par 5s but that goes to show how the plethora of par 3s and a few tough par 4s help offer a good scoring balance.

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Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let’s try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Bill Haas: “I think it fits everyone’s eye. I don’t think there’s a player out here that’s going to say this course doesn’t suit me. I think a guy like Bubba, I played with him today, him being long is certainly an advantage. It’s an advantage every week. But I also think a guy like me and Zach Johnson can do well and that’s the mark of a good golf course.”

Bubba Watson: “I’ve heard about the golf course over the last few years before I got here and I heard about the design was very difficult because of the wind and the small greens. So when I saw it for the first time in the pro-am, I was like, man, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to play very good around here. But then like I said, the wind, the putter got a little hotter and it worked out.”

Justin Rose “The fact that the greens are soft, that’s the only thing keeping scoring low. If the greens were firm, then the scoring would be really tough.”

Wind and small greens are the course’s main defense.

Correlated Courses

Using historical data we can look at overperformance and underperformance at this week’s host course and compare that to all of the courses played out on TOUR. Here are the ones that shared a lot of overlap:

Quail Hollow
Torrey Pines
TPC Scottsdale
TPC Boston
Augusta National

When you look at crossover success you see all venues where confidence with the driver is a must.

The Weather

Thursday: Sunny with a high of 82 degrees. Winds at 15 MPH.

Friday: Light rain possible with a high of 82 degrees. Winds at 20+ MPH.

They say wind is the course’s main defense and it looks like Mother Nature will be doing her best to protect par this week. There is lots of wind forecasted throughout the entire week.

Golfers to Watch

Tony Finau
I spent the early part of his career fading him on courses with bermudagrass and that worked out pretty well. Not even the grainy grass can slow him down lately as he has wins in three of his last seven starts including one in Houston (on bermudagrass). He’s currently 11th in the OWGR but if he can maintain this current pace then a new personal-best ranking is definitely in the cards (currently 9th is his best OWGR spot).

Tommy Fleetwood
He recently snapped his winless slump with a title at the Nedbank, a DP World Tour event. Now he heads to Bahamas to take on a links-like layout with windy conditions expected. That sounds like a pretty good spot to keep on riding the hot hand.

Tiger Woods
It will be a tough blow for ratings but the tournament host backed out of the event on Monday afternoon, citing plantar fasciitis. He’s supposed to play two other exhibitions in the coming weeks and says he still plans to play those events. We won’t see him this week, though. He was replaced by Sepp Straka who has shown a lot of upside on courses with bermudagrass.

Max Homa
If you are a big believer in the Nappy Factor (a boost in performance after becoming a dad) then Homa should be on the radar this week. His game is so well-rounded that he should have no trouble getting acclimated to a new course. The wildcard will be whether or not he’s kept sharp in the last few weeks or if he’s had his full attention on changing diapers.

Collin Morikawa
Sticking with the narratives, Morikawa is arriving fresh as a newlywed. He had a “down year” by his lofty standards but with all of the wedding planning stress out of the equation, could he be ready to regain that lost form? He will be seeking revenge on Albany after losing a massive 54-hole lead here last year to settle for fifth place.

Ranking the Field

1. Jon Rahm
2. Xander Schauffele
3. Scottie Scheffler
4. Matt Fitzpatrick
5. Justin Thomas
6. Max Homa
7. Viktor Hovland
8. Tom Kim
9. Sungjae Im
10. Shane Lowry
11. Tommy Fleetwood
12. Tony Finau
13. Jordan Spieth
14. Cameron Young
15. Sam Burns
16. Collin Morikawa
17. Billy Horschel
18. Corey Conners
19. Kevin Kisner
20. Sepp Straka