We are in The Bahamas this week, as Tiger Woods and his foundation play host at the Hero World Challenge. An unofficial event, there are no FedEx Cup Points up for grabs this week, but the prize money and the bragging rights make it an intriguing event all the same.
A field of just 18, made up of; 11 top-ranked players, the defending champion, four more PGA Tour event winners and two invites, this is a top-class field. This year’s invites were extended to Gary Woodland and Keegan Bradley, as both returned to the winners’ circle this year.
Rickie Fowler was victorious here last year, as he shot a final-round 61 to overcome the four-stroke lead Charley Hoffman held after 54-holes. In three starts here, Fowler has never finished outside the top-3 (3-3-1) and is a combined 52-under-par in that span.
The Course and what it will take to win here
The Albany, 7,400 Yards, Par 72
This course, which was designed by South African legend, Ernie Els has only been open for five years, taking over hosting duties for this event back in 2015.
It is a unique design in the sense that it has five par-3’s and five par-5’s, which is unusual for a Par 72, as they normally features four of each.
Whilst the PGA Tour do not track stats for this event, it appears obvious that performing well on the Par 5’s is a must, as the players will face five a round and you will also want to at least protect your score on the same number of par-3’s.
Looking at the winners at this course, all three rank highly, as a rule in Par 5 Scoring Average, with Bubba Watson and Hideki Matsuyama both ending the 2015 and 2017 season’s atop that category respectively. Whilst not quite as strong, Fowler has ranked T24, T11 and T13 in the last three seasons so can score on the long holes, especially at a course that suits.
The course is susceptible to a bit of wind, so we could see some errant shots as the players hit their approaches into the greens, so good play around the greens (Scrambling, SG: Around-the-Green) would of be beneficial also.
You do not need to look too far as it is, given it’s only an 18-man field, however to narrow it down it is probably best to look at those with a hot hand.
When Bubba won here in 2015, he’d finished 3rd on his last start in Japan, and also had three more top-3’s and two more top-10’s amongst his last 10 starts. Reed who finished 2nd behind him had also finished inside the top-10 in his last five straight events.
Matsuyama had won three times and finished 2nd on his last four starts, whilst runner-up Henrik Stenson was coming in off the back of three straight top-9’s as well as a win and two more top-7’s within his last ten starts. Fowler had two 2nd’s in his last three starts, and a further two top-9’s within the last nine, and whilst Hoffman who he beat to the post wasn’t in exhilarating form, he had finished 2nd and 3rd within his last ten starts.
Simply put, with the amount of birdies required here, this is arguably not the place to find form but to keep it going, so expect a winner to come from those playing at a high level of late.
Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose vye for favouritism at 8/1 this week and rightly so. Johnson is one of the most prolific winner, aside from Tiger in this field, whilst Rose won on his last start and finished in the top-8 in each of his five starts before that.
After his loss to Phil Mickelson at the $9m winner-takes-all “The Match”, Tiger Woods will be hoping that a four-round competition brings out some better play in him this week. No one made more birdies than Woods here in 2016, but too many mistakes, due to rustiness meant he finished way down the leaderboard. Middle of the pack last year, he will be hoping to improve again this week.
No one plays the course better than defending champion, Rickie Fowler, whilst Justin Thomas will certainly be expected to better his 11th place finish on debut 12 months ago, and they both join Woods in the betting at 10/1.
Patrick Reed 20/1 (Betfred 4 places 1/5 odds) 1.5pts e/w:
I think Patrick Reed, as he fairly often is, has been underrated in this market. In an 18-man field, there are only a select few at 20/1 and bigger, and to me Reed shouldn’t be one of them.
Whilst he was disappointing last time out in Hong Kong (T40), Reed has just posted T2 and T7 finishes at the DP World Tour Championship and WGC HSBC Champions events respectively.
Since winning the Masters, Reed has only twice finished inside the top-10 twice on the PGA Tour, once when 4th at the U.S Open and also when 8th at the Wells Fargo on his start after winning at Augusta. This may be what’s counting against him, but we know how tough life is as a Masters champion, and that shouldn’t bother him here.
In his three starts here, Reed has finished 2nd, 10th and most recently 5th and is a combined 41-under-par in the process, so he likes the course.
His 22-under-par score in 2015 would have won the last two renewals and if the weather is calm this week he will surely have a chance to go low again.
At 20/1 I think he represents plenty of value.
Bubba Watson 30/1 (SkyBet and UniBet 4 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Another player who divides opinion, and is paired with Reed for the first two rounds this week is Bubba Watson.
2017 was a down year for the two-time Masters champion, but he has bounced back with aplomb in 2018 with three victories, and he can cap off the year with a fourth win this week.
In two starts at Albany, Bubba has won once and finished 6th on his title defence. A third-round 75 put to bed any chances of defending in 2016, but his second-round 63 was the lowest score of the week and highlights his ability to play well here.
With 20 par-5’s to feast on throughout the week, the course plays to Watson’s strengths and as such he looks a big price to play well for a third time in this event.
This will be Bubba’s first start since finishing 29th at the 30-man Tour Championship, but it was only two starts before that, that he finished T7 at the Dell Technologies Championship.
Picking him goes against the grain in terms of selecting a hot hand, but he’s the sort of player that can find form on any given week, especially at a course he clearly enjoys. We know full well he’s a player who repeats performances on his favourite tracks, so again, like Reed he looks underestimated in the market.
Of the 17 other players in this field only Woods (80) and Johnson (19) can boast more than Watson’s 12 PGA Tour victories, so he should be respected in a limited field, especially when playing a course he’s won at before.
Total points staked this week: 5
Profit/Loss for 2018: -75