Hero World Challenge: Finau the only fancy for The Punter in the Bahamas
The PGA Tour visits the Bahamas this week for the Hero World Challenge. Read our man's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"The fact the there are only 18 players and it’s 8/1 the field tells you all you need to know about this trappy little heat but I quite like the look of Tony Finau at an industry-wide best of 18/1 with the Sportsbook."
The Hero World Challenge was first staged at Greyhawk Golf Club in 1999. It moved to the Sherwood Country Club in California in 2000 and remained there for the next 14 years before it switched from west to east and to the Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Florida in 2014, when Jordan Spieth won by an incredible ten strokes. It moved further south to the Bahamas three years ago and we return to the Ernie Els designed Albany Course again for the fourth year in-a-row.
It's a limited invitation only event with a high-class field consisting of just 18 players.
Albany, New Province, Bahamas.
Par 72, 7,400 yards
The Ernie Els designed Albany course only opened in 2010 and it was used for a professional tournament for the first time when hosting this event three years ago.
It's a par 72 but with five par fives, five par threes and eight par fours so it's a little different from most par 72s as they usually have four long and short holes and ten par fours.
It's an exposed flat links-style course with dunes up to 30 feet tall. Here's what the designer had to say about his creation prior to the off three years ago.
"It's a very special golf course. If I were trying to paint an outline mental picture for anyone, I'd say think of a mix between maybe Royal Birkdale and the Els Club Dubai. The bunkering is another particularly strong feature and is partly inspired by one of my favourite types of golf course, the Australian sand-belt classics such as Royal Melbourne."
If you want a bit more on the course, here's the hole-by-hole guide.
Live on Sky Sports all four days - starting at 18:30 UK and Ireland time on Thursday. Coverage starts at 16:00 on Sunday.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Rickie Fowler -18
2016 - Hideki Matsuyama -18
2015 - Bubba Watson -25
2014 - Jordan Spieth -26
2013 - Zach Johnson -13 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the Hero World Challenge?
Somewhat frustratingly, they don't produce any stats for this event for some reason so we're hindered to a certain degree. However, I see by my notes that three of the first four home here three years ago - Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth - all ranked inside the top-four for Scrambling so that could be a key stat but the best stat looks like Par 5 Performance...
Last year's winner, Rickie Fowler, ended the 2018 season ranking only tied 70th for Par 5 Performance (statistically, we've already started 2019) but the 2016 winner here, Hideki Matsuyama, ended 2017 atop of the Par 5 Performance stats and the 2016 winner, Watson, ranked number one for those very same stats in 2015. With 20 par fives in play throughout the week, it stands to reason that length of the tee and great Par 5 performance stats are clear indicators.
Is There an Angle In?
As is usually the case here, we can expect a bit of wind again, especially on Saturday, but I'm not sure that helps us that much. These are the best players in the world and they can all handle breezy conditions and a better angle in might be to focus on the bang in form players...
Fowler had finished second at the OHL Classic in his previous start before winning 12 months ago, Matsuyama was winning his fourth tournament in five starts two years ago, Bubba Watson was in fine fettle, having just finished third in Japan following a decent run in the FedEx Cup, and Spieth had been red-hot when he won this in 2015.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
There were one or two reasonably long priced winners at Sherwood but the last four winners have all been very well fancied before the off. Fowler was a 10/1 chance before the off last year.
In the three editions between 2014 and 2016, the three winners were all up with pace from early on and they all won with ease. Spieth (albeit at a different venue) won by ten strokes and although Watson only won by three and Matsuyama by two, both men were further clear than that at various stages and neither ever looked like losing. We looked like getting another facile victor again last year when Charley Hoffman led by five with a round to go but Fowler showed in no uncertain terms that ground can be made up here.
Trailing by seven strokes after 54 holes and trading at [30.0], having been matched in running at [60.0], Fowler fired an amazing 11-under-par 61 to win by four!
Justin Rose heads the market and understandably so but he's not for me. He has a property here so must know the course intimately but he's yet to make that advantage tell. He was 13th in 2015, he withdrew with a bad back in 2016, and he was fifth 12 months ago.
Rose looked in need of a break when he successfully defended his Turkish Airlines Open title three weeks ago so he could return to the fray refreshed and raring to go but I'm happy to let him go unbacked given his poor course form.
Dustin Johnson makes even less appeal than Rosey. Since finishing third at the Tour Championship, way back in September, his only outing since was a disappointing 30th at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China a month ago. He could very easily be in full winddown mode now and I'm more than happy to swerve him. DJ was third to Matsuyama two years ago but was only 15th three years ago and 14th 12 months ago.
Despite ending 2017 really well, Justin Thomas was only 11th on debut 12 months ago when going off favourite after a five week break and he arrives here this time after a five week break again. He hasn't got a string of recent victories in his form figures this time around though and it's hard to see why he should play considerably better this time around.
With course form figures reading 3-3-1, the defending champ, Rickie Fowler, has to be respected and I prefer him to Tiger Woods at a similar price. I don't quite know what to make of Friday's match against Phil Mickelson but I'd consider it more a distraction than a great warm-up for this and given he hasn't played anywhere else since he won the Tour Championship, he doesn't make any appeal either.
The fact the there are only 18 players and it's 8/1 the field tells you all you need to know about this trappy little heat but I quite like the look of Tony Finau at an industry-wide best of 18/1 with the Sportsbook.
He's making his debut in the event this week but I'm pretty sure he'll enjoy the venue. He's in terrific form this year, he topped the Par 5 Performance stats for 2018 and although he's hardly prolific, I think he'll find it easier to get across the winning line in a smaller field event like this. It's not a tournament to get too involved in but Finau struck me as one worth siding with at that price.
Tony Finau @ 18/1 (Sportsbook)
I'll be back tomorrow with my Mauritius Open preview.
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