Tiger Woods returns but Jon Rahm is the tournament favourite
Tiger Woods returns but Jon Rahm is the tournament favourite

Hero World Challenge: Tiger Woods headlines field of 20 at Albany


Ben Coley profiles the 20 players set to take part in the Hero World Challenge, including tournament host Tiger Woods.

BURNS, Sam

  • Course form: 3

Finished third on his debut in this at the end of a breakthrough 2021 and it could've been better: beaten three shots in the end, he made back-to-back par-five bogeys during round four, plus a seven at the driveable 14th. Having been level with the eventual winner with five to play, it was a chance missed. Form coming in had been red-hot but this time returns under something of a cloud following withdrawal in Houston, while his previous seventh was courtesy of a red-hot putter. Could bounce back to form under what appear to be ideal conditions, though.

CONNERS, Corey

  • Course form: Debut

Canadian gets in as a late replacement for Presidents Cup teammate Hideki Matsuyama. Had a debut to forget at Quail Hollow in that competition but back to form since, with three top-25 finishes in his three subsequent starts. That none of them saw him challenge for what would be a second professional win says plenty and while that overdue follow-up will surely come, the price you pay for his consistency can be a high one. Could be sharper than some but not convinced this course is ideal for all that some of his best putting displays have come on bermuda greens. Will likely need one of them.

FINAU, Tony

  • Course form: 2-10-7

Reinvented as a prolific winner now having bagged three titles in his last seven tournaments, more than he'd managed in a years-long career at the top level beforehand. Runner-up finish here was in keeping with his profile at the time whereas it's now hard to argue against his prospects of yet another victory having perhaps wisely chosen to skip the RSM Classic. Five par-fives plus a par-four that can be driven make it an obvious fit and there are no issues around the prospect of wind, either. Faded following a strong start last year but still maintained what's a strong course record, and must be among the favourites.

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FITZPATRICK, Matt

  • Course form: 12

Made a steady debut last year when 12th with four under-par rounds and has come a long way since, cracking the code to win both his first PGA Tour and first major title in one go at the US Open. Disappointed not to make a better go of adding the Race to Dubai when fading from first to fifth but it was on balance a step back in the right direction. Nevertheless, a little disconcerting to see him drive the ball poorly at a course he loves and you'd have to say this one is likely less suitable for all he boasts a quality all-round game. Can't rule him out of course but would just be wary of the tank running empty having been so invested in topping the DP World Tour points list.

FLEETWOOD, Tommy

  • Course form: 3

One of the form picks having taken a shine to Albany when third in 2017, and recently rediscovered his best with a win in South Africa followed by fifth place in Dubai. What's most pleasing is that there's real substance to the way he's gone about achieving these two results, with his best fortnight of iron play in memory and much improved consistency off the tee. Yes, he had a bit of luck in South Africa but to win and then finish close behind Jon Rahm while putting poorly on both occasions tells you his long-game is well and truly back. Wouldn't be a surprise if he contended again.

HOMA, Max

  • Course form: Debut

Two more wins in 2022 and a Presidents Cup debut earned him an invite for his first Hero Challenge and he's now very much on the fringes of the game's best. Enough to like about his two performances since Quail Hollow after impressing everyone there, although it's fair to say he's won at very different golf courses to this one and there's a chance he's outgunned on this open terrain on debut. Might just be compensated for a quiet week by playing with Tiger Woods at some stage which would make for some lovely stuff on social media.

HORSCHEL, Billy

  • Course form: 16

Never a factor on his sole previous start at Albany, starting the final round in 17th place among a field of 18 and still finishing well adrift of the contenders despite closing with a 67. Doubt it's a great course for him and while he's one we can probably rely upon to arrive here fully focused, has to be said he was disappointing under more suitable conditions in Mexico. Bottom-half finish predicted.

HOVLAND, Viktor

  • Course form: 1

Won this on debut with a brilliant final-round 66 which exploded with back-to-back eagles at holes 14 and 15. First was a slightly fortunate hole-out but the second was Hovland at his ball-striking best and, to date, remains arguably the most impressive single moment of his career. Still to win in mainland USA but has ideal conditions by the sea in the Bahamas and has already defended one title, so there's enough to like on the face of it. Form can be viewed one of two ways: he's not really hit the ball as we know he can for some time, yet he's finished in the top 35 of every start since the Open in July and been in there with a chance on three occasions.

Viktor Hovland celebrates
Viktor Hovland poses with the Hero World Challenge trophy

IM, Sungjae

  • Course form: Debut

Consistent Korean has done a passable Old Finau impression lately, with three runner-up finishes from his last eight starts. Continues to drive the ball really well ahead of what will be his course debut and while approach play was of a very poor standard last time we saw him, he's been known to flick it back on before. Has a good record in the wind, including first PGA Tour victory in Florida, and bermuda greens remain his preferred surface, so a likely type for all that I do think this course suits those with an extra yard or two in the locker off the tee.

KIM, Tom

  • Course form: Debut

One of the stars of 2022 having started the year winning in Singapore and ended it as a two-time PGA Tour champion who has made friends with the world number one and gained millions of fans with his Presidents Cup performances. So much more to come from a really sharp young man whose iron play has been right up there with the best since July, so if he makes his share then watch out for a big performance in the sort of elite company he now fully belongs in.

KISNER, Kevin

  • Course form: 12-7

Arguably fortunate to get the call for the Presidents Cup and has generally struggled this year, albeit five top-10 finishes show what he can still do when he has things in his favour. That isn't the case here and while it was encouraging to see a better ball-striking display last time, that was in the RSM Classic, at courses made for him, and this is a very different challenge. Very hard to make a case for him.

