The First Tee – HERO World Challenge

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly November 26, 2018 22:14

The First Tee – HERO World Challenge

This Week

The Hero World Challenge is an 18-man, no-cut event which means it’s a good week to skip if you’re a “one lineup warrior,” and focusing on golfers that make birdies in bunches matters a lot more than finishing position.

THE COURSE

The Albany Course in the Bahamas plays host to the Tiger Woods-hosted Hero World Challenge, which as mentioned is a tiny tournament with just 18 golfers in the field – all invited due to OWGR ranking or winning a major – and it’s anything but a regular week for the players in the field.

Albany is a par-72 with five par-5s and par-3s, and it sits at 7,302 yards officially. It’s a big-time birdie course, with extremely wide fairways with almost no rough, and is designed in the links style. The winning score in the past has sat at -18 (Fowler, Matsuyama) and -25 (Bubba) and the worst score on record – excluding Koepka’s +3 last year with his gimpy wrist – is +1, shared between Emiliano Grillo and Henrik Stenson.

The par-5s sit between 548- and 603-yards, and will be key to shooting a good score; last year’s winner went -9 on the par-5s, which includes a tough double-bogey. Water will come into play on the longest par-5, but it’s still typically the easiest hole on the course. Length is a major factor off the tee, given the extra par-5, and golfers should be able to grip it and rip it thanks to the extra-wide fairways.

The main concern off the tee (beyond being short which shouldn’t be a problem for the bulk of the field) is the sandy dunes that replace any “rough” outside the fairways – missing that badly makes approach shots extremely tough, obviously. Beyond that, water does into play a few times, and because it’s such a wide-open course, wind and weather could be a factor.

Comparable to Pinehurst, the greens here are “turtle-back” greens, which means there’s a sweet spot in the green golfers will have to hit, and missing that spot could see the ball roll off the greens that all slope away. They’re lightning-fast and are TifEagle Bermuda, but could be tricky to hold thanks to their shape. Approach shots should typically be with a wedge – except on the par-5s – which should set it up to make the greens hittable, but short players will be at a severe disadvantage as they won’t be able to loft the ball in. Bunkers surround the greens, so play out of the sand will be another key thanks to how few greens get held.

STATS

No ShotTracker information, so stats are based on the course & not any statistical basis.

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Off-The-Tee
  • Putting
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Par-5 Birdie or Better %
  • Driving Distance
  • Approach Shots: 50-125 Yards
  • Greens in Regulation %
  • Par-3 Birdie or Better %

Top-Tier Golfer

Dustin Johnson ($10,500):

Pros: Led the tour last year in Driving Distance (all drives) and SG: Off the Tee, and was also first in SG: Tee to Green. He had the best par-5 scoring and the fourth-best par-5 Birdie or Better % (55.36%) but the best overall BoB% (27.25%). His proximity from 50-125 yards out was 16’8” on average, and he was the eighth-best relative to par on approach shots from those distances. He has so, so many pros that I won’t list them all.

Cons: The only areas where DJ falters statistically – relative to how strong the rest of his game is – is around the green, where he ranked 33rd in SG: ARG. When he ended up in the sand, his proximity to the hole suffered (+24 in 92 attempts, with an average proximity of 9’2”), which was the major contributing factor to that ranking of 33rd. His scores here have varied wildly, with scores of E, -13 and -8.

 

Justin Thomas ($9,200):

Pros: Another long hitter, JT ranked 10th in all drive distance last year, and third in par-5 scoring / second in par-5 BoB%. He was above average on par-3s in terms of making birdie (21st), and ranked third in overall BoB%. His approach game is strong – 4th in SG: App last year and from the 50-125 range, he was 23rd and 20th in proximity and score relative to par, respectively. He’s got strong one-putt numbers which minimizes his (relatively) poor SG: Putting rank of 47th.

Cons: JT has only played this event once – last year – and shot -7 to finish 11th; obviously, course history won’t be much of a thing, but if you want to consider that, go for it. JT’s accuracy will always be a bugaboo for him, as he hit the fairways only 58.41% of the time last season, which held him back from getting to the green in regulation as consistently as he should have (68.7%.)

 

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Tony Finau ($7,500):

Pros: Ranked 13th in SG: Tee to Green last year, thanks to almost-elite play both off the tee and on approach. Extremely long off the tee – 7th on all drives – and a stud on par-4s and -5s, Finau ranked 12th and eighth in par-4 and -5 BoB% last year, and 9th in overall BoB% (23.87%.) He hit the green at a solid clip of 70.18% and his putting didn’t hold him back nearly as much as it has in the past, ranking 53rd in SG: Putting.

Cons: Has never played this event before. His play with a wedge in his hand isn’t ideal, as Finau ranked T170 and T70 from 50-125 yards out (proximity and relative to par, respectively.) Like JT, his tee shots can’t be called “accurate”, and like DJ, he struggles around the greens. His putting has improved as mentioned, but he’s still one of the worse putters in the field this week.

Gary Woodland ($6,300):

Pros: For as bad as Woodland is in some categories, he’s as good or better in some key ones: last year he ranked 18th in SG: T2G, and had an all drive average of 300.6 (12th.) He managed to hit 70.51% of greens in regulation and sat 24th in SG: Approach, and was a stud on par-5s and above-average on par-4s. At his price point and with his distance, he’s solidly in play this week.

Cons: Like Finau, Woodland has also never played this event before. His downsides are (obviously, given his price tag) much more noticeable than everyone else in this week’s article, but they’re similar to the rest: putting and play around the green. He ranked 114th and 177th in those two categories respectively, and was putrid on par-3s (176th in scoring average / 170th in BoB%.)

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

 

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly November 26, 2018 22:14

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