This past week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas provided golf fans with endless early-December entertainment and at times euphoria, including highlights ranging from Tiger Woods’ resurgence, to Hideki Matsuyama torching the competition for his third victory in a row. We will have to wait at least a month until some of these players return to tournament play due to the Tour’s upcoming winter break, but the pleasant Bahamian preview was much appreciated and provided us with additional fantasy insight looking ahead.
The 24-year-old sensation has put up video-game like numbers throughout the fall, essentially reminding us of Tiger’s glory days with three consecutive worldwide wins and four victories in his last five events. He finished alone in second place at the CIMB Classic just over a month ago, which was the only tournament he was not able to win during this incredible stretch. Matsuyama is not a man of many words, but the silent assassin has let his scorching-hot putter do the talking while his ball striking remains world class. Any doubt surrounding who the hottest golfer on the planet might be is currently microscopic, with Matsuyama having climbed 12 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking all the way up to the No. 6 slot since the TOUR Championship alone.
A first-round 73 highlighted by four birdies in his first eight holes called for a sigh of relief for Woods in his return to tournament golf, but his bogey-free, seven-under performance on Friday sent a message to his competitors that Tiger is not too old or beaten up to quit roaring just yet. In fact, Woods ended up leading the field in birdies throughout the week with 24, but also recorded the most double bogeys on the flip side. He entered Sunday’s final round with his sights set on at least a top-10 finish, while a trio of doubles forced him to fall into 15th place out of 17 players. Despite the later bloopers, Tiger’s value certainly rose and may very well continue to do so, having gained momentum and swagger moving forward.
Just two weeks after securing his second career Race to Dubai title on the European Tour, Stenson returned to action at the Hero World Challenge where he finished runner-up to Matsuyama by just two strokes after trailing by seven entering Sunday’s final round. Looking back on his 2016 campaign, the 40-year-old certainly broke out and solidified his elite status with feats such as a major victory at the Open Championship and a silver medal at the Rio Summer Olympics. He has not slowed in terms of his recent form with four consecutive top-10s to date, but given his schedule last year, it may be a couple months before he returns to activity on the PGA Tour.
Walker is not quite experiencing utter deterioration just yet, but he has fallen from No. 15 in the OWGR after winning the PGA Championship to his current situation as the 21st-ranked player in the world. His last three individual events include a T77 at the WGC-HSBC Champions, a missed cut at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open where he entered as one of the field’s highest ranked players, and a T13 out of 17 in his most recent start at the Hero World Challenge. The 37-year-old still has distance on his side, but he’ll need to improve with his accuracy and putting in order to contend for another major in 2017.
Chappell’s eighth-place finish in the final FedExCup Standings of the 2015-16 season was by far the best of his career, but his fairly heavy 27-event schedule may have caused some fatigue during the recent fall series of tourneys. Throughout three events since his T2 at the TOUR Championship, Chappell has yet to crack the top-30 and even missed a cut at the RSM Classic in his most recent effort. Although he has never recorded a win on the PGA Tour, Chappell is likely to find his groove at some point if his 2016 campaign is any indication.
Na began his 2016-17 season with back-to-back top-30s against fairly weak competition, but has since fallen outside the top-40 of the OWGR due to struggles at the WGC-HSBC Champions where he finished T54, and a more-recent missed cut at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. This was all preceded by quite a solid end to his summer that included five top-25s during a six-event span, so hopefully he can recapture that magic as 2017 quickly approaches. Expect Na back in mid-January as he usually enters the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Rose’s opening round of 74 at the Hero World Challenge foreshadowed his Friday withdrawal due to the back injury that has been bothersome since October. Coming as somewhat of a surprise, Rose kept his name in the field for this week’s UBS Hong Kong Open where he’ll defend his title, so the back issue may be on the mend after all. Rose has slid in the OWGR down to the No. 15 slot, but he will look to survive all four rounds and attempt to repeat his victory in China this week.