LOWRY, Shane

  • Course form: Debut

Another first-time visitor who ended a long winless run to capture the BMW PGA Championship in September. Easily forgiven Dunhill Links missed cut and has played pretty well for 23rd in both subsequent starts, albeit his long-game was poor at the DP World Tour Championship. Hopes pinned on that being a one-off and we certainly know he's comfortable by the coast and on bermuda greens, having had good chances to win both the Honda Classic and the RBC Heritage back in the spring. Chances improve if the wind blows.

MORIKAWA, Collin

  • Course form: 5

Fifth on debut fails to tell the full story as he was in fact five shots clear entering the final round. I recall host Tiger Woods in the commentary booth, stating that Morikawa's strength is that he doesn't have a big miss, only for Morikawa to prove that all wrong the very next day. It's nice to know even this sport's greatest can be very bad at predicting things from time to time. Join the club, pal. Anyway, that effort from Morikawa came when at the top of his game (and explains why he performed so poorly, as a win would've got him to number one in the world), which he hasn't been this year. Putting has been really bad at times and he's also had some swing issues. Catching the eye lately though and has plenty of incentive having not yet won in 2022.

RAHM, Jon

  • Course form: 1-2

Another lucrative return east saw him capture the DP World Tour Championship in pretty comfortable fashion, despite a slowish start to the week. That made it three wins for the year and he was very keen to point out that number given many have suggested he's not done much in 2022, a comment which in fairness surely refers to the majors (27-48-12-34). Can view Dubai win in many different ways but no doubt he didn't drive the ball well there. If he gets his best club firing again and is ready to go from a mentality perspective then three wins in his last four starts looks a real possibility, and he's probably the right favourite.

Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy
Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy

SCHAUFFELE, Xander

  • Course form: 8-10-12

Regressive course form figures since an encouraging debut which saw him card a third-round 66. Slow starts have been costly on all three visits but should really be a good fit for him, given strong record at Kapalua and the way he drives the ball. Perhaps a light end-of-year schedule has something to do with it and has only played once since the Presidents Cup, when ninth in Japan. Could do better and while there's been a lot of LIV Golf speculation, I thought his response to it was pretty unequivocal despite some coverage suggesting he dodged the question. I mean, he said he would reconsider if Tiger, JT, Rory and co went over, which seems a reasonable answer to me.

SCHEFFLER, Scottie

  • Course form: 2

Spectacular spring, frustrating since has been the tale for Scheffler in 2022, but it really does feel worth stressing that by 'frustrating' I mean he didn't quite win the US Open, didn't do better when he also had a chance to win the Open, finished third a couple of times, and then ninth when putting horribly in the CJ Cup. That club, the putter, is the only thing that's prevented him from producing the sort of season we talk about years from now, as four wins really could've been seven or eight. Of course, it's now six months since he looked like he couldn't miss from inside 10 feet and we have to consider putting a serious issue, but if he fixes it he ought to be hard to beat anywhere. Here at Albany, he played the best golf in the field over the weekend of his debut, before he was a PGA Tour winner, and with Rory McIlroy off this is a good chance to gain ground in the world rankings.

SPIETH, Jordan

  • Course form: 4-6-3-16-20

Won this in Florida but suggested the move to Albany would be no trouble when carding a hole-in-one at the second hole on his first round as defending champion. Went on to finish fourth and was third a couple of years later, but more recently has struggled. Last year he finished a tailed-off last having been penalised for playing from the wrong tee during the final round, and he was fully a dozen shots behind 18th-placed Rory McIlroy. Coastal course with bermuda greens certainly not an issue if he can put that behind him but was way down the field at the CJ Cup in October and there are reasons to be a little worried by both his driving and his putting.

THOMAS, Justin

  • Course form: 11-12-5-5

Like Scheffler, he's gone a little quiet since winning a major in the spring and has only been seen once since the Presidents Cup, when no kind of factor at Congaree. Putted horribly there but the big worry is that one of the very best iron players on the circuit has been anything but since mid-summer, and without that aspect of his game firing he's always likely to be a yard off the pace. Easy to make excuses for a lot of it, such as links golf, the nature of two of the three FedEx Cup Playoffs courses, even Congaree, but that does still leave us requiring a leap of faith. Question is whether price allows for that after a closing 64 last year.

WOODS, Tiger

  • Course form: 15-9-17-4

Tournament host returns to action having last been seen waving goodbye on Friday at St Andrews, his favourite course in the world. Will he play in the Open again? Who knows, but what's become clear is that everything now is a bonus for the greatest player of all time, one whose body can no longer withstand the rigours of professional golf. It's going to require something extraordinary to win anything again, let alone something as competitive as this, and seems more likely he'll be the one to prop up the leaderboard. Then again he hadn't played tour golf for 18 months when he made the cut at the Masters in April and by now we should all know not to rule anything out. Don't be the dude who moans about seeing his every shot. Instead, cherish watching this remarkable sportsman while you still can.

YOUNG, Cameron

  • Course form: Debut

Rookie of the Year who managed seven top-three finishes, including in the PGA Championship and when runner-up in the Open. Has shown us that driver is his biggest weapon but is also really sharp around the green, which helped him to rank inside the top 10 in strokes-gained tee-to-green nine times in total during a fabulous first campaign. Not reached those heights in a couple of starts this season but approach play was very good in the CJ Cup and he's sure to enjoy thrashing driver upon driver at this course. Much depends on the putter.

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