This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
HERO WORLD CHALLENGE
Winner's Share: $1M
FedEx Cup Points: 0
Location: New Providence, the Bahamas
Course: Albany Golf Course
2019 champion: Henrik Stenson
We begin with a question: The Hero World Challenge – is it a real golf tournament? Well, yes. But it's a fair question. After all, it's played in December. And it's not an official PGA Tour event and there are only 20 guys, the smallest field you'll see all year. Also, you have to to know someone to get in. But not just anyone. Specifically, you have to know Tiger Woods. It's his tournament, it benefits his foundation and he determines the guest list. And it's always A-list.
But it is a quirky event. We wonder how hard everyone actually tries to win on this island paradise, especially this year coming just a week after Thanksgiving. Oh, maybe once the tournament gets going, but it's not like preparing for a major or even a regular PGA Tour event. Often, golfers return from weeks or even months off to play, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau notwithstanding. It's always been a bit of a cash grab that harkens to the old "silly season" cash grabs. But more than cash, it's an OWGR-points grab. The 20 guys get a lot of OWGR love, and it's always been a bit unfair because so few can gain so much. One thing you can't get is a PGA Tour win; it doesn't count among the Tour's official career wins.
This year might be a little different in terms of intensity and drama. Collin Morikawa can overtake Jon Rahm for world No. 1 with a win, albeit only for one week before they flip-flop back. As always, we must credit Twitter's OWGR expert, @VC606, with that info.
Rahm is not here, but six of the top-10 are and all but three of the golfers are ranked in the top-25. Since there are only 20, let's run down the field: No. 2 Morikawa, No. 4 Xander Schauffele, No. 6 Justin Thomas, No. 7 DeChambeau, No. 8 Rory McIlroy, No. 9 Viktor Hovland, No. 11 Jordan Spieth, No. 12 Abraham Ancer, No. 13 Tony Finau, No. 14 Harris English, No. 16 Koepka, No. 17 Daniel Berger, No. 18 Sam Burns, No. 19 Scottie Scheffler, No. 21 Tyrrell Hatton, No. 24 Matt Fitzpatrick, No. 25 Webb Simpson, No. 27 Patrick Reed, No. 47 Justin Rose and, um, No. 182 Henrik Stenson, who happens to be the defending champion, having won it in 2019. The tournament was not contested last year because of you-know-what.
Eight guys will be making their Hero debut, including Morikawa, but that should not be an issue. Rahm was a first-timer in 2018 when he won. Reed and Rose are the only two who have played all five editions played at Albany. Spieth and Stenson have played four.
Woods, of course, will not play, as he continues his recovery from last February's auto accident. He should be front and center and highly visible this week, if recent days are an indication. He teased us all on Twitter last week with a two-second video of him taking a swing on the range. All he wrote was: "Making progress." And then on Monday, Golf Digest released a long interview with him. Sadly, it does not appear Woods will be playing anytime soon, though he did express a desire to return to competitive golf on a limited basis – akin to what Ben Hogan did in his later years, Woods said.
The Ernie Els design is a rare layout with five par-5s and five par-3s. There are only thee par-4s on the front-nine. Weird, huh? Albany features wide fairways and Bermudagrass greens averaging only 4,500 square feet. The golfers have talked about the tight lies around the green, so getting on the green from the fairway is especially important – but no easy task with the small greens. There are three water hazards and, often, plenty of wind. Three of the par-5s are over 590 yards and four of the par-3s are over 190. Yet the scores are always high, with 18-under winning it three of the past four times. The tournament record at Albany is 25-under, set by Bubba Watson in 2015. The golfers have talked about having to do the bulk of the scoring on seven holes – the five par-5s and two of the par-4s, the semi-drivable 366-yard 7th and the definitely drivable 307-yard 14th.
Focusing on lineup construction, there are a few things to consider. First, with only 20 golfers, every one of them will have at least moderate ownership. So don't go crazy trying to find a hidden guy – no one is hidden this week. Some guys have been inactive for much of the fall, others have been busy. For instance, Koepka and DeChambeau played The Match last Friday and, while it wasn't tournament golf, it was better preparation than Thanksgiving dinner. Morikawa, McIlroy, Hovland, Ancer, Hatton, Reed all played in the DP World Tour Championship two weeks ago, as did Scheffler, Simpson and English at the RSM Classic. Conversely, Berger has been idle for more than three months since the Tour Championship. And Spieth has played only once since then. On top of that, Spieth became a first-time father just days ago, so he'd be forgiven for not hitting the range as much as everyone else.
Weather-wise, it will be near perfect conditions. Temperatures will be in the upper 70s all week, with only a small chance of rain, mostly on Sunday, and moderate wind all four days. That sounds like optimum scoring conditions.
Key Stats to Winning at Albany
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in order of importance.
