Hero World Challenge Contenders
This course is certainly there to be attacked, and that’s exactly what these world class players are going to do.
Almost a third of the holes here are par fives, and one a very drivable par four even if you’re not Bryson Dechambeau, and with wide, forgiving fairways and more than favourable conditions looking likely, it could very well be a case of this being won and lost around the greens.
For that reason, both McIlroy and Morikawa look a touch short to get behind. While the Northern Irishman’s victories this year have come from exceptional putting displays, he failed to hold his nerve in similar desert like conditions in Dubai, albeit through some harsh luck when hitting the pin on approach late Sunday afternoon, and with a strong field ready to pounce on any mistake this time round we’re happy to ignore his price.
Morikawa has proven he has no such issues when the pressure is on, though he’s known to be a bit wayward on the dancefloor from time to time and as a market leader we can’t get behind him winning successive events for the first time in his career.
With this field likely to be separated by extremely fine margins, the value certainly looks further down the pecking order and Patrick Reed definitely appeals. The American played very little golf at the end of summer, with the Tour Championship his only start in two months from the beginning of August.
He’s since returned with aplomb playing six events in the last eight weeks as he looks to build momentum and while results aren’t eye watering, one in particular stands out as potential lender to this event.
Reed finished second at the Bermuda Championship by one shot to Lucas Herbert last month, also held in the Atlantic where he finished fourth for putting average on similar Bermuda greens to what we’ll find here in Albany.
His subsequent finishes haven’t been overly impressive, though he ranked second for scrambling at the DP World Tour Championship in his last outing showing his work on and around the greens continues to stand out.
His driver has been misbehaving of late, though he’s proven time and time again that he’s never far away from a winning week, and with these wide fairways he could really contend like he has done in the past.
He has three top-fives without a win in his last five appearances in Albany, and that will certainly serve as motivation, if not his chance at redemption having so blatantly tried to cheat when third here two years ago, and at a very long price he’s worth siding with.
Another who doesn’t need much introduction is Brooks Koepka. The American has had a patchy season but it still remains that when motivated, there are very few that can beat him. He proved that last week when pride was very much on the line in his clash with DeChambeau, where he trumped his rival 4&3.
While his form hasn’t been blistering and he comes into this off back-to-back cuts, that rarely tends to matter for the four time Major winner and his last win in Phoenix came off the back of three successive missed cuts.
His second place at the PGA Championship came as the third event of a MC-MC-2-MC run, after which he proceeded to go 4-5-6, so it’s not as though he needs to build any momentum.
While not an official PGA Tour event, his clash with DeChambeau in Vegas highlighted some more superior ball striking than we’ve seen from Koepka lately, and with similar conditions likely here we wouldn’t be surprised if he took some confidence from that.
He often turns up for the big events, with his major record in recent years exceptional and while this competition doesn’t hold the gravitas that the majors do, a field of 20 of the best golfers in the world should motivate Koepka enough.
He finished seventh here in 2015, though his 18 under par that year would have been enough to take this to a play-off in three of the last four years, so he certainly won’t be daunted by this prospect.
Finally, it’s Xander Schauffele that looks slightly too far down the market for us. The Olympic Champion hasn’t had the year his early season form promised, with three successive top-fives to open the year resulting in just the one victory so far.
Schauffele has often excelled in limited field events though, not least the Tour Championship where he has a 1-7-2-1-3 record in that elite field of 30.
He has eighth and tenth placed finishes in his only two starts here, though in a limited field that’s not remarkable, yet not poor either considering the quality on display.
He’s opened with a one over par 73 in each of those visits, and failed to claw his way back from that, though a decent start here will set him the right track and give him confidence, and he’s a long enough price to run that risk.
He has an uncanny ability to gain strokes all over the course, and the fact that he relishes no cut events, allowing him to be more aggressive, means he’s certainly worth backing on this occasion.
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