The Punter

Hero World Challenge: Confident Collin can go in again

Golfer Collin Morikawa
Collin Morikawa on his way to victory in Japan

A select 20-man field, including the tournament host, Tiger Woods, will assemble in the Bahamas this week for the Hero World Challenge so read Steve's preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

  • Tiger's back at Albany

  • Hovland the hot favourite

  • Scheffler aims for third time lucky

  • Get Steve's Hero tip at longer than 8/19.00


Tournament History

The Hero World Challenge was first staged at Greyhawk Golf Club in 1999. It moved to the Sherwood Country Club in California in 2000 where it remained for 14 years before it switched from west to east and to the Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Florida in 2014. That year, Jordan Spieth won by an incredible 10 strokes.

It moved further south to the Ernie Els designed Albany Course in the Bahamas in 2015 and it's been there ever since, although we missed the 2020 edition because of the pandemic.

The Hero World Challenge is a limited invitation only event with a high-class field consisting of just 20 players which this year includes the tournament host, Tiger Woods.

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 eight 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.

ALBANY BAHAMAS 2023 1.jpg

It's an exposed flat links-style course with dunes up to 30 feet tall and the TifEagle Bermuda greens are fairly small.

Here's what the designer had to say about his creation prior to the off in 2015:

"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."


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days - starting at 18:30 UK and Ireland time on Thursday. Coverage starts at 16:30 on Sunday.

The seven Albany winners with Pre-event Prices

  • 2022 - Viktor Hovland -16 21.020/1
  • 2021 - Viktor Hovland -18 12.5
  • 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?

For some reason they don't produce stats for this event, so we're hindered to a certain degree but given the calibre of the small field, I'm not sure they'd be of much use anyway.

It's not easy to sort the wheat form the chaff given the absence of chaff so perhaps current form is our best angle in.

Henrik Stenson was winning his first event in more than two years when he took the title here in 2019. Last year's winner Viktor Hovland finished fifth in both the BMW Championship and the ZOZO Championship, after failing to convert a 54-hole lead at the Open Championship in July. He was defending the title and had been a bit quiet. But every other winner at this venue, and most of the winners of this tournament, have been bang in form.

Prior to his first win here in 2021, Hovland had won the World Wide Technology Championship in his previous start. The man who should have won, Collin Morikawa, traded at as short as 1.081/12 in-running before finishing fifth. He had won the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai on his previous outing.

Jon Rahm had just finished fourth defending the DP World Tour Championship title when he won five years ago. Rickie Fowler had finished second in the World Wide Technology Championship in his previous start before winning in 2017.

Hideki Matsuyama was winning his fourth tournament in five starts six 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. Jordan 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 and desert form key at Albany?

Links form stands up very nicely here, but previous course experience isn't at all important. Hovland, and the man who should have won two years ago, Morikawa, ticked both those boxes emphatically.

Both were playing here for the first time in 2021 (as was the runner-up, Scottie Scheffler), and they both have links form at the Open Championship. Morikawa won the Open in 2021 and, as already mentioned, Hovland was tied for the lead after 54 holes at St Andrews last year before eventually finishing fourth.

Rahm had never played here before when he won in 2018 and neither had the runner-up, Tony Finau, or the first-round leader and eventual fifth, Patrick Cantlay. But those three, and all the winners here, have good form in the desert. Hovland, for example, contended strongly at the DP World Tour Championship last time out and he won the Dubai Desert Classic last year.

Hovland has form figures at the Phoenix Open reading MC-MC-42, so he doesn't boost the link at all but that's an event that looks worth considering.

Hovland defends Hero World Challenge.jpg

Scheffler, who has finished runner-up to Hovland for the past two years running, has won the last two editions of the Phoenix Open. Rahm had Phoenix Open form figures reading 5-16-11-10, 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 Phoenix Open looks a very solid guide and so does the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

Had Morikawa not messed up from five in front with a round to go in 2022, three winners in-a-row would have also won the DP World Tour Championship and Hovland may well have won this year's renewal had his putter behaved. He missed three putts inside seven feet on Sunday before finishing tied for second.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

There were one or two reasonably long priced winners at Sherwood and Stenson was relatively unfancied four years ago, but the previous five winners were all very well fancied before the off.

