HERO WORLD CHALLENGE: He’s baaaack. The golf world has been abuzz this week about the return of a certain 14-time major champion with questionable driving habits and a confirmed affinity for Perkins waitresses– yes, Tiger Woods himself will be teeing it up at the Hero World Challenge, and people can’t get enough of it.
Videos of Tiger’s swing have flooded social media throughout the week, multiple “Tiger Trackers” have reported on the man’s every shot in each one of his practice rounds, and the Golf Channel has devoted hours of each day to discussion of Tiger’s latest comeback. Reporters have chimed in with humorous fanboy anecdotes, the other guys in the field have been talking about it, and, of course, Brandel Chamblee is enjoying another moment in the sun as golf’s resident troll king.
As for how the actual golf is going to go, well… we haven’t seen Tiger on the course in 11 months and he wasn’t very good the last time we saw him. He played in this event last year, the first time he had teed it up anywhere in 18 months, and he led the field in birdies but ended up beating only two players.
The optimistic “Tiger Tracker” types will tell you that this comeback is different because of some platitudes Tiger has spit out about his back feeling better and some apparent attitude changes (imperceptible to most, mind you), and you don’t have to look hard to find people who are literally bragging about incinerating money at the altar of Tiger this week, but most realistic observers realize that this is almost an exhibition– it will be nice to see Tiger make some swings and bust out the fist pump a couple of times, but his chances of beating the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Brooks Koepka over four rounds are close to zero. He’s priced accordingly (46.0), as only Alex Noren (50.0) is currently saddled with longer odds at BETDAQ.
The Hero World Challenge has been around for nearly 20 years and this is the third consecutive year that it will be held at Albany, an exclusive Ernie Els-designed course in the Bahamas. Albany is a 7,400-yard par-72 that features five par-5s, giving the players ample scoring opportunities, and like most island courses it’s flat and exposed, so wind could be a major factor (though based on the forecast it doesn’t look like it’s going to be, at least for the first couple of rounds). Hideki Matsuyama took home the trophy last year at 18-under, but scores were a bit lower in 2015 and that year’s champion, Bubba Watson, got it all the way to 25-under. Bottom line: it’s going to take some firepower to win this thing, so we should be looking for guys who are in-form and who have been playing regularly, or at least semi-regularly.
This is an invitation only, limited-field event, and only one member of the elite 18-man field is currently ranked lower than 32nd in the world– Tiger himself, who checks in at No. 1,199.
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Dustin Johnson (7.6)- Some say this price is too short for DJ, but is it really? I’ve seen him in the same ballpark for full-field events, and this week he only has to beat 17 guys. And while some might be concerned about his mental state after blowing a 6-shot lead in the final round of last month’s HSBC Champions, I’m going in the opposite direction: Johnson shakes off disappointment as well as anyone in the world, and the fact that he had a 6-shot lead through three rounds tells me all I need to know about the state of his game. He tied for 3rd in this event last year and was leading heading into the weekend, so he obviously knows his way around Albany. I consider Johnson the favorite this week and a fair value at a price like 7.6.
Matt Kuchar (21.0)– Kuchar shook off the offseason rust two weeks ago at the RSM Classic, where he broke 70 in all four rounds and tied for 29th. That came on the heels of a nearly great week at the HSBC Champions, where Kuchar played beautiful golf for three rounds only to watch it come crumbling down with a Sunday 78. But he checks all the boxes this week– he’s been playing fairly regularly, he’s in good form, and, most importantly, he loves it at Albany, finishing 3rd in this tournament last year and shooting 25-under over his last eight competitive rounds here. He’s worth a bet at the current price.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Jordan Spieth (1.73) vs. Justin Rose (2.22)
Spieth is a fairly substantial favorite here, and you can certainly understand why some would look to back him heads-up against just about anybody. He has a mediocre record at Albany, however, never finding the top-3 in this 18-man event, and he wasn’t particularly sharp in Australia last week, breaking 70 only once in four rounds. I’ll gladly take my chances with Rose, who owns a house at Albany and has played the course countless times. Rose is coming off a 10th-place showing in Hong Kong last week. Recommendation: Rose at 2.22
Patrick Reed (1.8) vs. Francesco Molinari (2.14)
Molinari hit a hot streak over the summer and really racked up some impressive finishes, but he’s cooled off a bit, going T46, T27, T17 in his last three starts. Still solid stuff, but not the brilliant golf that he was playing a couple of months ago. Reed, meanwhile, is coming off a missed cut at the OHL Classic, but he’s only two starts removed from an 11th-place showing at the CJ Cup and, critically, he has a nice record at Albany, finishing runner-up in this tournament in 2015 and 10th last year. Molinari will be seeing the course for the first time. Recommendation: Reed at 1.8