Hero World Challenge in Bahamas host 20 of Golf’s Best Players

Hero World Challenge in Bahamas host 20 of Golf’s Best Players

Wednesday, December 1st, 2021

Tiger Woods Remerges to Host Hero World Challenge in Bahamas With 20 of Golf’s Best Players

After nothing but silence following a February car crash that caused severe injuries to Tiger Woods’ leg, the 15-time major winner is back in the spotlight this week, as he hosts the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas for what amounts to an all-star event that benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Because of the small field, the Hero World Challenge doesn’t give FedEx Cup points or official money for the PGA Tour, but it does count toward the Official World Golf Rankings (OGWR). The winner receives a $1 million prize.

The event began in 2000, when it was held in both January and December, and was contested in December every year after that until 2020, when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The field typically is consisted of 18 golfers—the most-recent winners of the four majors, the top-11 available golfers from the OWGR, the defending tournament champion, and two sponsor exemptions.

For the Hero World Challenge, the field is up to 20 since eight majors have been contested since the last event. In addition, the winner of The Players Championship has been added along with an additional sponsor exemption.

Henrik Stenson is the defending champion, having won in 2019 by one stroke over Jon Rahm, who won in 2018. Other winners since the event moved to Albany in 2015 include Bubba Watson, Hideki Matsuyama, and Rickie Fowler. It should come as no surprise that Woods holds the record for most wins in this event with five—his latest coming in 2011 at Sherwood. Davis Love III and Graeme McDowell are the only other multiple-time winners of this event, having won twice each.

Tiger Woods Update

While Woods stopped short of explaining exactly what led to the car accident in February, he did say that there was a 50-50 chance that part of his leg would have to be amputated. He’s walking now and hitting golf balls, but he said his full-time playing days are over

Instead, Woods will focus on playing in limited high-profile events. That could include the 150th edition of The Open Championship at St. Andrews next July.

“Physically, I hope I can,” Wood said. “I’ve got to get there first.”

Woods said he’s looking forward to playing host this week and interacting with his fellow golfers. He will be 46 next month, so his progress will be an interesting story to follow in 2022.

About the Course

Albany Golf Course was designed by Ernie Els and is a links-style layout despite being on an island in the Bahamas. Weather looks to be mostly dry and winds will be mild for all four days, meaning the winning score will likely be around 18-under par. It’s a par-72, 7,309-yard layout. Rahm won here at -20 in 2018, while the other three winners at Albany posted a score of -18.

The course features plenty of variety, as there are five par-5 and five par-3 holes. The ninth hole is a 603-yard par five that features sand on the left side of the fairway and water to the right of the narrow fairway. The final par 5, the 15th, is reachable in two, providing birdie (or better) opportunities. The 16th is the No. 1 handicap hole, a par-four 485 yarder that plays uphill all the way. Hole 17 is a par-3 but has a well-protected green, and even a shot that hits short and left of the hole could roll into the water. The 18th is also a par four that has water down one side of the fairway and sand down the other, and the green is well-protected by rough, sand, and water, so two accurate shots are needed here to reach in regulation.

Morikawa and McIlroy Set to Resume Their Rivalry

The top-two favorites here are Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy. The first two times that they have played since the Ryder Cup have resulted in a win for each—McIlroy outdueled Morikawa in winning the PGA Tour’s CJ Cup in Las Vegas in October, while Morikawa steamrolled past McIlroy to win the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai two weeks ago. That win made Morikawa, the defending champion of The Open, the first American to win that event in Dubai along with the season-long Race to Dubai, crowning him champion of the European Tour for 2021.

Morikawa, a 24-year-old phenom that is reminiscent of Woods’ rise in the late 90s, comes in at +700, having already won five times on the tour (including two majors) and has four runner-up finishes as well.

McIlroy, who said that he took time off after the Ryder Cup to refocus his game after a 2021 that largely saw him struggle (based on his usual standards), has appeared to right himself, winning the CJ Cup and leading after three rounds in Dubai before faltering on Sunday with a 74. McIlroy comes into this event with a chip on his shoulder after that final round in Dubai left him incredibly frustrated, as he ripped his shirt in disgust during that round.

