Despite being a limited, 18-man field, this is one of the most eagerly anticipated tournaments for one very good reason. Tiger Woods will tee it up competitively for the first time in 15 months, here at the Hero World Challenge. The event, will be hosted by the Albany development in the Bahamas as it was last year.
What can we realistically expect from Tiger Woods?
There is keen intrigue around Tiger, as to whether he is fit and how his rebuilt swing will stand up this week. After such a long lay-off, it seems highly unlikely he can win. Many, like myself just want to see him play some steady injury-free golf. If he can finish near the middle of the pack this week, that can be considered a success. Woods can then build on his week here and set his sights on a competitive 2017. Videos have emerged of him hitting a 350-yard drive, which bodes well given the nature of his past injuries.
For those of you that care, and may not have seen, Tiger’s equipment for the week has been confirmed. He will use Taylormade Woods (M2 Driver), Nike Irons, a Scotty Cameron Putter and a Bridgestone ball.
The rest of the field
Between all the excitement about Tiger Woods, it is important to remember there are 17 other players this week. Five players in the top-10 of the OWGR are playing this week, so it is clearly a strong field.
Jordan Spieth who won two weeks ago tees it up here, alongside World No.3, Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama who has won three events in seven weeks. Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson, also members of the top-10 club join them.
Albany, 7,400 yards, Par 72
This course has five par-5’s and five par-3’s in what is an unusual setup for a Par 72. With this in mind, those with a length advantage here could rip this course apart if the weather stays calm.
Designed by Ernie Els, the course claims to “combine the best of links and desert features with windswept dunes and numerous scenic and strategically challenging water features.” The only word that didn’t particularly ring true last year was, challenging.
Four players shot -20 or better here, Bubba Watson of course winning with a score of -25. Given that this links-style course is next to the ocean, there is a chance the wind could make this slightly more challenging this time around. If the weather is like last year however, look for that -25 winning score to be match or surpassed this week.
Due to the limited field, I have just one selection this week.
Rickie Fowler 16/1 (General)
He’s hardly a big price, given his up and down form this year, but I really like his chances this week.
Whilst many won’t like the fact he has travelled from Australia to the Bahamas to be here, it hasn’t bothered Jordan Spieth thus far. Spieth has twice come straight from the Australian Open to this event, winning both events in 2014. In 2015 he finished T2 in the Australian Open and T4 here, so he clearly copes with the trip. This doesn’t automatically mean Fowler will cope as well, but it shows it can be done.
Fowler finished 3rd here last year and 6th on his last stroke-play event, the WGC-HSBC Champions. Last week he teamed up with Jimmy Walker to represent USA in the World Cup of Golf. The pair finished T2, four shots adrift of winners, Denmark. Considering how out of sorts the pair have looked individually at times this year, they played very well in Melbourne.
He showed last year he can play the course, whilst I also have no concerns if the wind does pick up. We have seen multiple times in the past, notably at the Open Championship that Fowler can cope in windy conditions.
Despite winning in Abu Dhabi in January and going close again at the Phoenix Open a month later, 2016 has been disappointing for Fowler. For a lot of players, a season which includes a win would be enough, but not for Fowler. After three worldwide wins in 2015, he would have expected a lot more.
Fowler’s form has been trending in the right direction and I can see that continuing this week. This would be a great time and place for Fowler to win, ending 2016 in style and in turn building huge momentum going into 2017.