Hovland was a 12.5 chance in 2021 and a 20/121.00 chance last year and when Rahm went off at 15.014/1 five years ago he was the biggest priced winner in five renewals. The last three men to take the title have all been Europeans.

Winner's Position and Price Pre-Round Four

  • 2022 - Viktor Hovland - leading by three 1.75/7
  • 2021 - Viktor Hovland - tied third - trailing by six 26.025/1
  • 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 2014 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 were further clear than that at various stages.

Hovland became the first first-round leader to win at Albany last year when he defended the title wire-to-wire but that wasn't as straightforward as his two-stroke margin success suggests. Despite the runaway wins here, this is a quirky track where strange things can happen.

Hovland was matched at just 1.021/50 as he led by four on the back-nine last year but long odds-on backers were given an almighty scare at the last.

Birdies at 14, 15 and 16 saw Scheffler close the gap back down to two with two to play but after he and Hovland made matching pars at 17, his late charge didn't look like being enough.

Hovland was still in the driving seat as they stood on the 18th tee but he very nearly crashed! A poor drive by the Norwegian left him in a tricky spot above a fairway bunker in the rough before he hit this approach into the water.

The door was ajar for Scheffler but from a great position in the fairway he hit his seven-iron approach into a waste area and Hovland drained a lengthy bogey putt to win by two.

Hovland survived, with a lot of thanks to Scheffler, but two of the last five 54-hole leaders have thrown away huge leads.

Charley Hoffman led by five with a round to go (trading at around 1.75/7) six years ago before Fowler came from seven strokes back and trading at 30.029/1 to win. Having been matched in running at 60.059/1, Fowler fired an amazing 11-under-par 61 to win by four!

We witnessed all sorts of carnage in 2021 when the pre-event 8/19.00 favourite Morikawa threw away a five-stroke lead with a round to go.

Having been a 1.282/7 chance on Sunday morning, Morikawa was matched at a low of just 1.081/12 before he lost his ball on the fourth. Five different players took the lead on Sunday before Hovland, who was matched at 180.0179/1 in-running, finally assumed command late on with back-to-back eagles at 14 and 15.

Away from Morikawa's collapse, there were also all sorts of dramas with plenty of other players in the field.

Scottie Scheffler would have won but for a triple-bogey seven at the fourth hole on Sunday (he was matched at 1000.0999/1 after that and before a late rally). Sam Burns tripled the 14th in round four to highlight just how easy it is to rack up a big number here.

The first-round leaders in 2021, Rory McIlroy, Abraham Ancer and Daniel Berger, finished 18th, 14th and tied for seventh. The halfway leader, Bryson DeChambeau, shot three-over on the weekend to finish tied for 14th and Morikawa's closest challenger with a round to go, Brooks Koepka, shot 74 on Sunday to finish tied for ninth.

All sorts can happen here, and it can be a great event in which to trade positions.

Market Leaders

Viktor Hovland heads the market as he attempts the hat-trick, but he looks short enough at around 9/25.50.

He putted brilliantly last year, taking 23 on Saturday and 24 on Sunday. But the putter was cold on the last occasion we saw him, at the DP World Tour Championship two weeks ago, where he missed three from six feet on Sunday before finishing tied for second behind Nicolai Hojgaard.

We haven't seen Scottie Scheffler since the Ryder Cup so it's impossible to know how he's playing and there's a chance he might be a bit rusty.

He traded at a low of 1.75/7 last year before finishing second to Hovland for the second year-in-a-row so we know the track suits him but he was putting terribly in the summer and that could well be his Achillies heel again here.

Max Homa was an extremely impressive winner of the Nedbank Challenge three weeks ago, but his debut appearance 12 months ago was poor.

Rounds of 71, 78, 71 and 72 saw him finish 17th and that tempers my enthusiasm for someone trading at a single-figure price.

Selection

Collin Morikawa has some scar tissue to deal with after his horrendous collapse here two years ago but his victory in the ZOZO Championship last time out may be a huge turning point in his career.

He looked imperious until his defeat in this event in 2021 and he also lost a big lead at the Sentry Tournament of Champions (six strokes) in January, so he'd gone almost two years without a win until his victory in Japan last month.

For a player of Morikawa's ability, that was a long drought, but now he's won again the floodgates could open.

He's a class act and the course suits him perfectly so I was happy to chance him at 9.417/2.

Back Collin Morikawa @ 9.417/2

Bet now


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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