There were signs that Tiger Woods could still compete at the highest level in the Hero World Challenge this time last year. It was the former world number one’s first tournament of any kind for over a year and he played well enough to suggest his professional career was not over. Woods steadily moved up the world rankings in 2018, led the Open Championship at the start of the back nine and won the Tour Championship at the end of the regular season. He returns to the Hero World Challenge this week at number 13 in the world rankings having been 1,199th 12 months ago before finishing tied 9th in the event.
It was appropriate that Woods played competitively for the first time in 15 months at the Hero World Challenge. He hosts the event which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation. The field is limited to just 18 players and it is a non-official Tour event. However, there is plenty of prize money up for grabs and world ranking points on offer. The invited field consists of the most recent winners of the four majors, the 11 best available players from the world rankings and the defending champion. Two additional players receive special exemptions. Most of the qualified players are competing but Open champion, Francesco Molinari, and Rory McIlroy have not accepted the invitation. .
The event has been played at the Albany development in the Bahamas since 2015. The course was designed by Ernie Els and its location means wind is often a factor. There are five par 5s on the par 72 track over 7,309 yards. Last year the field averaged 70.333 and Rickie Fowler returned a winning score of 18 under. The four winning scores on the track have been 18 under twice, 25 under and 26 under. The strongest winds are expected on Saturday and rain is forecast for Sunday but the winning score will still be around 20 under. Putting well is a requirement for getting in the mix.
Even though the Hero World Challenge is not an official US PGA Tour event it has brought together the best players in the world who will want to beat their peers. There are not many occasions when most of the top 10 players in the world rankings compete in the same event. Woods’ name is probably a draw because the current professionals know how much he has done for the game and helped boost the prize money that they are competing for to win. The 14 times major champion was the best player in the world when the current crop were growing up and working towards a career in professional golf. However, Woods is not fancied to win this week.
Justin Rose is a local resident but the Bahamas based player has a poor record at Albany. In a small field form figures of 13th – Withdrawn – Tied 5th are nothing special but that could change this week. Rose has finished in the top four in all but one of his last five starts and recently won the Turkish Airlines Open in Europe. Rose is currently at number two in the world rankings, behind Brooke Koepka who won two major championships in 2018. He could end the year at the pinnacle of the sport but winning this week is required with Koepka finishing down the field. However, another player is preferred.
Dustin Johnson does not have the best course from which is surprising because he has a game suited to Albany. At his best Johnson does everything well and if the putts drop he will be difficult to beat. Johnson can overpower par 5s so he should have plenty of eagle and birdie opportunities this week. Woods would be a popular winner of his own event but the head is ruling the heart in making Johnson the selection.