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Course Spotlight: Short shots come up big when finding value at Hero

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Course Spotlight: Short shots come up big when finding value at Hero

    Written by Keith Stewart @KJStewartpga

    The last two winners of the Hero World Challengewere ultimately determined around the green, which is ironic because our two-time defending champion Viktor Hovland was never known for having an elite short game prior to 2023.

    Golf is a funny game.

    Sam Burns found himself greenside in 2021 on the short par-4 14th hole with a wonderful opportunity to win the Hero. Five chips later, he walked away with a triple-bogey seven. A year ago on the 72nd hole, Hovland struck his final approach into the water adjacent to the 18th green. Hovland got up and down from a drop, while Scottie Scheffler failed to hit the green in regulation and did not save par from a greenside bunker.

    Handicappers will inundate you with Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and approach numbers previewing the Hero World Challenge. The fact is when it comes to scoring at Albany Golf Course, you need a well-rounded short game. The par-72 scorecard displays five par 3s, five par 5s and eight par 4s. In seven previous tournaments in the Bahamas, the average winning score is 19-under par. Right away everyone points to the five par 5s. Don’t forget the two “driveable” par 4s. Those seven holes are no scoring secret. That is where players must make sub-par scores.

    Viktor Hovland's winning highlights from Hero World Challenge

    The complement those birdie opportunities are four par 4s over 470 yards and a difficult set of par 3s, three of which have water and stretch over 200 yards. Course designer Ernie Els envisioned a golfing landscape that moves with the dunes. As such, the green complexes are below average in size and intricate. The weather forecast is beautiful for the eighth edition of the Hero at Albany, but this is a small island. Wind will be a factor all four rounds blowing out of the east and southeast.

    The breeze will cause a crosswind on 15 of the 18 holes. Below-average-sized greens and coastal wind means players will miss greens. Looking quickly at the best around the green players over the last 36 rounds, Wyndham Clark’s (+2000) name tops the list. Clark has had a transformative year. He started the season as a top-10 machine and finished with a win, a U.S. Open victory and a Ryder Cup spot. His power off the tee can be matched by many others in the field, but once close to those seven scoring holes, Clark’s acumen around the green will give him a considerable edge.

    Wyndham Clark | Swing Theory | Driver, iron, wedge

    Just behind Wyndham are Scottie Scheffler (+450) and Justin Thomas (+1400). Scheffler is one of the favorites alongside two-time defending champion Hovland. Second on the recent SG: Around-the-Green list, Scheffler has finished runner-up behind Hovland each of the last two years. Thomas catches my attention more than Scheffler. 2023 was a struggle for Thomas, yet he remained an elite short-game player ranked fourth in SG: Around-the-Green on the PGA TOUR. Thomas is coming off two straight top-five finishes and has gained strokes in three straight events with his putter. He is one guy in the field who can keep up with Hovland and Scheffler when they all have their best.

    The Bermudagrass surrounding these greens takes more than just skill in the moment. Prior to hitting the shot, players must evaluate the lie, predict the outcome and then perform the shot. As a PGA coach, I feel many fans forget that more than 50% of your short-game success stems from selecting the correct style of shot to score with. Great around the green guys like Thomas and Tiger Woods are fascinating to watch just prior to hitting the ball.

    You will see chunked chips, plenty of putts from off the green and our real contenders on Sunday score quickly on those seven holes with their short game. When picking your weekend winners at Albany, make sure you consider more than just ball striking. Small swings can make a big difference in the Hero World Challenge.

    *All odds values are BetMGM

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    Keith Stewart is a five-time award winning PGA Professional who covers the PGA TOUR and LPGA from a betting perspective. Founder of Read The Line, he is also published by Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. Follow Keith Stewart on Twitter.

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