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*This article was written before the withdrawal of Tiger Woods.

Official it might be, but let’s face it, the Hero World Challenge is the start of the ‘silly season.’

Albany, The Match VII and then the PNC Championship. All would be so-so who-cares? Events but for Tiger Woods, whose presence still moves the needle in broadcasting circles.

The Hero is the only full 72-hole tournament, and the one Tiger says he definitely will not take a cart for, so it is the perfect opportunity to gauge the GOAT’s fitness as he surely tries again to make an impact at Augusta in a few months time.

As far as bettors are concerned, though, he’s an absolute no-no.

Golf fans haven’t seen Tiger in competitive action since emotionally trudging up the 18th hole at St. Andrews on the Friday of the 150th Open Championship and he’ll surely be not only rusty, but simply not good enough, as his clinical invitational allows him to speak freely to the media, although with no pressure of contending.

With just 19 of his golfing buddies to beat, Tiger might fancy his chances of repeating his fourth place finish of 2019, but that was the year he last won The Masters and the Zozo. He finished that season ranked 6th on the OWGR, and now ranks outside the world’s top 1200.

Of course it can be done – he’s defied logic before – but at 46-years-old and with almost every one of his rivals holding better claims, this dream isn’t coming true.

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*Prices subject to fluctuation and availability

I wrote last week about the context of the short-priced favourite Cameron Smith at the Australian PGA.

Comparing him with Jon Rahm when he was 9/4 for his home Open, the most recent Open Championship winner looked fair at 7/2. It was a bit of a scare, but in the end, Smith showed the undoubted class gap, sauntering home down the stretch.

This is crucial in assessing this week’s favourite, Rahm.

Neither Jordan Smith or Justin Thomas have threatened strongly to win here, Xander Schauffele has seen his finishes get progressively worse since a debut 8th, Matty Fitz looked tired in contention in Dubai, and defending champ Viktor Hovland had won twice in 2021 before winning here, that pair of victories including the week before at Mayakoba.

Now for the favorite.

2022 starts with a runner-up to Smith in Hawaii at the similarly stacked Tournament of Champions, before eight straight cuts lead to a victory in Mexico. In a disappointing season for majors, Rahm’s 12th at the U.S Open is the best he can record in the biggies, but it’s another in a series of weekends that leads to T5, T8 and T16 at the three Fedex play-off events. 7

Hardly a disastrous season, but Rahm will have felt a degree of dismay at a season bereft of a gold medal and that saw him slip outside the world’s top five, that without the likes of Dustin Johnson and Smith, both off to unranked LIV.

However, that ‘failure’ seemed to act as a genuine spur, with both him and fellow anti-LIV player Shane Lowry, exploding through the third and final round of the weather-affected prestigious BMW Championship, before winning by a street in Spain, stumbling at the wrong time when fourth at the CJ Cup, and last time proving far too good for a stellar field at the DP World Tour Championship.

For those (including myself) that felt his rant against the OWGR points distribution would count against him, being wrong was painful, but we have the chance to turn it around this week.

Simply, there is no Rory McIlroy or Cam Smith, probably the only other two players that can hold claim to being the current best in the world; the Spaniard’s current form reads 1/4/1/2; his tee-to-green figures average over plus-10 in his last three outings; Rahm ranks top three for scrambling when he misses the green; has been outside the top eight for putting just once in his last six starts, and he’s been first and second in two tries at Albany!

Sure, neither he nor Smith had such a talented field to beat at their ‘home’ events, but they both landed short prices. For me, Rahm has even greater claims, and at anything bigger than 4/1, is a must bet.

John Rahm to win
19/4

The only other player of interest is in-form Tony Finau, one of three to be beaten by a single shot by Rahm in Mexico.

The 33-year-old has always had the ability to do what he has done over the last four months, but, for whatever reason, he is now fulfilling some lofty opinions, winning three times since July.

Beaten four shots by Rahm on his debut in 2018, an opening 79 was always going to hurt any ideas he had about revenge a year later. However, he bounced back from being 18th after round one with three rounds of 68, 69 and a closing 65 to finish inside the top-10, before finishing 7th last year after a stellar opening 68,66.

Big Tone closed with a best-of-the-day 64 at the Tour Championship before looking rusty at Mayakoba, his first outing for over two months. That certainly brought him on as he waltzed home at the Houston Open, the four-shot winning margin half of what it could have been had he not taken his foot off the pedal very early on Sunday.

Finau has always been a strong tee-to-green gamer, but now he’s added confidence with the flat-stick, expect him to challenge at all the biggest events through 2023.

Having been all over Finau to do a double-double and back up his win at the RSM Classic, the ‘injury’ withdrawal was tough to take, but he’ll suit the relaxed nature of this week’s challenge and should be one of the strongest challengers to his old foe.

Tony Finau to win
17/2
Odds are correct at the time of posting

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