Tiger Woods returns to competition play for the first time in four months but Steve thinks he's worth siding with in his own event, played for the first time at his local course. Read our man's Hero World Challenge preview here...
“Tiger Woods has endured a truly woeful year, never threatening to win, but I suspect this event was earmarked as one in which he’d really like to finish the year off in style. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t fully fit and raring to go and at 17.5 I thought he was taking a chance on.”
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 but this year it switches from West to East and to the Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Florida - home course of tournament host, Tiger Woods.
Isleworth Golf and Country Club, Windermere, Florida
Par 72, 7,544 yards
Originally designed by Isleworth resident, Arnold Palmer, Isleworth Country Club was enhanced by Steve Smyers in 2003. On its website, the course is described as being "designed to provide a fair but uniquely challenging round. The course is built on rolling terrain and features greens that are generous, undulating and fast, earning its title as the toughest and longest course in the state by the Florida State Golf Association."
The course has been used numerous times as a venue for the Tavistock Cup but given that's an inter golf club team event, form there is no use whatsoever.
Live on Sky Sports all four days - 19:00 on Thursday and Friday and 17:00 on Saturday and Sunday
Last Five Winners
2013 - Zach Johnson -13 (playoff)
2012 - Graeme McDowell -17
2011 - Tiger Woods -10
2010 - Graeme McDowell -16
2009 - Jim Furyk -13
What Will it Take to Win The Hero World Challenge?
I'm not going to begin to pretend that I know how the venue is going to play this week but given it's described as the "toughest and longest course in the state" it might make sense to side with the longer hitters.
Is There an Angle In?
With almost nothing known about the venue, perhaps the best angle in could be form in Florida. Most of the Floridian courses are very similar - wind-affected and laid to Bermuda grass - so given there's only 18 in the field I've listed each player's record in the state below.
Henrik Stenson - 26 appearances, one win, 15% top-5 and 23% top 10. Average finishing position - 37th
Justin Rose - 50 appearances, one win, 22% top-5 and 28% top 10. Average finishing position - 38th
Bubba Watson - 33 appearances, zero wins, 12% top-5 and 15% top 10. Average finishing position - 54th
Jordan Spieth - 4 appearances, zero wins, 25% top-5 and 25% top 10. Average finishing position - 16th
Rickie Fowler - 21 appearances, zero wins, 14% top-5 and 24% top 10. Average finishing position - 45th
Jason Day - 19 appearances, zero wins, zero top-5s and 5% top 10. Average finishing position - 55th
Graeme McDowell - 28 appearances, zero wins, 10% top-5 and 32% top 10. Average finishing position - 40th
Tiger Woods - 54 appearances, 16 wins, 43% top-5 and 56% top 10. Average finishing position - 18th
Matt Kuchar - 43 appearances, two wins, 9% top-5 and 18% top 10. Average finishing position - 46th
Hideki Matsuyama - 3 appearances, zero wins, zero top-5s and zero top 10s. Average finishing position - 66th
Chris Kirk - 15 appearances, zero wins, zero top-5s and zero top 10s. Average finishing position - 62nd
Jimmy Walker - 29 appearances, zero wins, zero top-5s and 7% top 10. Average finishing position - 50th
Keegan Bradley - 18 appearances, zero wins, 22% top-5 and 33% top 10. Average finishing position - 39th
Hunter Mahan - 39 appearances, zero wins, zero top-5s and 10% top 10. Average finishing position - 55th
Patrick Reed - 8 appearances, one win, 12% top-5 and 12% top 10. Average finishing position - 77th
Zach Johnson - 47 appearances, zero wins, 6% top-5 and 19% top 10. Average finishing position - 38th
Billy Horschel - 13 appearances, zero wins, zero top-5s and zero top 10s. Average finishing position - 72nd
Steve Stricker - 50 appearances, zero wins, 6% top-5 and 16% top 10. Average finishing position - 56th
Following his successful defence at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai a fortnight ago, Henrik Stenson heads the market but he's not for me. He looked tired in Dubai and he was playing at a venue we knew he loved. We're in the dark here and although it's a small field it's not short on quality and I'm happy to swerve a fatigued Henrik at a single-figure price.
Justin Rose is the second favourite this week but he's the most likely winner in my eyes. He's been in fine and consistent form of late and he has a solid bank of Floridian form. At 34 he's probably at the peak of his powers and I can easily see him contending here but his propensity to start slowly is a real concern and at a single-figure price, as much as I respect his chances, he has to be swerved before the off.
Knowing that Bubba Watson is an Isleworth resident and golf course member, my very first thoughts were that he'd be one of my wagers this week but he too is simply too short. He'll know the course better than anyone (other than Tiger) but his record in his home state is incredibly poor for some reason and he's also easy to pass over at the odds on offer.
Jordon Spieth put in a dazzling display Down Under on Sunday to win the Australian Open in decisive fashion and if he picks up from where he left off there the others could be in trouble. He won his first collegiate individual title at Isleworth in October 2011 so he'll have particularly fond memories of the venue but again, I'm happy to leave him out. It's never easy to win two events in-a-row and having to travel across the globe to do so won't help.
It's a very long time since I had so little to go on before the off but I'm still happy to get involved with two picks - Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed.
The negatives surrounding Woods are obvious and well documented. The worlds greatest ever golfer is returning to the fray following yet more injury woes and with a brand new coach (Chris Como) in tow but there's enough in his price to take a chance.
Tiger once shot 59 around Isleworth and he says he loves the course. His record in Florida is simply incredible and I can't let him go un-backed in his own event (which he's already won five times), on a course he loves, in a state where he plays his best golf.
He's endured a truly woeful year, never threatening to win, but I suspect this event was earmarked as one in which he'd really like to finish the year off in style. I'd be surprised if he wasn't fully fit and raring to go and at 17.5 I thought he was worth chancing.
Patrick Reed has gone off the boil a bit since his ill-judged victory speech following Floridian success at the WGC-CA Championship in March but there were certainly signs of life at the Ryder Cup where he finished the week as the top American points scorer. He played well at the Volvo World Match Play the following week too and his tied 22nd in the WGC-HSBC Championship last time out was a fair effort. I can't say I'm bursting with confidence about the tenacious Texan's chances but in such a small field, I'm surprised to see him so near to the bottom of the list and I was more than happy to take the 33/1 on offer with the Sportsbook.
Tiger Woods @ 17.5
Patrick Reed @ 33/1 (Sportsbook)
I'll be back later in the week with my In-Play Blog, either on Thursday afternoon, after the first round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge (previewed here), or on Friday morning.
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