Hero World Challenge: Marvellous Morikawa can reach summit at Albany

Golfer Tiger Woods
Tournament host Tiger Woods in action at Albany in 2017

An elite 20-man field will assemble in the Bahamas this week for the Hero World Challenge - hosted by Tiger woods - and our man's back with his comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start...

"Morikawa is currently the best player on the planet and he may well make it official on Sunday night."

Tournament History

Hosted by Tiger Woods, 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 in 2015 and having missed last year's event because of the pandemic, we return to the Ernie Els designed Albany course this week for the sixth time.

The Hero World Challenge is a limited invitation only event with a high-class field consisting of just 20 players.

Venue

Albany, New Province, Bahamas

Course Details

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 six years ago.

It's a par 72 but with five par fives, five par threes and eight par fours, it's a little different from most par 72s as they usually have four long and short holes and 10 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 six 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.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

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 with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Henrik Stenson -18 42.041/1
2018 - Jon Rahm -20 15.014/1
2017 - Rickie Fowler -18 11.010/1
2016 - Hideki Matsuyama -18 10.09/1
2015 - Bubba Watson -25 13.012/1

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 six 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...

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 worth consideration.

Both the 2016 winner here, Hideki Matsuyama, and the 2015 champ, Bubba Watson, topped the Par 5 Performance stats in the year that they won and so did the 2018 runner-up, Tony Finau.

Is There an Angle In?

Henrik Stenson was winning his first event in more than two years when he took the title in 2019 but every other winner at this venue, and most of the winners of this tournament, have been bang in form.

Stenson wins Hero.jpg

Jon Rahm had just finished fourth defending his DP World Tour Championship title in Dubai when he won three years ago. Fowler had finished second at the OHL Classic in his previous start before winning in 2017 and Hideki Matsuyama was winning his fourth tournament in five starts five years ago. Bubba Watson was in fine fettle when he won in 2015, 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 in the final event before it moved to the Bahamas.

With the end of the year fast approaching and holidays and downtime 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.

Links form stands up very nicely here, but previous course experience isn't important. Rahm had never played here before, and neither had Tony Finau or the first round leader and eventual fifth, Patrick Cantlay, in 2018, but all those players, and the previous winners, have good form in the desert.

Rahm had Phoenix Open form figures reading 5-16-11-10. Fowler and Matsuyama have both won the Phoenix Open, while Bubba Watson has an eighth, a fifth, a fourth and two seconds in the event, so the Phoenix Open looks a very solid guide and so too now does the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

The last two renewals have been won by Rahm and Stenson, who have both won the DP World twice previously.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

There were one or two reasonably long priced winners at Sherwood and Stenson was relatively unfancied two years ago, but the previous five winners were all very well fancied before the off. Rahm went off at 15.014/1 three years ago and he was the biggest priced winner in the five renewals.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Henrik Stenson - solo second - trailing by a stroke 6.611/2
2018 - John Rahm - tied for the lead 3.45
2017 - Rickie Fowler - tied fifth - trailing by seven 30.029/1
2016 - Hideki Matsuyama - led by seven 1.182/11
2016 - Bubba Watson - led by three 1.654/6

In-Play Tactics

Spieth won by 10 strokes at Isleworth in 2104 and the first four winners here won by a clear margin too. 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. The 2017 and 2018 winners 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 four 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!

Stenson, Rahm, and 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 on 2018 but Rahm soon seized the initiative and for the fourth year in-a-row, the finish was a facile affair.

Stenson only won by a stroke in 2019 but after a terrible start by the third round leader, Gary Woodland, victory for the Swede was never really in doubt. The defending champ, Jon Rahm, put in a great finish to come second - birdying 14, eagling 15 and birdying 16 - but pars at the last two left him one shot shy.

Market Leaders

World number two, Collin Morikawa, is making his tournament debut this week but given he's the reigning Open champion and that he won the aforementioned DP World Tour Championship two weeks ago, the world number two is a very worthy favourite.

Morikawa will replace Jon Rahm at the top of the Official World Rankings with a win this week and ordinarily I'd view that as a bit of a negative. The opportunity to become officially the best player on the planet often fazes players, hindering players more than inspiring them, but Morikawa's mentality is superb and he's just the type to be motivated by the prospect.

Like Morikawa, Rory McIlroy is making his course debut but he should be equally well equipped for the test. Like the world number two, McIlroy is a superb links and desert golf exponent and like the last two winners, Rahm and Stenson, Rory has won the DP World twice.

Rory McIlroy at the DP World.jpg

McIlroy will be very keen to eradicate the memory of his sorry finish in Dubai a fortnight ago when he finished tied for sixth after trading at a low of 1.192/11 but there's a danger that it left a mark and, at very similar prices, I prefer Morikawa.

Justin Thomas will also be keen to get going again after a slightly disappointing finish to the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico, where he finished third behind the defending champion, Viktor Hovland, but his course form is nothing to write home about. This is his fourth appearance and his fifth placed finish two years ago is his only top-10.

This is Hovland's first outing since that victory, and like the first two in the betting, he's playing the course for the first time. He's a perfectly fair price but others look slightly better suited to the venue.

Selections

Having backed him to win in Dubai, I'm more than happy to go in again on Morikawa. There's a danger that he's already in holiday mode after that victory but he mentioned he had one more tournament to play when giving his victory speech in Dubai and he's too professional to rest on his laurels.

He's currently the best player on the planet and he may well make it official on Sunday night.

Given the last two winners have both won the DP World Tour Championship twice, I was happy to throw a few pounds on another dual winner, Matt Fitzpatrick, at 30.029/1.

The Sheffielder was the only man with a chance of stopping Morikawa from winning the Race to Dubai two weeks ago and he gave it a go, finishing strongly to grab second. He's yet another making his course debut but there's nothing to suggest he won't enjoy the place and he's clearly in good heart.

Selections:
Collin Morikawa @ 9.08/1
Matthew Fitzpatrick @ 30.029/1

I'll be back tomorrow with a preview of the South African Open.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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