Inexperience on the course could be factor, as it’s the first time these two have played Albany, but both have had success on links-style courses, as Morikawa won The Open last year and McIlroy won the Claret Jug in 2014. 

Other Favorites

Five golfers essentially have the same odds after the top two. That fivesome is led by Justin Thomas, who won The Players Championship last year and has been on a nice run since August, coming in fourth at The Northern Trust and Tour Championship, followed by a win in the Ryder Cup and a third in his most-recent tournament, the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba. Thomas also played this course in 2019, finishing tied for fifth at 13-under par.

The last time we saw Viktor Hovland, he defeated Thomas and the rest of the field at Mayakoba by winning that event for the second-straight year. In all, he has four wins over the past 21 months. He hasn’t played since that event, so he comes in well-rested despite not having played Albany before. The Norwegian is currently ranked ninth in the OWGR and is fifth in the FedEx Cup standings after the fall portion of the 2021-22 season.

Bryson DeChambeau is among three golfers at +1100, and one must wonder what his mindset is after falling 4-and-3 to Brooks Koepka at the made-for-TV “The Match” tournament the day after Thanksgiving in Las Vegas. Even though there are five par-5s here, the course doesn’t suit his big-hitting ability tremendously well, as there are narrow fairways and other features that don’t straight-up reward mashers. He finished 15th here in 2019 at -3, so on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much value to this bet.

Jordan Spieth, also at +1100, is a bit of a mystery. He finished 16th here in 2019 but has since had a resurgence in his game. He won for the first time in four years in 2021, had three top-five finishes in the span of a month from February to March, was third at the Masters, and second at The Open Championship. His only competitive rounds since the Ryder Cup win yielded an 18th-place finish at the CJ Cup. He also won this event in 2014 and had three more top-five finishes from 2015-17. This is also Spieth’s first tournament since becoming a father, so he will be a bit of a sentimental favorite.

The other golfer at +1100 is Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele. He has two top-10 finishes in his last two rounds at Albany, so that experience bodes well for the American who thrives in limited-field, no-cut tournaments such at this. In addition to the Olympic triumph, three of his four wins on the PGA Tour have come in limited-field events, including the Tour Championship in 2017.

Two of the top performers on the fall swing of this FedEx Cup season are next at +1500—Sam Burns and Scottie Scheffler. Since the OWGR were used on Sept. 6 for this event, Burns just barely made the field, but since then, he’s up to 18th in the OWGR after a win and two other top-seven finishes in four starts this fall, putting him second in the current FedEx Cup standings. He won the Sanderson Farms Championship and followed that up with a 14th at the Shriners Children’s Open and a fifth the following weekend at the CJ Cup. His most-recent effort was a seventh three weeks ago at the Houston Open. Even with the star-studded field, Burns ranks high in the field in all three phases of the game—seventh in Strokes Gained: Approach, fifth Off-the-Tee, and fourth in Putting over his last 24 rounds.

Scheffler has done everything but win this fall. He was the only non-winner on the PGA Tour to play on the U.S. Ryder Cup team and contributed to the win. He then had back-to-back top-four finishes last month at Mayakoba and Houston; also, he actually led going into the final round in Houston after shooting a 62 on Saturday, but carded a 69 on Sunday to finish tied for runner-up. He was the betting favorite at The RSM Classic two weeks ago in Georgia, but he finished 3-under to end up tied for 57th.

Long Shots

It’s hard to draw the line of demarcation for longshots when there’s 20 elite golfers in the field, but there are some gems in here if you look closely. We start with Brooks Koepka at +2000. Koepka is making his first appearance here since finishing last in 2017, and he’s coming off back-to-back missed cuts in the four events he played in this fall, posting a best finish of 38th at the CJ Cup. While those aren’t impressive numbers, Koepka was recovering from wrist surgery, and he showed his competitive fire in beating down rival DeChambeau in “The Match” last week in Las Vegas, winning the match-play event 4-and-3. That confidence could propel Koepka to a solid performance here, and he seems to play best when the world’s best golfers are gathered—four of his eight PGA Tour wins have come in majors.

