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2023 Hero World Challenge: And Then a Hero Comes Along ...
Let's just get into this ... Tiger Woods is returning to competitive golf this week at the Hero World Challenge. The Albany Club has hosted the last seven editions of Tiger's invitational tournament. Set just outside Adelaide Village on the southwest corner of Nassau Island in the Bahamas, this exclusive golf community is the perfect location for Tiger to make his fifth return from major injury. The par 72 layout covers 7,449 yards of flat terrain. Expectations are optimistic out of the Woods camp. Reports from Read The Line sources have Tiger walking and practicing more than his last return from the car accident. Even the Tuesday press conference was extremely positive!
I spent five years (1998-2003) working at Isleworth Country Club in Windermere, Florida. During that time Tiger lived in the community and practiced there. Seeing his work ethic firsthand, and knowing his network, I am optimistic we can get a "competitive" version of Woods five to six times per year outside of the December events. Albany is a perfect spot to come back for a couple reasons.
- The scorecard has five par 5s and five par 3s.
- The course is flat and not difficult to walk.
- There is a limited field of 20 players.
- It is difficult to get there. Media, fans, etc. will all be limited.
The average winning score over all the Albany HWCs is 19 under par. Last year, the weather kicked in on Sunday and Viktor Hovland defended his 2021 victory with a 16 under par total. Every other edition at Albany has taken 18 or more under par to win. Five par 5s and two drivable par 4s will create endless scoring chances. We have six of the top 10 and 16 of the top 30 in the OWGR. Tiger's professional network of competitive friends is elite. Detractors can say he's missing Rahm, DJ, Brooks, etc. but the fact is there are some tremendous golfers in the field.
Scoring expectations at Albany are derived from the weather forecast. Temperatures look fantastic resting in the low 80s all four rounds. There is a very slight chance of rain every day, but I don't believe we will see anything significant. The wind is predicted to blow in the mid-teens. Gusts may get to 20, but if the forecast stays the same, we will be looking at a 20 under par winning score. The biggest test the wind presents will be the direction. It will be coming from the east and southeast. Due to the course layout, 15 holes will play with a crosswind. Small greens can be difficult to hit when the ball starts moving sideways.
Fourteen of the 18 holes have a birdie rate over 15%. Those five par 5s and two drivable par 4s have an average birdie rate of 43%. Only three holes have a bogey rate over 15%, so pack your best BoB%. All the players will be coming in very rested. Even those who competed a couple weeks ago in Sea Island have not played much fall golf. Only eight players in the field have competed since the Ryder Cup. Do I believe those players have an edge? No, in fact I see this stand-alone event as one where the creme just rises to the top.
The bookmakers agree with me after seeing the odds. Four players have outright odds under +1000 (10-1). That hasn't happened since the event moved to Albany. In seven starts in the Bahamas, the average winner's pre-tournament odds are +1300. Does that mean Lucas Glover won't win? Yes. Only one winner at Albany had odds greater than +3000 (30-1). Fact is that ball striking and so many scoring chances favors the best current T2G players. Can Viktor win for the third year in a row? Coming off a second place in Dubai it seems very likely, but let's cover that question in detail down in the outrights section.
2023 Hero World Challenge: Into the Grain
The common outright themes we hear this week will cover Bermudagrass putting, par 5 scoring and birdie or better percentage (BoB%). All of them are required to create a contender, but they won't necessarily give you an extra edge enough to win. Hovland and Scottie Scheffler have finished 1-2 in the last two Hero World Challenges because they are the best ball strikers in the field. Each of them is incredibly accurate off the tee and on long approach shots. Follow that up with an elite scoring short game and you have the complete recipe for winning.
Albany has 50 acres of fairway. Miss the green Bermudagrass and you are in the sand. Keeping it in-between the dunes is priority number one. No surprise, Scheffler and Hovland are the best drivers in the field again, but there are others. Strokes gained off the tee combines length and accuracy. One thing to note, just because you are fifteenth in this field for SG:OTT doesn't mean you are a bad driver. There are ONLY 20 players here and they are all really good. Keep that in mind as you read and listen to content this week.
Much like The RSM, the true scoring shots come from long range. Approaches from over 200-250 yards will determine our Sunday few. Second shots into five par 5s, the driver on two reachable par 4s, and a couple of long par 3s. You will still need to wedge it close on the rest, but long iron play will always help you differentiate. Ludvig won the RSM for many reasons; he ranked first in approaches over 200 yards, favor those players again. Past champions at Albany such as Rahm and Stenson also validate this skill selection.
Average green size at Albany is 4,500 sq/ft. A little below TOUR average, these greens will be tough to hit with all of the crosswinds the field will face. A common coverage theme we will hear over and over again will be the challenge of chipping into the grain on Bermudagrass. A couple years ago, it cost Sam Burns the tournament. Around the green acumen will help you score. Hovland's improved short game is another reason why he's the favorite. Hideki won here and he is an incredible pitcher of the golf ball. You can't win a green jacket without that trait.
Included in our outright predictive research is par 5 scoring and Bermudagrass putting. Certain players dominate par 5s and we will need those. Twenty-eight percent of the holes played this week will be 5s and our winner will need to be approximately 15 under par on them. Since all of the top 30 in the OWGR are great BoB% players, these complimentary skills like Bermudagrass putting become so important.
Going through all of these skills sure sounds like a Tiger resume. At the height of his power, he killed the field(s) with par 5 scoring, long iron accuracy, and an incredible short game. I've heard very good reports from Florida on his health. Don't go crazy, I'm not saying he'll play a bunch of times this year, but all signs point toward a competitive Woods in the near future on the right course(s). I do not think he can win, but can he beat half the field on one leg? If you know Woods, then you're aware of the drive he possesses. A flat course with optimum scoring conditions is a perfect return scenario.
The last trait I considered this week is the vacation factor. Who has something to prove in the Bahamas, and who is there on a boondoggle. Our list is hungry. Full of players who want to win every time they tee it up. The hungrier the better and these three names are starving to close the year with another million-dollar trophy in the bank.
2023 Hero World Challenge: Outright Winners
Justin Thomas (+1600)
If there's a guy below the very top of the betting board who can take down Scheffler and Hovland, it is Thomas. Since August, JT has three straight top 12 finishes. The reason for his resurgence Thomas's approach game is back. Justin is also putting much better. The two-time major champion has gained in three straight events with the flat stick and finished top-5 in his last three starts at Albany. The ball striking is back, and the short game will lead to scoring.
Wyndham Clark (+2500)
It can be difficult to find value in a limited field event predicting outright winners. Clark has proven he belongs on an elite stage with his performance(s) in 2023. He started the season with five top 10 finishes before winning in Charlotte. Then he built on that signature victory and won the US Open. Clark qualified for the Ryder Cup team and finished third at the Tour Championship. His power fits the par 5 scoring, excellent on Bermudagrass with the putter, and his edge is around the green acumen. What better way to end a career year than with another win.
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