On everyone’s mind at this week’s Hero World Championship is one question: How much of the old golf game will Tiger Woods bring? One thing is certain. With the breezes due to be soft and less than 20 percent chance of rain for the first two days, we’ll see exactly how ready Tiger is for a return to tournament golf.
The 18th annual Hero World Championship features an 18-man field of invited, top-ranked players, so it won’t be difficult to get a quick gauge of Tiger’s skills. Albany Golf & Beach Resort, host venue for the second consecutive year, will further reveal whether Woods is fully back, or not quite there.
Developed by Joe Lewis and his private investment company, the Tavistock Group, the same folks who preside at Isleworth, Tiger’s former home in Orlando, the exclusive Albany resort community is located on the southwestern end of the island of New Providence in the Bahamas, a 10-minute drive from Nassau’s international airport. Besides Woods, among the Tour stars who own property here are Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and the course designer, Ernie Els, who crafted the desert links-style layout with his lead architect Greg Letsche in 2010.
Measuring nearly 7,400 yards, Albany features firm, fast-running fairways that are framed by dunes and hard-packed sand areas. Landing areas are sufficiently wide to accommodate the frequent coastal breezes which can redirect golf balls in a hurry and when that happens at Albany, a variety of native grass plantings jabbed into the sandy areas will gobble up errant spheres. However, when the winds are calm, the game’s best can take it exceptionally low, as was the case in 2015, when Bubba Watson scorched Albany for a 25-under-par 263 in winning the title. Extra scoring opportunities are on tap on the par-36 front nine due to an extra par 3 and par 5.
Els’ favorite holes at Albany are numbers 2, 7 and 14. “To my mind,” Els said in a statement in 2014, “the most memorable holes at Albany are the ones that are most links-like, where the greens are cut, almost pushed back, into the surrounding dunes. Hole number 2 stands out. It’s a par-3 (187 yards) cut into a dune and is quite reminiscent of the 13th at Muirfield in Scotland, one of my favorite courses.
“Then there’s the 7th, a short par-4 (338 yards) that plays right-to-left off a dune with fairway bunkers that are strategically placed in such a way that when the wind is out of the southeast you can carry them and perhaps reach the green. The 14th (332 yards) is another standout hole. The fairway moves from left to right through a dune and depending on the wind direction you can be very aggressive with your tee shot or lay back. I like the balance of risk and reward. I think it works really well.”
Swing gurus will undoubtedly zero in on Tiger’s move with the driver, but equally scrutinized will be his prowess with shots around the greens. When Tiger last attempted a big-time comeback after a lengthy layoff, it was this part of the game—pitching and chipping—that bedeviled him. Albany features that same kind of firm turf, along with Pinehurst-style turtleback greens, that caused Woods such grief in those early test events in December 2014 and January 2015, so it will be interesting to see how he fares this week.
Whether he wins the event or finishes at the bottom, Tiger will be tested at long last against top competition, something every golf fan has anticipated for 15 months. And either way, he gets a week in the Bahamas, which ain’t all bad.