The Hero World Challenge is serving as the backdrop for the return to competition of an oft-injured, 41-year-old major champion. That's right, Henrik Stenson is committed to the 18-man event at Albany in The Bahamas.
Surely you've also heard that 14-time major champion, Tiger Woods, also 41, is slated to peg it for the first time following his significantly longer layoff.
POWER RANKINGS: HERO WORLD CHALLENGE
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 1 Justin Rose 2 Brooks Koepka 3 Dustin Johnson 4 Rickie Fowler 5 Jordan Spieth 6 Matt Kuchar 7 Justin Thomas 8 Hideki Matsuyama 9 Henrik Stenson 10 Patrick Reed 11 Kevin Kisner 12 Francesco Molinari 13 Charley Hoffman 14 Daniel Berger 15 Tommy Fleetwood 16 Tiger Woods 17 Kevin Chappell 18 Alex Noren
Surely, the witty Stenson would appreciate the timely parallels between himself and Woods as they get back inside the ropes for what is more than just an exhibition on the first weekend in December. In addition to total prize money of $3.5 million ($1 million to the winner), Official World Golf Ranking points will be distributed for all who complete 72 holes. And this is where the duo separates. At eighth in the OWGR, Stenson doesn't necessarily need the points whereas every fraction matters for Woods at No. 1,199. In fact, last year's 15th-place finish is the only contributor to Woods' value in the two-year rolling formula.
When Woods appeared here last year after his previous extended recovery, the theory was that the five par 5s at Albany would play into his wheelhouse. Instead, he averaged just 4.80 with 11 birdies, three bogeys and two doubles (both in the final round). Champion Hideki Matsuyama converted an eagle and 13 birdies for a bogey-free, par-5 scoring average of 4.25.
Matsuyama's performance occurred during a historic burst of form that played out over several weeks. At par-72 Albany, he circled two eagles and 22 birdies, led by seven entering the finale and posted 18-under 270. That was 14 strokes clear of Woods who nonetheless matched with 24 par breakers (all birdies). The disparity in execution and overall scoring between the two demonstrates the dual objective on the Ernie Els design: pounce on the par 5s and clean up elsewhere.
In its third edition as host of the Hero World Challenge, Albany tips at 7,309 yards. Its set of five par 5s is equaled by as many par 3s, so both nines play to a par of 36. It's situated on the western edge of New Providence Island (on which Nassau is located), but there's nowhere to hide from the sea breezes. Sustained wind helps defend the course, but with a field as deep as this week's, you may not notice until Sunday when gusts could touch 30 mph. Daytime highs will hover around 80 degrees. Rain can never be ruled out, but when it falls, it's usually nothing more than a passing shower.