Justin Rose at +2800 is definitely worth a look. The Englishman who takes up residence in the Bahamas has finished third and has two fifth-place ties in his last three starts in Albany, and while he isn’t the dominant golfer that he was from 2017-19, the 10-time winner on the PGA Tour showed some of his old form by coming in seventh at the Masters, eighth at the PGA Championship, and 10th at the Wyndham Championship. He finished sixth at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on the European Tour and then came in 12th two weeks ago at The RSM Classic. Rose, who ranks 47th in the OWGR, is familiar with the surroundings and a win would be great for him heading into 2022, so while other golfers are there to enjoy a vacation, expect Rose to be taking this opportunity to rise in the world rankings seriously.

Speaking of competitive, Patrick Reed is ultra-competitive and comes here with the second-longest odds at +3000 despite having two top-three finishes in five events here, including a runner-up finish in 2015. He and Rose are the only golfers to compete in all five events held at Albany. Reed came back from a serious bout of pneumonia over the summer to compete in the Tour Championship, hoping to get a Ryder Cup berth, but that didn’t pan out. He’s made four of five cuts this season, but his only top-50 finish was a second-place effort at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, where he carded a 65 in the final round to vault him up the leaderboard. While his game has been inconsistent, his solid results here and his competitive nature makes him worth a look at those long odds.

Finally, the longest odds in the field ironically belong to the defending champion. Henrik Stenson won here in 2019 but his game has struggled mightily since, and he’s at +5000 to repeat. He was 26th in the OWGR rankings after his win here two years ago and now stands 182nd. Stenson, now 45, missed the cut in his two PGA Tour events this fall. He did have a nice three-week stretch in August and September on the European Tour, logging two top-five finishes at the Czech Masters and the European Masters and followed that up with a 15th at the Italian Open, but it would be nothing more than a flyer at those long odds to expect Stenson to be in contention here.

Charities

The TGR Foundation, established in 1996 by Woods and his late father Earl, is the charitable benefactor of this event. In fact, when Woods competed in this event, he donated all of his winnings to the foundation. The charity creates and supports community-based programs that improve the health, education, and welfare of children all over the United States, with a focus on underprivileged minority children. The foundation has served more than 175,000 students and employed 1,000 educators each year, and students have a 98.7% college graduation rate.

Hero World Challenge Top Odds

There’s more at stake here for Morikawa besides another high-profile victory. If he does win at Albany, he will pass Jon Rahm for first place in the OWGR. If he is able to record the feat, he will be the second-fastest player in the history of the sport to reach the top of the rankings, just behind Tiger Woods, who you can bet will be watching with a close eye on Sunday.

Based on McIlroy’s reaction to losing in Dubai two weeks ago, expect the Northern Irishman to be chomping at the bit to get back on the course, as he will want to put that poor round on Sunday behind him as quick as possible.

Two mid-range players that we like are Schauffele and Burns. We talked about Schauffele’s penchant for winning limited-field, no-cut events, and this one is right up his alley. Outside of Morikawa and McIlroy, Burns is playing the best golf in the field, but it’s been a bit under the radar, as the fall portion of the PGA Tour usually doesn’t garner as many headlines as it does at other times of the year. But Burns can break-out here with a win and has the talent to do so.

Golf betting odds to win the Hero World Challenge courtesy of Jazzsports

GOLFERODDS TO WIN THE 2021 HERO WORLD CHALLENGE
Collin Morikawa+700
Rory McIlroy+750
Justin Thomas+1000
Viktor Hovland+1000
Bryson DeChambeau+1100
Jordan Spieth+1100
Xander Schauffele+1100
Sam Burns+1500
Scottie Scheffler+1500
Daniel Berger+1800
Abraham Ancer / Tony Finau+1800

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