The PGA Tour returns this week with a limited field event in the Bahamas - the Hero World Challenge. Read Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of the Wednesday start...
"Rahm has Phoenix form figures reading 5-16-11-10, while Fowler and Matsuyama have both won the Phoenix Open and Bubba Watson has an eighth, a fifth, a fourth and two seconds in the event."
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 10 strokes. It moved further south to the Bahamas four years ago and we return to the Albany course again for the fifth year in-a-row.
It's a limited invitation only event with a high-class field consisting of just 18 players and unlike the vast majority of tournaments, it's staged on the four days between Wednesday and Saturday.
Albany, New Province, Bahamas
Par 72, 7,302 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 four 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 four 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 18:00 UK and Ireland time on Wednesday.
Last Five Winners
2018 - Jon Rahm -20
2017 - Rickie Fowler -18
2016 - Hideki Matsuyama -18
2015 - Bubba Watson -25
2014 - Jordan Spieth -26
What Will it Take to Win the Hero World Challenge?
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 five years ago - Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth - all ranked inside the top-four for Scrambling so that could be a key stat and possibly Par 5 Performance...
Last year's winner, Jon Rahm, ended last season ranking only 57th for Par 5 Performance (statistically, we've already started 2020) and the 2017 winner, Rickie Fowler, ended the 2018 season ranking only tied 70th but both the 2016 winner here, Hideki Matsuyama, and the 2016 champ, Bubba Watson, topped the Par 5 Performance stats in the year that they won.
With 20 par fives in play throughout the week, it stands to reason that length off the tee and great Par 5 performance stats are clear indicators. The last two winners' stats on the long holes aren't massively encouraging but I backed last year's runner-up, Tony Finau, because he topped the Par 5 Performance stats in 2018.
Is There an Angle In?
As is usually the case here, we can expect a bit of wind again, especially for the final round 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...
Rahm had just finished fourth defending his DP World Tour Championship title in Dubai when he won 12 months ago. Fowler had finished second at the OHL Classic in his previous start before winning two years ago. Matsuyama was winning his fourth tournament in five starts three years ago. Bubba Watson was in fine fettle, having just finished third in Japan, following a decent run in the FedEx Cup. Finally, Spieth had been red-hot when he won this in 2015.
With the end of the year fast approaching and holidays on the agenda, it stands to reason that the in-form players fare well. I suspect those who are struggling are just waiting for a break and a chance to regroup next year but the best angle in is a possible link to the Phoenix Open.
Previous course experience isn't important. Rahm had never played here before, and neither had Finau or first round leader and eventual fifth, Patrick Cantlay, but all of those players, and the previous winners, have good form in the desert and especially in Phoenix.
Rahm has Phoenix form figures reading 5-16-11-10, while Fowler and Matsuyama have both won the Phoenix Open and Bubba Watson has an eighth, a fifth, a fourth and two seconds in the event.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
There were one or two reasonably long-priced winners at Sherwood but the last five winners have all been very well fancied before the off. Rahm was a 15.014/1 chance 12 months ago and Fowler was a 10/1 chance in 2017.
Spieth won by 10 strokes at Isleworth in 2014 and the four winners here have won by a clear margin. Watson only won by three and Matsuyama by two in the first two editions here but both men were further clear than that at various stages and neither ever looked like losing and the last two winners have won by four strokes but neither winner held a clear lead after 54 holes.
Charley Hoffman led by five with a round to go (trading at around 1.75/7 two years ago but Fowler showed in no uncertain terms that ground can be made up here. Trailing by seven strokes after 54 holes and trading at 30.029/1, having been matched in running at 60.059/1, Fowler fired an amazing 11-under-par 61 to win by four!
Henrik Stenson, Rahm, and Tony Finau, who was matched at a low of 2.0621/20 in-running in round four, were all tied at the top with a round to go last year but Rahm soon seized the initiative and for the fourth year in-a-row, the finish was a facile affair.
Defending champion, Jon Rahm, heads the market and so he should. He's been in fine form since the summer and he arrives in the Bahamas looking for his third win in-a-row having successfully defended his Open de Espana title and having won the DP World Championship for a second time just two weeks ago.
His chance is very obvious and I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised to see him defend the title but he's nearly a third of the price he was 12 months ago and that looks a bit too short to me.
Having won the BMW Championship in August and the CJ Cup in October, second favourite and world number five, Justin Thomas commands respect but, having played here after a break of five weeks on both occasions, he was only 11th on debut in 2017 and 12th last year. This time, he arrives here following a five week break again so I'm happy to swerve him.
Patrick Cantlay finished fifth on debut last year and he was second last time out, at the Shriners Hospital for Children Open so he has both current and course form of sorts - although that second place was almost two months ago and that's a negative.
Cantlay is up to number six in the Official World Rankings but he's still only won twice on the PGA Tout and he's a player I'm always happy to swerve at what is usually a prohibitive price. As is the case here.
Both Webb Simpson and Chez Reavie interest me, given they've never played here before, and given they've both lost playoffs in Phoenix. But the one who ticks all the boxes is the man who beat Reavie in extra time at TPC Scottsdale - Gary Woodland.
Woodland, understandably, lost his focus and form after winning the US Open in June but there were define signs of encouragement in October when he finished third in the CJ Cup and fifth in Japan at the ZOZO Championship. He was only 20th at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan two weeks ago after a month off but that pipe-opener could put him straight.
Woodland finished eighth on debut last year and he ended the 2018/19 season ranking third for Par 5 Performance. He's no bigger than 20/1 on the High Street so I was more than happy to take a small chance on him at 27.026/1.
Gary Woodland @ 27.026/1
I'll be back tomorrow with my Mauritius Open preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter