The PGA Tour’s 2023 season may be over but there are still some attractive viewing events before the calendar flips.
It starts this week’s Hero World Challenge. What some call a hit-and-giggle, this post-Thanksgiving event is run by the Tiger Woods Foundation with a limited field of just 20 invitees. The golfers who show up will be guaranteed four rounds of action while being awarded OWGR points, as well. I’m sure that sits well with all of the LIV Golf members.
While the stakes are relatively low this week, this event does provide a chance for the game’s best to compete against each other and stay sharp over the holiday break.
The Hero World Challenge is played at Albany in the Bahamas.
This Ernie Els design was opened in 2010 and looks kind of like a create-a-course you might find in a video game. The fairways are perfectly manicured and well-watered to create a visually appealing barrier of lush green grass surrounded by white-sand native areas with desert vegetation.
With tricky bunkers and terrain that is exposed to coastal winds, you could describe it as linksy at times but with bermudagrass turf and water hazards on five holes, you certainly wouldn’t call it a true links course by any means.
Those coastal winds did whip last year with the field averaging close to the par of 72 over the first two rounds (72.05) while the five-year field average still sits at 70.04 so this resort course is very feastable in calmer conditions.
The bermudagrass greens are just 4,500 square feet on average (small) and run faster in speed than most coastal venues we see on the Tour schedule.
There are five par 3s on the course but also five par 5s. The latter provides plenty of birdie and eagle looks while the par 3s keep the golfers focused and provide momentum-killing opportunities. Mother Nature is the only true defense for these pros, though. Without a steady breeze, anything in the 70s is considered a disappointing round at Albany.
With the importance of driving the ball combined with coastal winds and the importance of par-5 scoring, courses like Augusta National, TPC Scottsdale, Muirfield Village, Torrey Pines, Quail Hollow, and TPC Sawgrass show up as possible comp courses. Scottsdale is the one that passes the eye test given they are both desert tracks with lush green fairways, both heavily rewarding good drivers.
Golfers to Watch
While the hints were certainly there in recent months, it is still a surprise to see him playing competitive golf these days. Woods has made five starts since his latest return stint in 2022 with finishes of T-45 or worse in all of those starts (two WDs). There are only 20 golfers in the field, so he’s guaranteed something better than that at Albany, as long as he’s able to walk all four rounds. Tiger fans always hope to see that old spark ignite but in reality anything better than last place this week should be considered a positive. The oddsmakers agree with him priced at +8000 to win with the next closest golfer, Lucas Glover, sitting at +5500.
He’s the back-to-back champ at Albany and also arrives with wins in two of his last four worldwide starts. He “settled” for a fifth-place and runner-up finish in the other two starts. You could argue that he’s the best golfer in the world right now, depending on how much you want to weigh recent results. Add it all up and it’s easy to see why he’s opened as the betting favorite this week (+400).
He’s been dormant since the Ryder Cup, fully taking advantage of the new “offseason”. While that leaves a question mark in the recent form bucket, it would be foolish to expect too much rust in his game. Scheffler had three fall starts before last year’s event but had this to say about his prep before the event, “I’m definitely not showing up to finish 20th or whatever it is. I’ve been practicing. I like to practice.”
The young Texan shut it down last fall with herniated discs but was able to return in early 2023. That didn’t last long as he underwent microdiscectomy surgery in early April. There isn’t a very good track record of golfers returning from this without losing a step but most golfers haven’t undergone the surgery at such a young age. Perhaps he’ll be the shining example of what is possible if you attack the problem early. Just staying competitive for 72 holes this week should be considered a win for Zalatoris and anything else is just extra icing on the cake at this point in his recovery process.
He has a boom-or-bust relationship with Albany in the Bahamas. Spieth twirled top-6 finishes in his first three trips but in his last three visits he has finished 15th or worse. While the field averages around 70 here at Albany, Spieth has signed for 72 or worse in 8 of his last 12 Hero rounds.
Ranking the Field
1. Scottie Scheffler
2. Viktor Hovland
3. Collin Morikawa
4. Max Homa
5. Matt Fitzpatrick
6. Rickie Fowler
7. Wyndham Clark
8. Sam Burns
9. Brian Harman
10. Justin Thomas
11. Cameron Young
12. Tony Finau
13. Keegan Bradley
14. Justin Rose
15. Jordan Spieth
16. Sepp Straka
17. Jason Day
18. Will Zalatoris
19. Lucas Glover
20. Tiger Woods