The 23rd Hero World Challenge is not a regular PGA Tour event, but many sanctioned tournaments have to be envious of the field that host Tiger Woods, who withdrew on Monday because of a foot injury, has lined up to play at the Albany Club in New Providence, The Bahamas, beginning Thursday.
Leading the 20-man field are second-ranked Scottie Scheffler, fifth-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, eighth-ranked Justin Thomas, ninth-ranked Matthew Fitzpatrick of England and 10th-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal.
And the Albany Course, designed by Ernie Els of South Africa and opened in 2010, is a star in its own right.
“It’s a very special golf course,” said Els, the four-time major who now plays on the Champions Tour. “If I were trying to paint an outline mental picture for anyone, I would say think of a mix maybe between maybe Royal Birkdale and the Els Club Dubai. The bunkering is a strong feature and is partly inspired by one of my favorite types of golf course, the Australian sand-belt classics such as Royal Melbourne.”
Rahm (pictured), who won the Hero World Challenge at Albany by four strokes in 2018, would seem to be the favorite since he has won Open de Espana and the DP World Tour Championship (for the third time), tied for second in the BMW PGA Championship and tied for fourth in the (PGA) Tour Championship in his last four starts.
“Hopefully, people can stop telling me it has been a bad year,” said Rahm, who has three victories in 2022, including the Mexico Open at Vidanta on the PGA Tour. “Three wins worldwide. Three wins on three different continents. Yeah, there wasn’t a major championship, but it was still a really, really good season.
“I definitely want play better in the majors (next year). I’ve won one (the 2021 U.S. Open on the South Course at Torrey Pines in La Jolla). I want to get the second one for sure.”
Woods has won the tournament, which he started with his father Earl in 2000, a record five times and will be on hand as the tournament host despite his injury.
Viktor Hovland of Norway, who is ranked 12th in the world, won the tournament last year by one stroke over Scheffler when me made two eagles on the back nine en route to a final-round 66.
“Honestly, when I first teed off and obviously got off to just making a few pars early on, I didn’t really think winning was even in question,” Hovland said of starting the final day six shots off the lead held by Morikawa, who closed with a 76. “But after I made three birdies in a row at the end of the front nine and I got to No. 9 and I was in the greenside bunker, I looked up at the leaderboard and I saw I believe I was tied for the lead, maybe one shot behind or something like that. That’s when I knew that: ‘OK, if I play really well on the back nine, I’ve got a chance.’
“There’s only 20 guys in the field, but the players here are really good and I feel like my wins have come when the field hasn’t been as strong, so for me to do well in a field like this gives me a lot of confidence.”
Also in the field this week are Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood of England, Jordan Spieth, Shane Lowry of Ireland, Tom Kim of South Korea, Corey Conners of Canada, Sam Burns, Corey Conners of Canada, Sungjae Im of South Korea, Kevin Kisner, Max Homa of Valencia and Cal, Billy Horschel, Cameron Young and Sepp Straka of Austria, who took Woods’ spot.