Hero World Challenge: Player-by-player guide

Brooks Koepka can rack up another win
Brooks Koepka can rack up another win

Dave Tindall assesses the 18-man field, including the returning Tiger Woods, at this week's event in the Bahamas...

"With a win (Japan) and a second (WGC-HSBC in China) in his last two starts, Koepka is in cruise control mode and, although his price has been nibbled at, I'm happy to take 9/1."

Main Bet: Back Brooks Koepka @ 9/1

Each-way terms: 1/5 odds, 5 places

Jordan Spieth - 11/2

Spieth admitted he was rusty after a long lay-off heading into last week's Australian Open and it showed as he shook it off gradually to go from T29 after R1 to T8 at the finish. Uncharacteristic poor putting (couldn't get pace of the greens) stopped him finishing nearer. A 10-shot win at Isleworth in this event in 2015 is proof that he can thrive at this time of year when sharp although fourth and sixth in his two starts at Albany are sort of okay but not what punters backing him at these sort of prices really wanted. Hasn't won since Royal Birkdale although he's twice finished runner-up in that period.

Justin Thomas - 11/2

Likes a win in a limited field event as shown by his 2017 successes at the CIMB (2016 as well), SBS Tournament of Champions, Dell Technologies and, most recently, the CJ Cup in South Korea. Many thought he'd be running on fumes in that latter event but he got over the line again and winning has become a habit. After a month off, he should be ready to go again and Albany, with its five par fives, should suit him. A win on his first look at the course is very much on the cards.

Dustin Johnson - 6/1

A massive 17 shots behind winner Bubba Watson in 2015 but third last year after opening with a pair of 66s to top the standings at halfway. Also the 54-hole leader on his last start at the WGC-HSBC Champions before capitulating with a final-round 77 to slip to T2. So which DJ will turn up this time - the winning machine of early 2017 or the flawed version which has spluttered since his Masters fall? For now, I'd probably lean towards the latter despite his potential to gorge on those par fives.

Rickie Fowler - 8/1

There's lots to like about Fowler this week - although his price was exactly twice as big last year and that knowledge is hard to shake off. Course form-wise he's finished third in both his starts at Albany and he'll be comfortable with the windy conditions that are forecast. He also made an excellent return from a break when finishing runner-up at the OHL Classic in Mexico earlier this month, shooting an opening 65 and three 67s. Last year he was flying in from Australia after competing in the World Cup so his preparation this time is more relaxed.

Justin Rose - 9/1

Tommy Fleetwood won the year-long Race to Dubai but Rose was the European Tour's hot hand down the closing stretch after winning the WGC-HSBC Champions in China and the Turkish Airlines Open before going close again when T4 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. A T10 in last week's Hong Kong Open means, remarkably, he hasn't been outside the top 10 in his last eight worldwide starts. He withdrew from this event last year after an opening 74 and although T13 in 2015 looks modest he closed with a blistering 62 so can clearly score on this course. He also owns a property in the area so has an added layer of comfort.

Brooks Koepka - 9/1

When golf's elite gather, Koepka raises his game and the evidence keeps piling up. He scored a brilliant victory in the U.S. Open, made the top six in the Open Championship, was T13 in the US PGA, posted 18-12-6 in the final three FedEx Cup play-off events and was runner-up in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. Since that second place, Koepka has also popped over to Japan to defend his Dunlop Phoenix Tournament title, an event also won by Tiger, David Duval, Tom Watson and Lee Westwood amongst others. Two starts at Albany show 7th on debut in 2015 and 13th last year.

Hideki Matsuyama - 12/1

Matsuyama also returned home to play the Dunlop Phoenix and managed fifth place, just as he did at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia two starts earlier. That's all good but isn't near the all-conquering form that he was displaying when winning this event by two shots last year. Starting with a victory at the Japan Open, Matsuayama went 1-2-1-1-1-2. His win at Albany was the third of those four wins. A near-last 17th here in 2015 suggests current form did play a huge part in that triumph rather than any particular love of the course.

Henrik Stenson - 14/1

Matsuyama was seven clear after 54 holes in last year's event and eight in front at one point but it was Stenson who went closest to reeling him in after cutting the gap to two after 16. At the time, Stenson was still basking in the afterglow of his Open win so it was no surprise to see him come through and finish runner-up on his Albany debut. His ball-striking has been excellent in recent events and he finished second at the WGC-HSBC Champions at the end of October but T51 and T35 either side highlight some modest putting. The windy weather forecast will aid his bid of course but a recent rib injury has to go in the negative ledger.

Daniel Berger - 18/1

Berger had a hot-streak in the summer when winning the St. Jude Classic and backing that up with second at the Travelers and fifth in the John Deere Classic. Since then? Nothing better than T15 in nine starts and that was in the 30-man field at the Tour Championship. It's his course debut too so it's hard to put him higher in the pecking order than the majority of his rivals this week.

