When I woke up and turned the highlights of the World Cup on on Sunday morning I saw Japan were -4 through 7 holes and just 3 shots behind Denmark. Stupidly I got a little excited but it was short lived as it soon became evident that Matsuyama was back to his old self on the putting greens and missing everything in sight. With the closing format being better ball, birdies were the order of the day and as the Japanese team’s dried up they were easily overtaken by several hot teams and they couldn’t even hold on for a Top 4 finish.
Another losing week leaves the totals looking like this;
Total points advised = 861.50
Total pts returned = 834.50
ROI = – 3.25 %
Given that this week sees the competitive return of the G.O.A.T at his own foundation’s event, it would be very easy to join the Tiger Woods circus and focus this week’s preview on the great man himself. So that’s exactly what I have done.
By Thursday morning 466 days will have passed since Tiger last played competitive golf at the Wyndham Championship, where he put 4 solid rounds together to finish in T10th place. The golfing landscape is a very different one to which he left but don’t be fooled into thinking it is one that won’t be improved by his presence. That’s not to say golf needs him as many in the media will no doubt try and claim this week but it would be nothing short of disrespectful, not to mention plain wrong, to claim his return isn’t a welcome one. During Woods’ career he single-handedly changed the modern golf game and while fans and journalists alike are spoiled by the number of world class athletes in the game now, most of them have Woods to thank for their massively inflated bank balances. You could argue that along with Michael Jordan in the years before him, they changed what being a modern sportsman is all about and they took being an elite sports star to another level.
Opinion is split on just what level Woods will get back to but where it really shouldn’t be split is the level that people hope he gets to. He is currently four majors shy of Nicklaus’ total of 18 and three PGA Tour wins shy of Sneed’s 82 and while this will be his first tournament back I would expect us to have a better idea of what might be possible come Sunday. I hope to see him put four decent rounds together this week, not finish a distant last and then hopefully push on in the New Year. There is no question that world golf is in a very healthy position right now but having a competitive Tiger Woods back on Tour would be the cherry on top of what already looks to be a very exciting 2017. Let’s hope that is the case.
As for the tournament itself, well the Hero World Challenge is a Tiger Woods Foundation benefit tournament and always used to be held at Sherwood Country Club until 2014 when it moved to Isleworth Golf and Country Club. It moved again last year as the 18-man elite field found themselves in the Bahamas on a new course in Albany. Last year we were going in a little blind with Ernie Els having only designed the course in 2010 and it had never hosted a professional tournament before. While there are no stats readily available for the 2015 leaderboard, we can still hopefully take a few pointers. There are also a number of pros that are members of the course and own a house on the resort but that didn’t appear to help Justin Rose last year as he struggled.
It looks a tournament where current form will be the most important factor this week as well as trying to work out whose game might be suited to the test. As we would expect with an 18 man field the odds are all very short so value will be a little tougher to find. Last year’s first two home had both been playing well with Bubba having finished 3rd last time out and Patrick Reed was on a run of 7th-2nd-10th. Although played on a different course we see the same with previous winners. In 2014 Spieth had just won the Australian Open the week before and Stenson (2nd) had scooped the DP World Championship two weeks prior. In 2013 Zach Johnson was having a very good season with Top 10s in the Open and PGA preceding a win during the Fed Ex Series at the BMW Championship and 3pts out of 4 at the Presidents Cup. Tiger Woods finished runner-up to him and he was back at World No. 1 and finishing up a year which included 5 PGA Tour wins. In 2012 Graeme McDowell had gone 12th -2nd -5th -11th in that season’s majors and 2nd placed Bradley had won the WGC Bridgestone and won 3pts on his Ryder Cup debut just weeks earlier. The World Challenge isn’t a tournament for turning around a bad year.
The course is long (7400 yards) and the fairways are very wide with no rough to speak of at all. Instead the fairways are surrounded by lush white bunkers that resemble the sort of waste areas we have seen recently at Whistling Straits, Chambers Bay and Dove Mountain. The flat, wide and winding fairways also resemble Lake Malaren a little to me which along with Dove Mountain are Jack Nicklaus designs and Albany certainly has that second shot course appearance that you associate with Nicklaus courses. For the extremely errant off the tee there are some tall grasses growing in these waste areas but they appear to be another 10-15 yards back into the sand. The greens are quite well protected but are not too undulating and they are of a decent size so plenty birdies will be made as long as greens are hit and Bubba Watson’s winning score of -26 last year is testament to that. I’d expect more of the same this year so looking at current form and particularly recent GIR and birdie average numbers will be pertinent.
Additionally some players still have motivation in December but many of these will be treating this as the start of their Christmas holiday period with a nice family jaunt to The Bahamas. Previous evidence of still being motivated at this time of year and in particular this tournament will be a big plus in Albany this week.
Brooks Koepka maybe isn’t the best of prices in the Bahamas but he fits the profile of a World Challenge winner perfectly. While he hasn’t managed a PGA Tour win this year he has done everything but. The big hitting American has had two runner-up finishes and another six top 10s. Despite being forced to miss the Open through injury he will still look back on a very good year in the majors as he finished 21st at the Masters, 13th at the US Open and 4th at the US PGA.
He also made his Ryder Cup debut 2 months ago and he won 3 points out of 4 to help the US team to a comfortable victory. This helped him to fly out of the blocks in the 2017 wraparound season and he very nearly won the Shriners but again had to settle for 2nd place. Throughout his relatively short career he has shown a willingness to travel to improve his game. Coming through both the Challenge Tour and the European Tour he has shown himself to be able to play on all sorts of courses in all kinds of conditions. This was evident again when he travelled to Japan three weeks ago to take part in the Dunlop Phoenix Open. He finally got his 2016 win in what was actually a reasonably strong field for the Japanese Tour. His winning score in Miyazaki was -21 and that has been the norm with his professional wins as they have come at -16, -27, -24, -18, -21, -17 and -15. That ties in nicely with Bubba’s winning score of -26 at the Albany course last year so his game should be suited by the low scoring nature of the course. That was the case last year as Koepka himself got to -18 to finish in 7th place and with him playing as well as anyone in the field I think he has a good chance of winning this on his second look.
Koepka has also performed well on the two tracks that are visually similar as he finished T18th at Chambers Bay and then T5th at Whistling Straits. He currently ranks 18th in GIR from 175-200 yards and 10th in proximity to the hole from 200-225 yards and that long iron game together with his power off the tee is why he plays long courses like Albany so well. He also sits 27th in birdie average so we know the putter is behaving again after turning a little cold earlier in the year.
It’s an extremely strong field but I think he will have more motivation than most as he aims to lay a marker down for the 2017 season and with a strong year in the majors, a winning Ryder Cup debut, brilliant recent form as well as some course form, I think he looks the man to beat this year.
I have had a quick look at the tournaments in both South Africa and Australia but they are both dominated by their home favourites and they both look very hard to oppose. So instead for an interest I’m having as solid a looking double as you will find in golf on Charl Schwartzel and Adam Scott at around 16/1.
Summary of bets
Hero World Challenge
Brooks Koepka – 2pts ew @ 12/1
Charl Schwartzel (Alfred Dunhill) + Adam Scott (Australia PGA) – 2pts win double at 16.5/1
Weekly points advised – 6pts
Overall pts advised – 867.50 pts