In the final semi-official event of the 2023 year, 20 of the world’s best players head to the Bahamas for the Hero World Challenge, a tournament hosted by Tiger Woods. Despite its limited field, the event is still recognized by the Official World Golf Rankings, and while no prize money will be awarded, the tournament will benefit the Tiger Woods foundation.
Speaking of Woods, the 15-time major winner’s return to competitive golf will dominate the headlines this week, but the field of 20 also includes two-time defending champion, Viktor Hovland, back-to-back runner-up finisher, Scottie Scheffler, as well as two other of 2023’s major winners in Brian Harman and Wyndham Clark, and recent Ryder Cup competitors Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Sam Burns, Max Homa, Collin Morikawa, Matt Fitzpatrick, Sepp Straka, and Justin Rose.
All eyes will still be on Woods, who we have not seen since his 45th place finish at the Genesis Invitational in February. The laid-back environment and relatively flat topography of Albany should work in Woods’ favor, but the major question remains of whether his body can still hold up for four days of competitive golf.
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Hero World Challenge: Course Preview
Albany Golf Course
Albany Golf Course was designed in 2010 by four-time major winner, Ernie Els, and as is the case with most coastal courses, the track’s greatest defense is the wind. Players are usually treated to benign conditions, and we have seen winning scorers north of 16-under par in all six editions since the move to Albany. Still, two years ago, the wind kicked up on Sunday and we experienced multiple ejections and a relatively entertaining Sunday for a tournament that does not typically breed the most competitive environment. Last year, the wind was more of a consistent issue for players throughout the tournament, and it played over a stroke and a half harder than it did in 2021.
The Ernie Els design features wide fairways, barely any rough, and a fair amount of sandy waste areas. Players will be forced to chip off firm Bermuda grass, and Els did a nice job with some of the green complexes and utilization of collection areas. When it gets windy, the course can really firm up, and there's enough trouble with the tight lies and sandy waste areas where players will be forced to answer questions that they can normally avoid at most run-of-the-mill birdie-fests.
The course itself a non-traditional par 72 with five par threes, eight par fours, and five par fives. All five of the par threes play over 180 yards and average around even par. They all rank inside the top nine in scoring average. The 14th is a drivable four that plays as the second-easiest hole on the course, but other than that, the par fours provide a stout test. Four par 4s measure between 470 and 490 yards and play as three of the four toughest holes on the course. The quintet of par fives is what really drives the scoring average down, however. All five play over a quarter stroke under par, and the par-five 15th plays closer to a long par four than a short par five, with a birdie or eagle percentage north of 60%.
On paper, Albany provides a wealth of scoring opportunities. Most pros destroy any course with four par fives. The fact that Albany has five should tell you everything there is to know about the opportunities they will have this week. Still, be sure to keep an eye on the weather this week, as wind conditions will play a massive role in determining the outcome of this tournament.
Port Royal Key Stats
- Strokes Gained Putting: Bermuda-grass
- Birdies or Better Gained
- Proximity 175-200 yards
Hero World Challenge: Outright Picks
Justin Thomas (+1600) (Bet $100 to collect $1700) Head to DraftKings for the best Justin Thomas odds
No question about it, Justin Thomas’ 2023 was mired in disappointment. Yet since the end of the official FedEx Cup season, the two-time major winner appears to have turned the corner. Thomas finished fifth at the Fortinet Championship in September, gaining five strokes on approach, put together a winning record at the Ryder Cup, and is coming off a fourth place finish earlier this month at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. The return to form has been mainly a result of the flat-stick, the most ailing part of his game over the last calendar year.
Thomas has now gained over three strokes putting in his last three recorded starts however, and the iron play appears to be headed back in the right direction as well. The 30-year-old’s close relationship to Tiger Woods is no secret, and it would certainly be meaningful for Thomas to finally secure a victory at the Hero in front of his trusted friend and mentor. He’s been very close in the past, recording three top-five finishes at this event in a row. The Hero presents an excellent opportunity for the 14-time PGA Tour winner to end a disappointing campaign on a positive note.
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