Hero World Challenge
So we have one more event to take a look at before the Christmas break, The Hero World Challenge.
The Hero World Challenge was first played in 2000 and with the exception of last year when it made way due to the rejigged schedule following the hiatus for Covid-19 the event has been a staple on the calendar every year since.
The event benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.
In its first year the event was played at the Grayhawk Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was then held from 2001 through to 2013 at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks in California.
In 2014 the event was held at Isleworth G&CC in Windermere, Florida, before finally arriving at its current home at Albany, New Providence in the Bahamas in 2015.
For the earlier editions the field was made up of sixteen players however in 2008 it increased to eighteen players, this year we see another increase with 20 of the world’s best on display.
This is made up in principle of the top eleven available players from the World Rankings, the defending champion and the holders of the four major championships with the final number completed by special exemptions.
In practice of course at this time of year not all eligible players choose to participate, meaning that you see players from further down the rankings make the field.
At the time of writing the market is marginally headed up by Collin Morikawa who arrives here fresh from his Race to Dubai triumph, he is then followed by Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and Justin Thomas.
Albany is a par 72 measuring just over 7300yds.
The greens are TiffEagle Bermuda.
The course was designed by Ernie Els.
The course is a links style course situated on the oceanfront featuring five par 5s, five Par 3s and eight Par 4s.
As you would expect allowing for its location the courses main defence is the wind.
The main thing I felt worth looking at here was how important a recent competitive start was for previous winners of this event.
The answer would appear to be that it’s pretty important. This can be seen from the following list of winners going back to 2010.
2019 Stenson – 44th & 17th two and three weeks before.
2018 Rahm – Finished 4th two weeks before.
2017 Fowler – Finished 3rd three weeks before.
2016 Matsuyama – Finished 6th the week before [In World Cup].
2015 Watson - Finished 3rd three weeks before.
2014 Spieth – Won the week before.
2013 Z Johnson – Finished 16th four weeks before.
2012 G McDowell – Finished 52nd two weeks before.
2011 Woods – Played Presidents Cup two weeks before.
2010 G McDowell – Finished 13th the week before.
As you can see from this list only one of these last eight winners had not played competitive golf in the previous three weeks whilst they had all played in the previous four weeks.
It is also worth noting that if we put Tiger to one side for a second [as he is obviously a law to himself] only G Mac in 2012 and the 2019 winner Henrik Stenson had not finished in the top 16 in that previous start, both of these two though had excellent previous course form at the relevant tracks with McDowell having won the event two years prior in 2010 and Stenson having finished second and fourth in Albany in two of his three previous visits here prior to winning.
All of the other winners over this period were coming in with positive recent form.
From a winning score point of view we have had four editions of the event now at Albany and we have seen the winning scores range from -18 to – 25 in 2016 from Bubba.
The winning scores are of course dictated here by the wind, however as we can see from these numbers unless it really blows the course is basically set up as an end of season birdie fest.
The days leading up to tournament play and all four days of the tournament itself look set fair with temperatures staying in the high 70s to low 80s all week.
Wind, which is the courses main defence, does not look to be a huge issue with nothing much over 10mph called for all week.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with two players this week as follows;
RORY MCILROY –15/2 – 3.5pts win. - FINISHED 18th
There is obviously a fair bit of speculation this week as to who will turn up with their game head on and who will be in end of year chill out mode in the Bahamas, however there are two things I am looking for this week in a players recent profile to help navigate our way through this conundrum.
Firstly as noted earlier a clear pattern has emerged in this event over recent years whereby the winner here has had a recent properly competitive run out, with only one of the last nine champions in the event not having teed it up in the three weeks prior, with the odd one out Zach Johnson having played four weeks before.
Furthermore only two of these winners here had not finished in the top 16 in that previous start.
To whittle things down further and the other key component here for me is who will be the most motivated and have a point to prove. For example one obvious player to look at from a ‘competitive sharpness’ point of view is Collin Morikawa however my suspicion is that he will be firmly in ‘end of season’ mode having been enjoying the fruits of his success in Dubai.
From the flip side of the coin though one player who will be desperate to make amends for Dubai and finish the year on a positive note is Rory McIlroy and it is the Northern Irishman I will start with this week.
McIlroy was last seen, sort of in public, ripping his shirt in frustration after failing to close out the Dubai World Tour Championship and furthermore tumbling down the leaderboard to sixth place after a really sloppy finish.
More frustration then for McIlroy in what has no doubt been a largely frustrating year for him on the course however we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that even with the numerous close calls and sloppy mistakes he has found time to post two wins on the PGA Tour in high profile events.
The second of these victories, which came recently at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas is the win that interests me most here is it came straight on the back of the bitter disappointment of the Ryder Cup, which clearly affected Rory badly.
On that occasion McIlroy showed that he was able to channel the frustrations of that bad week and use it to positive effect and I am anticipating a similar response this week. Let’s also not forget that for three days in Dubai he produced some really solid stuff, which when added to the win in his previous start means there’s plenty of good golf in Rory at the moment. In addition of course that sixth place finish in Dubai gives us the recent high finish and competitive outing we are looking for in our selections.
The only slight negative is that Rory will be making his competitive debut at Albany this week however with five par fives to go at and conditions set to be relatively calm, which should favour aggressive play and low scoring, I would expect Rory to take to the challenge.
Like I said at the outset there is always going to be a fair bit of speculation in an event like this, however McIlroy ticks all the boxes I am looking for this week and I am keen to side with him.
PATRICK REED – 35/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 5 - FINISHED 3rd
Second up this week and for our final selection of 2021 I am going to take a chance with Patrick Reed.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first of all, which is Reed’s recent form, which sees him arrive here on a run of 56 61 and most recently a 32nd place in Dubai, therefore while he has the recent competitive starts we are looking for he does not have a big finish last time out.
It is worth noting though that it is not all doom and gloom for Reed on the recent form front as in his start prior that run of three more disappointing efforts he finished runner up in Bermuda, so the good stuff isn’t too far away.
As I noted earlier in the preview though two players have triumphed in this event over the years, Stenson and McDowell, who had not produced the goods in their previous outing, and both of these players had excellent previous course form at the relevant track and that is where things get interesting with regards to Reed, who as an ever present in the event since it moved to Albany, has form figures over those five visits of 3 11 5 10 2.
With Patrick’s great form here we don’t have to speculate over his potential suitability to the course however as I have noted in the past in relation to this event I do see some similarities course characteristics wise to both Kapalua and Doral, venues, both of, which Reed has triumphed at over the years.
Returning to Reed’s recent form and one other fact that makes me happy to overlook his mini downturn is that we have seen clearly from him over the years that if the track suits him he can find his form and post a victory following straight on from a bad result or two. This can be seen from his last two wins, firstly at Torrey Pines earlier this year when he triumphed straight after a MC in the American Express and then the previous year in Mexico when he won the week after finishing 51st at the Genesis.
With five each way places on offer in a field of 20 Patrick’s track record here sticks out like a sore thumb allowing for the odds on offer and I am more than happy to wrap up a successful 2021 by rolling the dice with him.