Another Hero win could come along for treble-seeking Viktor Hovland

Viktor Hovland has won the last two renewals of the Hero World Challenge and could easily make it a hat-trick this week
Viktor Hovland has won the last two renewals of the Hero World Challenge and could easily make it a hat-trick this week Viktor Hovland has won the last two renewals of the Hero World Challenge and could easily make it a hat-trick this week

AS we creep towards December most rational people on this side of the world would be thinking about putting away the golf clubs for a few weeks at least. 

Indeed, many of the top men in the sport have done likewise despite playing opportunities in sunnier climes being open to them. 

That said, plenty of big names are still going ahead of the enforced Christmas rest period, perhaps scared stiff at the thought of what they might do sitting at home for a few weeks without a game of golf.

National opens are taking place this week in both South Africa and Australia, where Dean Burmester and Min Woo Lee respectively are favourites on the back of fine wins in their homelands on Sunday.

Meanwhile, 19 of the top 40 players in the world rankings have decamped to the Bahamas for the Hero World Challenge, a by now traditional pre-Christmas jolly for the elite of the game, should they wish to take part.

The only member of the 20-man field who is not in the upper reaches of the rankings these days is a certain Tiger Woods, who once more attempts a comeback after injury woes.

Tiger is the host at Albany Golf Club on New Providence Island, and is determined not to give up on his playing career just yet.

It is a career that has been truly remarkable thus far, with 15 Majors and 82 PGA Tour wins collected, but it might just be the biggest achievement of all were he to clinch another title on the back of his well-documented fitness issues in recent years.

Woods hasn’t been seen in competitive action since withdrawing after three days at The Masters in April, when he was in agony walking up and down the hills of Augusta.

He may not find Albany  quite as daunting from tomorrow afternoon, and the relaxed vibe of the whole event will let him ease his way back in, to a certain extent at least.

Will Zalatoris is another man – at the other end of the experience scale – making a long-awaited comeback after back surgery which has put his hugely promising career on hold for much of the last 18 months, having previously racked up three runner-up finishes in Majors in quick succession.

Zalatoris and Woods are 33/1 and 66/1 respectively to win this week, but it is fair to say this is a fact-finding mission at best, so a tenth of the 20 runners can be safely ruled out.

Indeed, there should a fair deal of rust throughout the field, with five more entrants – Scottie Scheffler, Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns and Jason Day – making their first individual start since the Tour Championship at the end of August.

Scheffler and Spieth did play in the Ryder Cup since then, but neither covered themselves in glory in Rome as the US went down to a heavy defeat.

Scheffler still comes in here as second-favourite at no bigger than 5/1 behind Viktor Hovland, a familiar tale at Albany.

The Norwegian has won the last two renewals, with Scheffler second on each occasion, and Sky Bet go just 8/1 about them making up the top pair yet again.

The big American is still officially the world number one, but Hovland has arguably been the best player in the world in the second half of 2023, and with Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm sitting this one out, he is definitely the best player in the Hero World Challenge field.

So, while it is hard to get too excited about a 4/1 jolly in a field full of talent, there’s no getting away from Hovland’s chances of completing his Bahamas hat-trick.

As well as course form, it must be noted that Europeans have won the last four renewals of this, with a links-style layout in a blustery location a factor in that, but the main reason in my mind is that the DP World Tour only finishes in the middle of November.

The leading lights from this side of the Atlantic are sharper than their peers, and I expect that to show again, with Hovland undoubtedly the man to beat.

He was last seen sharing second in the DPWT Championship 10 days ago, when only a stunning final round of 64 from Nicolai Hojgaard got the better of him.

Throw in a superb performance at the Ryder Cup and a fifth in the BMW PGA at Wentworth since he won the FedEx Cup in stunning style and the case is impossible to resist, especially with Scheffler just a point bigger in the betting.

Collin Morikawa could be the biggest danger to favourite Viktor Hovland at the Hero World Challenge
Collin Morikawa could be the biggest danger to favourite Viktor Hovland at the Hero World Challenge Collin Morikawa could be the biggest danger to favourite Viktor Hovland at the Hero World Challenge

Outside of Hovland, the European challenge here isn’t that strong, with Matt Fitzpatrick next best and in decent nick, although he has struggled with Albany on two previous visits.

I did look at Sepp Straka at 35/1, while Max Homa (8/1) has every chance as an American who has been prepared to travel for a bit of competitive golf, winning the Nedbank in South Africa on November 12.

That said, my idea of the biggest challenger to Hovland is Collin Morikawa, who will feel this event owes him one after he let a winning position slip in 2021, a closing four-over 76 letting the Norwegian in for the victory.

He eventually finished fifth then, while a sixth last term shows he knows his away around a sprawling Albany course that is wide off the tee but has smallish greens which put an emphasis on good approach play.

Morikawa is the best in the business in that regard when on top of his game, as he definitely was a month ago when winning the ZOZO Championship in Japan.

That was his first victory in almost two years, and will have whetted his appetite for more, and while a month off is not ideal, in the context of this field it’s not such a worry.

A former Open and US PGA champion, both won by the sea, the winds in the Bahamas will not faze him, and at 8/1 (Betway) he is the best alternative to the favourite, while the 20/1 offered by Bet365 about the Hovland/Morikawa dual forecast might just be of interest.

Finally, in these small fields it can be hard to find players who look a bit of value, but Justin Thomas might just fall into that category at 16/1.

The double Major champion has endured a tough 2023 by his lofty standards but there are signs he has turned the corner and might just end the year on a high.

Like Homa, ‘JT’ went looking for work in South Africa earlier this month and was rewarded with a decent fourth in the Nedbank, when his often dodgy putter worked well. 

On the back of a fighting performance at the Ryder Cup, Thomas should be confident coming in here and might well be more motivated than a number of his rivals.

He has been fifth here in each of the last three seasons, with his stellar iron play a real advantage, so Thomas is worth an each-way look at 16/1 with Paddy Power, who are paying five places.

That said, the spoils are more likely to go to the Viktor as a superb 2023 comes towards a conclusion.

Hero World Challenge selections

Viktor Hovland, 4/1 (Betway);

Collin Morikawa, e/w, 8/1 (Betway);

Justin Thomas, e/w, 16/1 (Paddy Power);

Hovland/Morikawa dual forecast, 20/1 (Bet365);