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Five Players Who'd be Perfect to End 2021 with a Win at Tiger's Tournament

Nothing at Albany Golf Club will match the host's Tuesday press conference for clout, writes Morning Read's Dan O'Neill, but there's a handful of players with a whole lot to play for in the limited-field event.
Collin Morikawa plays the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

Collin Morikawa can become the world's No. 1 player this week

In case you weren’t aware, a golf tournament will take place this week in the Bahamas. No, really.

Perfectly understandable if you missed that part. After all, the host of the tournament, Tiger Woods, is kind of a big deal. And on Tuesday, the host held a press conference. Not just any press conference, mind you, but his first since dominating a news cycle back in February with a horrific car crash.

The conference was compelling. The host talked about climbing Mount Everest, pondering amputation, spending months in bed … dramatic stuff. Two things became abundantly clear during the chat. First, the host was lucky to be sitting in front of a microphone, taking questions. And second, the host won’t be playing this week.

To be sure, nothing that might take place over the next few days at Albany Golf Club will match Tuesday’s testimony for optics and cultural clout. That said, in case you weren’t aware, a golf tournament will now take place in the Bahamas. And when the ball goes into the air, the Hero World Challenge will feature some fascinating sidebars, storylines that are worthy of attention, if not a show-stopping presser.

After all, the no-cut field contains 20 of the biggest names in the sport that are not “Tiger Woods.” And the winner’s take is $1 million. That’s not Max Scherzer money, but seriously, what is?

So least we get too wrapped up in who’s not playing this week — and not playing for many weeks to come — let’s consider who is. The PGA Tour has had to get used to life without Tiger for the past many months, and these are the primary personalities who made it work.

More specifically, here are five who hope to hold their press conference on Sunday, and close the year with a different kind of statement.

1. Collin Morikawa

If he can win, Collin Morikawa will leapfrog Jon Rahm and become the 25th player to reach top-dog status in the OWGR. Morikawa has won three times previously this season, which includes a victory in the European Tour finals in Dubai last month, as well as a British Open triumph at Royal St. George’s in July — his second major in two years.

If he can pull it off in his 61st professional start, the 24-year old California Kid will be the quickest to reach No. 1 status since another California Kid — Woods. He also would be the first to hold the world rankings throne who is younger than Woods. It’s been a heckuva year for Morikawa and a win in the Bahamas would stick the landing.

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2. Justin Thomas

With his win at The Players in March, Justin Thomas certainly has nothing to apologize for this year. Yet he does. Thomas has made it clear in recent weeks that ’21 has been an emotional struggle. The anxiety includes the homophobic slur incident/fallout back in January, and the death of his grandfather in early February. Although he won at TPC Sawgrass, Thomas was not particularly competitive in any of the majors and not particularly happy, with his game or anything else.

But the 2017 PGA Championship winner became engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Jillian Wisniewski, last month. At the same time, after lots of soul searching, the 28-year old has re-focused and committed to being among the best. A win against an elite field in the Bahamas would lay the foundation for a dynamic 2022.

3. Jordan Spieth

The year has been good for Jordan Spieth, as everyone might be quick to proclaim. After he fell to 92nd in the OWGR — a place he had not visited since he was trying to earn his card — Spieth reversed field. He posted a win at the Valero Texas Open, a tie for third at the Masters, a second at the British Open, collected nine top-10s and played in the Ryder Cup. He is now No. 11 on the OWGR hit parade.

But … without minimizing any of that, a T12 in the FedEX St. Jude is his best finish since July. In short, he hadn’t exactly finished the year with a flourish until … Three weeks ago, Jordan and Annie Spieth welcomed the birth of a son, Sammy. Safe to say becoming a parent crushes whatever happens on a golf course. That said, winning the Hero World Challenge would re-assert Spieth’s golf momentum, and be quite the way for a new poppa to celebrate.

4. Viktor Hovland

The 24-year old Viktor Hovland has been an Aurora Borealis in the PGA Tour sky this year. The Oslo native became the first Norwegian to win the U.S. Amateur in 2018, and has transitioned to the pro ranks the way Joey Chestnut transitions to the next hot dog.

Over the last 21 months, Hovland has four wins worldwide, including a repeat at Mayakoba last month, and he has seven top fives since January. In terms of ball-striking, he is right there with Morikawa among the most dynamic in the game. In short, Hovland is on the verge of ruining his betting odds and joining the top handful in the game. A Hero World Challenge championship would push the envelope.

5. Bryson DeChambeau

With the way he dominated the golf scene in 2021, you would think Bryson DeChambeau’s year had more to it. He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and had two other top-5s. Nothing to scoff at, but given the amount of headlines and hype he generated, it’s a little underwhelming.

When DeChambeau won the delayed U.S. Open in November, 2020, people feared he was turning the game into a long-drive contest. The buzz around his beastly approach carried into 2021.

Then came the “feud” with Brooks Koepka, which led to more attention and more commercial opportunities. But the two were amiable teammates for the Ryder Cup. More recently, Koepka waxed DeChambeau in The Match without “Bison” winning a single hole. So is a guy who won one tournament this year really changing the game? DeChambeau’s credibility could use a booster shot this weekend.