HERO WORLD CHALLENGE
Winner's Share: $1M
FedEx Cup Points: 0
Location: New Providence, the Bahamas
2016 champion: Hideki Matsuyama
In trying to figure out how to write the beginning of this little fantasy golf article, we wasted a lot of time because there's really only one way: Tiger Woods. Almost all of the elite golfers in the world are in this 18-man field, and none of them matter. Woods could be playing alongside 17 kids from the James Madison High School golf team at the Marine Park muni in Brooklyn (our boyhood course) and he would still be the biggest golf story of the year.
This will be Woods' sixth comeback since his injury woes really began in earnest in 2014 (10th comeback overall). In the five previous, we were fooled every dang time just as if we were Charlie Brown trying to kick that dang football. Could this one be different? Golfers who've seen Woods play recently say he looks great, he's hitting the driver far and his swing is far more effortless than in previous revisions. And remember, Woods actually led the field in birdies here last year. It was a final-round 76 that relegated him to a 15th-place finish in his first tournament in 15 months. The current absence has been only 10, since he withdrew in Dubai in February and underwent a fourth back surgery. As he was last year, Woods will be an interesting consideration for fantasy play. With only 18 possible selections, he's bound to be in a lot of lineups.
This will be only the third time the Albany golf course has played host to the Hero, and eight of the golfers are new to the tournament. Last year, Hideki Matsuyama won at 18-under and the year before Bubba Watson bludgeoned his way to a 25-under winning total. With a rare layout of five par-5s and five par-3s at Albany, scores will be low and birdies will be mandatory. Birdie-fests have been a boon to Justin Thomas, who arrives for his Hero debut as the best golfer in the world over the past year. He's still ranked behind No. 1 Dustin Johnson and No. 2 Jordan Spieth, both of whom will also be here, but he's the top guy on the DraftKings board. Eight of the top-10 in the OWGR are entered, and everyone but Woods is in the top-32.
Focusing on lineup construction, there are a few things to consider. First, with only 18 golfers, every one of them will have at least moderate ownership. So don't wrack your brain trying to find a hidden guy -- no one is hidden this week. Some guys have been inactive for much of the fall, others have been busy. For instance, Spieth looked a bit rusty last week in Australia in his first event since the Presidents Cup. As for busy, look no further than Tommy Fleetwood, whose flight plan the past seven weeks looks like this: Italy, China, Turkey, South Africa, Dubai, Hong Kong and now the Bahamas. Some of the golfers will take this tournament seriously, others will view it as a six-figure cash grab with a week at the beach. Some of the newbies might be a bit nervous in such an elite field.
Weather-wise, it will be warm and there should be some rain on Thursday. The big consideration is the wind, which is forecast to be in double-digit mph all four rounds.
Key Stats to Winning at Albany (in order of importance)
• Par-5 birdie or better percentage
• Driving accuracy/strokes gained off the tee
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained approach
• Putting average/strokes gained putting
2016 - Hideki Matsuyama
2015 - Bubba Watson
2014 - Jordan Spieth
2013 - Zach Johnson
2012 - Graeme McDowell
2011 - Tiger Woods
2010 - Graeme McDowell
2009 - Jim Furyk
2008 - Vijay Singh
2007 - Tiger Woods
Last year, Matsuyama shot 15-under on the par-5s and won at 18-under. If you get the ball on the fairway, there are oodles of birdies to be had. There is no rough at Albany, but wayward drives will land you in native area. Sometimes that's trouble, but oftentimes it's just fine. Unfamiliarity with the Albany course should not be a big issue for newcomers. Really, any golfer in form who takes this week seriously and isn't too star struck has a chance to win.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Justin Thomas - $11,100 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 6-1)
Thomas concerned us with two overseas tournaments right after the Presidents Cup but he's been idle for more than a month and should be rested. Look no further than Hawaii to see how he eats up these birdie-fest courses. Thomas is paired with Woods in the first round and he could be a bit nervous, but not too nervous to play well.
Jordan Spieth - $10,500 (6-1)
Spieth got back in action last week at the Australian Open. He was never in contention in a rather weak field but still closed with his best round of the week to pull into the top-10. He's one of the eight golfers to play both prior Heros at Albany. Spieth tied for sixth last year and was solo fourth in 2016.
Rickie Fowler - $9,600 (8-1)
Fowler has finished third both times at Albany (share of third last year, solo the year before). That fits the narrative that Fowler often plays well enough to not win. Case in point: his runner-up at the OHL Classic last month in his lone start of the season to date.
Brooks Koepka - $9,200 (9-1)
Thomas may be the best golfer over the past year, but no one's been better than Koepka the past five months. Beginning with a win at the U.S. Open in June, Koepka has top-20s in nine of his 10 starts. He won his last time out in Japan and was runner-up the time before that at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. Koepka was 13th last year at Albany and seventh in 2016.
Tier 2 Values
Kevin Kisner - 7,100 (25-1)
It took a while, but Kisner has righted himself after a disastrous fade at the PGA Championship. He finished third at the Tour Championship, played well in the Presidents Cup and then, after a long break, tied for fourth last week at the RSM Classic. This will be the Hero debut for Kisner, one of the game's elite putters who surely will take this week seriously.
Matt Kuchar - $7,000 (20-1)
Kuchar has not done much through two fall events, with nothing inside the top-25, but this is a very nice price for someone who tied for third with Fowler and Dustin Johnson last year at Albany. Kuchar finished 14th in 2016.
Francesco Molinari - $6,600 (25-1)
Molinari is one of the eight Albany rookies. He's been decent but not great since tying for second at the PGA Championship over the summer. The Italian tied for 27th in South Africa and for 17th in Dubai in the final two European Tour playoff events earlier this month. Frankly, it's not that we like Molinari so much this week, it's just that we like him more than our other choices.
Tiger Woods - $6,500 (40-1)
Well, why not? As we just mentioned above, some of the lower-priced options don't really excite us. We'd be surprised if Tommy Fleetwood has much left in the tank after two months' of globetrotting. Fellow European Alex Noren always seems to shrink in top fields. And Daniel Berger, Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell might be a bit too wide-eyed alongside all the elites to make a strong dent. Besides, it's fun to pick Tiger. As noted earlier, Woods led the field in birdies last year with 24. He was done in by a Sunday 76, the worst final-round score in the field. Maybe he ran out of gas after so much time away. If Woods could settle in the 10-12 range at week's end, and you make other good picks, then he won't hurt you.