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Par-5 Birdie-or-Better Percentage
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
2020 - No event
2019 - Henrik Stenson (Albany)
2018 - Jon Rahm (Albany)
2017 - Rickie Fowler (Albany)
2016 - Hideki Matsuyama (Albany)
2015 - Bubba Watson (Albany)
2014 - Jordan Spieth
2013 - Zach Johnson
2012 - Graeme McDowell
2011 - Tiger Woods
Two years ago, Stenson totaled 19 birdies and two eagles and played the par-5s in 8-under in his 18-under victory. But that's nothing compared to what happened in prior years. Rahm notched 25 birdies – more than one-third of the holes – and played the par-5s in 13-under en route to 20-under. Fowler registered a whopping 30 birdies. But he shot only 18-under because he had six bogeys and three doubles, one of them on a par-5. He shot 9-under on the par-5s. Neither Rahm nor Fowler had an eagle all week. In 2016, Matsuyama did almost all of his damage on the par-5s, going 15-under on them en route to his 18-under winning score. He totaled 22 birdies and two eagles. You'd think Watson with his record 25-under score would've had the most birdies by a wide margin, but he had only 27 to go along with two eagles. He was able to score so low because he was almost bogey-free on the week. Watson was 13-under on the par-5s. To summarize, the 20 total par-5s go a long way in determining who wins. There is no rough at Albany, but wayward drives will land the golfers in the native area. Sometimes that's trouble, but oftentimes it's just fine. With a field this small, any golfer on form who takes this week seriously and isn't too star struck has a chance to win. Unfamiliarity with the Albany course should not be a big issue for the eight newcomers, seeing as Rahm won in his debut.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Rory McIlroy - $10,800 (Winning odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook: +700)
McIlroy's past two starts were a win at the CJ Cup followed by a coulda-shoulda win at the DP World Tour Championship. He faded very late on Sunday, in part because of a bad break in which his approach ricocheted off the flag stick, and wound up tied for sixth. Bottom line, he's playing well. This will be McIlroy's first Hero World Challenge appearance since 2013, meaning he's never played the Albany course. No matter. Experience isn't as important as a long, accurate iron game.
Collin Morikawa - $10,600 (+750)
Whenever we think of small greens, we think of the importance of greens in regulation, and that makes us think of Morikawa. After a stunningly terrible playoffs a few months back, he is back to his old self with a runner-up at the CJ Cup, a tie for seventh at the ZOZO Championship and a win last time out at the DP World Tour Championship. As mentioned above, Morikawa can overtake Jon Rahm for world No. 1 with a win, so this is actually a Hero World Challenge with something real to play for.
Justin Thomas - $10,200 (+900)
Thomas is a guy we think will take this week seriously, because of his close connection to Tiger, something Woods spoke about in his Golf Digest interview. They are really close. Besides, Thomas appears to be back in form after a lost summer, with top-5s in three of his past five starts and nothing worse than a T26 since the Summer Olympics. Thomas finished fifth here in 2019.
Viktor Hovland - $9,900 (+1100)
When we talk about Morikawa, oftentimes the next name mentioned is Hovland's, who is another golfer with laser-like accuracy from the fairway. In the early going of the new season, he's ranked top-5 on Tour in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, driving accuracy and greens in regulation. Hovland ranked 12th on Tour last season in Par-5 Birdie-or-Better Percentage.
Tier 2 Values
Xander Schauffele - $8,700 (+1200)
To let you in on how the sausage is made, we wanted to pick someone in the $8,000s, because we didn't want to jump from $9,900 down to $7,500. The thing is, there are only *two* $8,000s. It's not that we like Schauffele so much as we like him more than Jordan Spieth ($8,300). Schauffele has finished 10th and eighth here the past two editions, which of course is mediocre. But he did rank fourth on Tour last season in Par-5 BOB.
Sam Burns - $7,500 (+1400)
Burns has been the hottest player going in the fall swing, with a win, two other top-10s and another top-15 in four starts. We suspect he will take this tournament more seriously than just about anyone else, hoping to show the game's best that his recent play is no fluke. Burns ranked eighth in Par-5 BOB last season.
Patrick Reed - $6,400 (+2800)
Reed comes back every year. We get the feeling that he tries to kick everybody's butt just a little bit more than anyone else, and it shows: he has finished 3-11-10-5-2 in his five visits to Albany. The second half of 2021 has not been a great stretch of golf for Reed, but it's not like he's been terrible – just terrible for a top-10 golfer. The short hitter ranked 18th in Par-5 BOB last season.
Justin Rose - $6,100 (+2200)
This is a home game for the Bahamas resident, so he doesn't get a fancy vacation at the beach. Maybe that's why Rose plays well here just about every year. He's been in every Albany edition and finished top-5 the past three times. He tied for 12th at The RSM Classic two weeks ago, his third top-12 in his past five starts. At No. 47 in the world, he'd like to lock up a top-50 spot by year's end.