A year ago today, all eyes were on Tiger Woods and his surgically fused back. Woods, then ranked outside the top 1000, was making his first start since major back surgery and a year-long absence. Questions abound about his health and the state of his game. Given his recent injury history, most were understandably skeptical of the notion that Woods would return to world-class form.
A year later, Woods returns as the world's No. 13 player, with reinvigorated and not-unfounded hopes of winning another major championship. What a difference 365 days makes.
It was at last year's Hero Challenge—a tournament Tiger hosts, and one that benefits his foundation—where Woods laid the foundation for his comeback with a solid performance, finishing T-9 in the limited field of 18 players. Woods is back in action at this week's Hero, where he's making his first appearance since losing $9 million to Phil Mickelson and playing his first stroke-play event since winning the Tour Championship. He's one of a number of big-name players teeing it up at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas.
The Hero Challenge does not count as an official PGA Tour event—a victory doesn't get you into the Masters, it doesn't count for the money list nor a player's career win total—but it does, controversially, offer world ranking points. Last year, Woods' T9 propelled him from outside the top 1000 to 668th. The winner this week will receive 48 world ranking points, the same number Marc Leishman received for winning the full-field CIMB Classic earlier this year.
Here's everything you need to know about the last 72-hole, stroke play tournament of 2018.
The Ernie Els-designed course is part of a five-star resort in the New Providence area of the Bahamas. Woods and Els, as well as Justin Timberlake, were involved in the resort's founding and all own part of it. Similar to the resort courses the Tour frequents in Hawaii, Albany is a relatively open track with wide fairways, big greens, little rough and lots of bunkers. It's a visually stunning course, as most fairways are lined with either pearly-white sand or a water hazard. As with many courses close to the ocean, wind will be the chief defense. It should be a birdie fest, and the winner will be someone whose putter stays hot all week.
The course record is 61, set by Rickie Fowler in the final round of last year's tournament. He made seven birdies in a row en route to a four-shot fictory.
The 18-man field is usually determined mostly by world ranking, with the defending champion and two special exemptions also getting in. In the past, Woods has had to use a special exemption on himself. Not so this year, as his ranking of 13th is good enough on its own merits.
Four of the top five players in the world are teeing it up—Justin Rose (2), Dustin Johnson (3), Justin Thomas (4) and Bryson DeChambeau (5).
The rest of the field, with world rankings in parentheses.
Jon Rahm (8)
Rickie Fowler (9)
Jason Day (11)
Xander Schauffele (12)
Tiger Woods (13)
Tony Finau (14)
Patrick Reed (15)
Bubba Watson (17)
Alex Noren (18)
Patrick Cantlay (20)
Hideki Matsuyama (25)
Henrik Stenson (28)
Keegan Bradley (29)
Gary Woodland (32)
All times eastern. Players wil be re-grouped based on score for each of the final three rounds.
Tony Finau, Gary Woodland - 11:10 a.m.
Keegan Bradley, Hideki Matsuyama - 11:21 a.m.
Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele - 11:32 a.m.
Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson - 11:43 a.m.
Jon Rahm, Alex Noren - 11:54 a.m.
Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods - 12:05 p.m.
Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson - 12:16 p.m.
Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson - 12:27 p.m.
Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau - 12:38 p.m.
All times eastern.
Thursday, Friday: 1:30-4 p.m. on Golf Channel
Saturday: 12-2:30 p.m. on Golf Channel, 2:30-5 p.m. on NBC
Sunday: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Golf Channel, 1-4 p.m. on NBC
Simulcast will be available on NBC Sports Live while the action is being shown on TV.
Note: The Hero World Challenge was played at Isleworth in Florida in 2014, and at Sherwood in California from 2000-2013.
2017 - Rickie Fowler (-18)
2016 - Hideki Matsuyama (-18)
2015 - Bubba Watson (-25)
2014 - Jordan Spieth (-26)
2013 - Zach Johnson (-13)
2012 - Graeme McDowell (-17)
2011 - Tiger Woods (-10)
2010 - Graeme McDowell (-16)
Justin Rose +700 - Last six starts? 2-2-T4-8-3-1. Not too shabby.
Dustin Johnson +800
Rickie Fowler +800 - Defending champ will have positive memories from that blistering 61.
Justin Thomas +900
Tiger Woods +900
Bryson DeChambeau +1100 - Has won three of his last five starts (!)
Jon Rahm +1200
Tony Finau +1600 - Still looking for win No. 2.
Jason Day +1800
Patrick Reed +1800 - Selfishly rooting for him to be paired with JT or Tiger at some point this week.
Xander Schauffele +1800
Hideki Matsuyama +2200
Patrick Cantlay +2200 - Last player into the field on world ranking points
Alex Noren +2800
Bubba Watson +2800
Gary Woodland +2800 - Has made 15 cuts in a row. Before that, he missed four of five. Golf.
Henrik Stenson +2800
Keegan Bradley +3500
Obviously every one of these guys is capable of winning this week, and most of these guys haven't played a 72-hole stroke play event for a little while, so there's not too much to go off of. Adding to the difficulty, the course doesn't appear to fit one type of player over another. I'm going to go with an all-around stud in Justin Thomas, who will show out on Thursday while paired with Tiger and ride a hot putter to the victory. Gary Woodland (+2800) and Xander Schauffele (+1800) are also worth plays.