Tiger Woods will make his long-awaited return to competitive golf this Thursday at the Hero Golf Challenge.
The return of Tiger Woods has rather serendipitously coincided with the special invitational event hosted by his foundation. Giving all the controversies surrounding Woods over the last five years, it seems fitting that his return should coincide with a tournament celebrating his charitable endeavours. Most of his fellow competitors concur that they find him more relatable now in the aftermath of all his scandals, with Tiger consciously attempting to integrate with the players more. His appearance at the Ryder Cup was proof positive of this more inclusive version of Woods.
It’s hard to tell exactly how competitive Tiger will be since last competing 15 months back at the Wyndham Championship. 15 months is a long time in golf - just ask Danny Willet how long 6 months is? He is apparently practising furiously and says he is driving the ball consistently over 300 yards. Even at 30-1, it’s hard to take him at his word.
The course is once again being played at the Ernie Els designed Albany Course in the Bahamas, a course which was ‘Bubbified’ last season, with Watson carding a devastating 25-under par score. Three of his closest challenges also cut the 20 number on a course that has five very reachable par 5’s.
The conditions are once again predicted to be calm and conducive to low scoring, which will encourage the likes of Bubba and Dustin Johnson. The sheer quality of the rest of the field could leave Tiger quite exposed if his game isn’t exactly where he says it’s at. The last thing that any true golfing enthusiast wants to see is a vestige of a former champion out there, similar to watching a clearly punch-drunk Muhammad Ali stumble around the ring in his last few professional fights.
The Hero Golf Challenge | Thursday 1 December - Sunday 4 December | Albany Golf Course, Bahamas
2015: Bubba Watson (-25) | 2014: Jordan Spieth (-26) | 2013: Zach Johnson (-13) *playoff
2012: Graeme McDowell (-17) | 2011: Tiger Woods (-10)
To Win Outright
Dustin Johnson 9/2 | Jordan Spieth 13/2| Hideki Matsuyama 8/1 | Brooks Koepka 10/1 | Henrik Stenson 11/1
Brooks Koepka To Win 10/1 & To Place 5/2
Brooks Koepka seems like an excellent option to me. The big-hitting American will have an advantage over certain parts of the field with some recent playing time under his belt. He beat red-hot Japanese sensation Yuko Ikeda two weeks ago in Japan and always leads the birdie count and par five scoring. He also narrowly missed out at the Shriner’s in another low scoring event. His other victories worldwide have an impressively low-scoring ring to them. They clock in at -17, -16, -23, -24, -15 and -18. He has his eye in and should relish the shape of the course.
J.B Holmes To Win 35/1 & To Place 17/2
Sitting at 35/1 to win, I find it almost outrageous that the huge hitting Holmes is at the bottom of the betting pile. He finished 8th and 10th in birdie average in the last two seasons and enjoyed two tremendous top 5 finishes in major championships this year. He also finished with a top 5 at the Barclays. It’s also worth noting that he shot a final round 64 here last year to finish in 8th place, that after being 2 over through 3 holes. His first PGA Tour victory came with a final score of -21 and I expect him to make plenty of birdies this week.
Justin Rose To Win 16/1 & To Place 4/1
Justin Rose had a rather forgettable run into the end of the season following that memorable gold medal victory at the Olympics. He went into hibernation mode following the Ryder Cup and declined to compete in the season-ending Race to Dubai event in Europe. He also never finished the Fed Ex Cup particularly well, finishing in ties for 21, 57 and 24. But the Albany resident has one huge plus on his side, and that’s his finish here last season. He set the course record with a 62 and may feel significantly rested to challenge that again this week.
The Man To Beat
Jordan Spieth To Win 13/2 & To Place 16/10
Jordan had suffered a similar syndrome this year to what Rory McIllroy endured throughout last year’s campaign. He never quite managed to follow up a tremendous season and fell agonisingly short in a few tournaments. But the Texan has a bit of history with this event and good vibes with this course. After winning the Australian Open in 2014, he went on to win the Hero Challenge at Isleworth. He managed to win the Aussie Open this year and finished 4th here last season, never shooting above 68, with only 3 bogeys the entire week.