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By Alex Lauzon from the “Course of Life” podcast
It’s “silly season” in the world of golf as we transition from the holiday season into the Hawaii swing to kick off 2023 in no time. Still, one event that is slightly elevated from a hit and giggle is the Hero World Challenge, boasting a $1 million first-place prize that will cover anyone’s holiday shopping. Positioned annually between Thanksgiving and Christmas it’s a cushy part of the midseason break before the Holidays where Tiger hosts a who’s who at the top of the world rankings for a casual money grab in the Bahamas.
GOLF IN PARADISE
Albany GC in New Providence presents like a classic paradise golf resort – devoid of undulation, sand, and waste areas are ever present and picture-perfect pure greens eager for hot putters. It is 7400+ yards in length but is an easy walk and mother nature is the main opponent preventing this from being an all-out birdie fest. It’s a rather no-nonsense course and we should expect lots of rounds in the 60s barring any major weather event.
The limited 20-player field (hand-picked and invited by Tiger himself) is stacked in the best ways. From Scheffler to Schauffele to Spieth and JT, the American Ryder Cup stalwarts of the present will be on hand. Race to Dubai champion Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, and Matt Fitzpatrick lead the European contingent, while fan favorites Tom Kim, Kevin Kisner, and Max Homa all got invites as well. It’s golf’s version of “playing the hits” of 2022 one last time for funsies – no FedEx cup points but it’s an opportunity to cash one more winner.
FORECASTING THE HERO
Admittedly the scoring in this event is comically low, but the wind is the main guardian for crazy 20-something under tallies after four rounds. The main factor this week is motivation to perform and win – we’re coasting into winter break and while the world’s elite are gathering, some will show up like competitors while others are just trying to get into the clubhouse to watch some football.
I’m prefacing my weekly picks based on exactly what I value the most. With every play I make, I’m always taking into account these factors, and for the Hero in the Bahamas, the intangible is who wants to perform at a casual event in paradise – I’m going with those guys this week.
1. Who’s hot and trending – recent high finishes, top-10 streaks, and consistent play are never a bad thing.
2. Horses for courses – players love certain courses and course familiarity and experience are invaluable in a field of the world’s best.
3. What the numbers tell you this week – while I’m far from analytical, there’s always a tournament darling or two scattered across the golf talk stratosphere that stuns on paper.
4. Intangibles – while this allows for theater of the mind, there’s a mysterious optimism surrounding that feels “due” or if the price looks just right for buying.
At the Houston Open, five out of my six plays made the weekend, and Scottie Scheffler and Joel Dahmen both posted top-10 finishes for us. Overall, nothing to write home about on the card but we’ve got one more go at it to get right. I’ll give it a B- week.
THE SIX PACK OF PICKS
(Wanna start a Pick-X pool with your friends? Learn more here! Or, if you’re looking to start your own PGA One-and-Done pool, check those out here) (Hint: the main difference between the two is how many players you’ll pick each week)
1: Jon Rahm – Understandably the betting favorite, he’s got the Race of Dubai W under his belt and is playing great golf this fall – he’ll have to end up close to contention by Sunday.
2: Justin Thomas – JT is practically a veteran at this course and event by now, and he’s had good finishes here in recent years including finishing 5th in 2021.
3: Viktor Hovland – Last year’s winner is going off at surprisingly good odds – maybe due to his quiet stretch recently. He is the type of player to stay motivated here to defend his title like he’s done on tour before.
4: Cameron Young – His game is a great model of consistency for birdie opportunities at Albany, and is my pick for the debut player here.
5: Sam Burns – He finished 3rd here last year, and he has a top 10 under his belt earlier in the fall at the CJ Cup.
6: Kevin Kisner – The biggest odds in the field have Kiz at 70-1 to win this week. As long as limits the 19th hole time he should fare well on this track.
RYP One and Done Pick: N/A
Where to watch: Golf Channel all weekend – the surf, the sun, the sand, and copious displays of megayacht wealth on your screens.
Why to watch: It’s a December event featuring an elite field, an early holiday gift for golf fans.
What to eat: More like “what to drink” if you’re these elite players cheering for a successful 2022. “Add a floater” should be a popular term at the clubhouse bar this week.
Purse: $3.5 million
Winner’s Share: $1 million