Patrick Reed - 18/1

The American has played in both editions of this event at Albany, finishing runner-up (by three shots) to Bubba Watson after shooting 22-under in 2015 and settling for 10th last year. He's also kept his game ticking over with a couple of starts in November and followed a disappointing MC in the OHL Classic with T10 in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai (4th Putting Average). One added ingredient this week is that his wife is due to have their second baby mid-tournament and it's unclear if he would withdraw.

Matt Kuchar - 20/1

It's going to be a windy links-type test this week so Kuchar must enter calculations given his near-miss at Royal Birkdale and top four at the Scottish Open prior to that. He's had four top 10s since his Open heartbreak although he's looked a little off the pace in recent starts with T31 in the WGC-HSBC Champions and T29 in the RSM Classic. He's done well in this event before and one of his three top fours came at Albany last year, a big improvement on his 14th spot in 2015.

Kevin Kisner - 22/1

On current form, Kisner could be a decent each-way punt and several agree with his price trimmed from an opening 25/1. That's due to his last two starts which show a top three in the Tour Championship and fourth in the RSM Classic a couple of weeks ago. Also T7 in the US PGA where he threatened a big title challenge, the negative is that Albany debutant Kisner will have to do everything incredibly well to compete with all the big hitters here.

Francesco Molinari - 25/1

Another of the Albany first-timers this week, Molinari arrives doing what he does best, hitting lots of greens. He pelted over 90% of them when T17 at the DP World Tour Championship and also scrambled well there too. Is he a great fit for the course? Initial thoughts are 'probably not' but he does have a second (Scottish Open) and a 10th (Irish Open) on windy links and also recent knowledge that he can take on the best after finishing runner-up in the US PGA.

Tommy Fleetwood - 25/1

The market may just be underestimating Fleetwood here. He's the new European No.1 and topped the greens in regulation stats when enjoying that new status with a tied sixth place in last week's Hong Kong Open. We've seen him hold his own in the very best fields this season (2nd WGC-Mexico Championship, T4 US Open) and this course could be a good one for him given his links background. His brain could be a little fried given that this is his sixth start in a row but, on the other hand, a relaxing week in the Bahamas could be ideal.

Alexander Noren - 28/1

It would have been interesting to see how well Noren would have performed in this event last year when he was in a spell of incredible form. As it is, he's way down the betting due to the calibre of his rivals and a rather flat end to 2017 which showed MC-38-31-12-45 in his final five tournaments. Although he's a former Scottish Open winner and battled away to post T6 in this summer's Open, it's hard to make a strong case for him.

Tiger Woods - 30/1

Tiger's incredible list of wins includes five of them in this event although none came at Albany. He was returning here last year after 470 days off and wowed us briefly with a second-round 65. He also racked up 24 birdies on the week but perhaps a bigger insight was his tally of six double bogeys. The bottom line was that Tiger finished 15th. Despite all the positive videos and reports we've seen about him in the build-up this time, you'd have to say it would be a massive surprise if he can suddenly rock up and make a challenge. A more realistic goal for some (not me) could be a top 10 for which he's 13/10. Great to have him back though.

Charley Hoffman - 33/1

As with Noren, he's an Albany debutant with current form that doesn't really look strong enough even though we know he can play well in windy conditions. Hoffman had three top threes in five starts from June to August but it's been slim pickings since and a very recent thermometer check reveals that he's broken 70 just once in his last 11 rounds. That sluggish play led to a missed cut in Mexico's OHL Classic last time.

Kevin Chappell - 33/1

Priced at longer odds than a bloke who hasn't teed it up since February. That suggests we quickly pass him over but it could be a bit of a harsh assessment on Chappell, who has two top 20s in his last four starts so is hardly out of a form in a season which has brought him a first PGA Tour win. That win came in windy Texas but it's difficult to see him making enough putts to keep up with the pace on this course.


Conclusion

He won his four Challenge Tour titles with -16, -23, -24 and -18. He won the US Open with an unheard of -16. He won the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan a couple of weeks ago with 20-under.

Brooks Koepka loves a low one and he jumps off the page here.

With a win (Japan) and a second (WGC-HSBC in China) in his last two starts, he's in cruise control mode and, although his price has been nibbled at, I'm happy to take 9/1.

I'll also have an each-way play on European No.1 Tommy Fleetwood at 25/1.

He's kept the engine running over the last few months and, as he's a young man on a high, I'll back him to keep the good times going rather than presume he'll be suffering burnout.

A top six in Hong Kong last week suggests he's not mentally signed off for Christmas just yet and he may just have one more huge week left in him.


Recommended Bets

Back Brooks Koepka e.w. @ 9/1
Back Tommy Fleetwood e.w. @ 25/1


Dave's 2017/18 PGA Tour P/L (based on £5 e/w per selection outrights, £10 win top 5s/10s)

Staked: £200
Returned: £675
P/L: +£475

(After the RSM Classic)

2016/2017:
P/L: +£1179.89

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