Sure, the Hero World Challenge is an exhibition at the end of the day. But this isn’t what you’d call a hit-and-giggle. There are serious world-ranking points, not to mention $1 million to first place, up for grabs. These are 18 of the best players in the world competing this week at Albany, in the Bahamas, and with prime-time, final-round coverage on Saturday on NBC, plus host Tiger Woods competing after winning in his last competitive outing, there’ll be strong interest.
We’re turning to our panel of golf handicappers, the experts who are on the most impressive gambling streak in golf this fall, successfully predicting six of the 10 winners on the PGA Tour to start the 2019-’20 season. With all major sportsbooks offering odds ahead of the Wednesday start (make sure to get your bets in before they tee off!), we have some advice on who you should or shouldn’t consider betting.
(Editor's Note: We launched a full gambling portion of our Golf Digest podcast this week. Scroll to the 54:55 mark to skip ahead to our breakdown of the Hero World Challenge at the link below.)
Analysis from our panel of betting experts below:
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Matchup: Tiger Woods (-116) over Rickie Fowler — Woods has been 0.42 strokes per round better than Fowler in 2019 when adjusting for field strength. Woods’ key stats rank better than Fowler’s over a more recent 50-round sample, and again, Fowler is dealing with layoff concerns.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Matchup: Patrick Cantlay (+110) over Tiger Woods — Let me play devil's advocate to Brandon: Tiger is always favored in these matchups because he’s Tiger, but normally it’s also because it’s an inferior player he’s going up against. Cantlay is the furthest thing from an inferior player, and you’re getting him at plus-odds just to beat one guy. Love that. Cantlay had two rounds of 65 or better last year at Albany—even more reason to play against Tiger here.
Gdula: Xander Schauffele (9-1, per MGM Sportsbook) — Schauffele excels in small fields, in part because he has a balanced profile and can do everything. He ranks well on par 5s and in both off-the-tee stats, critical stats for Albany. He debuted with an eighth-place finish here last year and checks the box in all the key metrics.
Reid Fowler, DraftKings analyst: Xander Schauffele to Win (9-1, per MGM Sportsbook) — I mentioned this in the DraftKings Playbook article earlier this week, but it bears repeating, Schauffele is an absolute stud when it comes to no-cut events finishing with a win and a runner-up in recent World Golf Championship (WGC) events, winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the TOUR Championship over the last few years. His recent form is quite nice as well ranking first in birdie or better percentage and first in par-5 scoring average over his past three tournaments. Xander just finished second at the WGC-HSBC last month, which is the type of lead-in we saw with Jon Rahm when he won last season (finished T4 in the 2018 DP World Tour Championship, Dubai), Rickie Fowler when he won in 2017 (finished second at the 2017 Mayakoba Golf Classic) and Hideki Matsuyama in 2016, which was his fourth win in five starts.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Fade: Xander Schauffele (9-1, MGM) — I'll keep Reid and Brandon in check: Of the 18 players playing this week, Schauffele ranks 15th in strokes-gained/putting on Bermuda greens like there are at Albany, and he's also 17th in the FanShare Sports' course-suitability metric. That's an easy fade for me.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia senior lecturer, Ph.D.: — Rickie Fowler (14-1, MGM) — My model gives Rickie the best chance of winning. His game is well-suited to the course. A litany of other players are right behind him in my model, Justin Thomas' and Justin Rose' iron games are right up there. As for Tiger? My model gives him the fifth-best odds of winning, with projected odds of 11-1, just behind his current number (10-1). So if you want to take a chance on Tiger, my model says he's priced just about right.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest associate editor: Bryson DeChambeau (18-1, MGM) — Seems really high for someone this good. He hasn’t really done much here, just a T-12 last year, but neither had Jon Rahm before he won last year. This is the first time we’re seeing Bryson post-his swole workout, but you gotta think he’s motivated to show his Prez Cup team he’s ready to be a big contributor in Australia.
Reid Fowler: Fade: Rickie Fowler (14-1, MGM) — Rickie leads in strokes-gained/overall at the Hero since 2015, but course history doesn’t really matter for this tournament. Jon Rahm won and Tony Finau placed second, both hadn’t played here before last year. Fowler hasn’t played since the Tour Championship and might be thinking more about getting ready for the President’s Cup as opposed to playing well here. This is all conjecture as we don’t have any insight into what he’s thinking, but we should want golfers who are coming into this week playing well. The entire field is elite, but Rickie isn’t exactly coming into this tournament matching up against well against his peers ranking fifth worst in Strokes Gained: Ball-Striking and 14th in birdie or better gained over his last 6 tournaments. His number at 14-1 is mostly baked into his course form and isn’t enough value to back him in his season debut.
Hennessey: Matchup: Patrick Reed (+100) over Rickie Fowler — Rickie went on quite a hiatus with his wedding then long honeymoon, then he got sick apparently. I don’t think he was picking up the sticks during that time, so there’s gotta be a lot of competitive rust there. Reed on the other hand was competing in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai finale, finished top-10 at the Turkish Airlines. Also a T-8 at the WGC in Shanghai in Nov.; top 5 at the BMW PGA. And Reed has a decent track record at the Hero—a runner-up in 2016; T-5 in 2018. All reasons for me to really like Reed over Rickie—I really don’t think the books are factoring in Rickie’s hiatus enough here.
Gdula: Fade: Rickie Fowler (14-1, MGM) — I promise Reid and I didn't exchange notes. But I'm with him. Rickie is the winner here two years ago, Fowler has great results at Albany: 5th, 1st, 3rd, and 3rd the past four years. However, Fowler hasn’t played since the Tour Championship, making this a three-month layoff rather than the typical three-to-four week rest before the Hero.
Alldrick: Webb Simpson (12-1, MGM) — Webb ranks 3rd in our course-suitability metric this week and comes in off the back of an excellent second-place finish last time out at the RSM Classic. According to FantasyNational.com, Simpson also ranks third in the field this week for strokes-gained/tee-to-green over the past two months and sixth for strokes-gained/putting on Bermuda.