Tour Confidential: Why isn’t Tiger Woods the favorite to win the Hero World Challenge?

December 2, 2019

Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Tiger Woods’ return to action at the Hero World Challenge, early Presidents Cup storylines, golf tips (and golf courses) we’re thankful for and more.

1. Tiger Woods makes his first start since he won the Zozo Championship in October at this week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, where he’ll pull double duty as player/host. But despite coming off a victory and competing in a field of just 18, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas still have better odds to win than Woods does (and Patrick Cantlay has the same odds to win). Why isn’t Tiger the favorite to win, and should he be?

Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): Given that the odds are shaped so much by popularity and public perception, it is a bit surprising that Tiger is not the favorite. But it’s not entirely shocking. The guys above him on the betting board aren’t exactly slouches, and they’ve all been playing great. Should Tiger be the favorite? At 10/1, I’d say he’s a good play — he wins this event more than one out of 10 times. But oddsmaking in golf is a long way from an exact science. The lines don’t have to be statistically precise. They just have to be plausible enough that people will throw down money. In that sense, the lines seem about right.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: The fact that odds even exist for this glorified exhibition tell you where the game is going. Until Tiger turns 50, I don’t think he’s ever going to be in a field again where he is clearly the best player. But that doesn’t mean he can’t win. It just means that others will be the favorites.

Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak): Turkey Day is like an equalizer for many of the top Americans. I wouldn’t bet on Thomas to beat Woods. I WOULD bet on Rahm, though. He hasn’t stopped playing great golf (like, ever).

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Strangely, it feels like Tiger’s win has tempered expectations rather than elevate them. We the golf-watching public have almost always overvalued his chances; recently we’ve undersold him, if anything. I’m not sure an exhibition in the Bahamas will bring out his best game, but 10/1 feels about right.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@AlanShipnuck): What Bamberger said. The younger guys go harder than Tiger and their games are always razor-sharp, while he seems to habitually be somewhere in the rest-recovery continuum. But he’s still a dangerous mofo.

Tiger Woods smiles after winning the Zozo Championship in October.
Getty Images

2. The Hero World Challenge will end a day early on Saturday to give players competing in the Presidents Cup an extra day to travel to Australia, and that’s where we’ll see Woods call the shots for the first time as U.S. captain. But being a playing captain could get tricky. How much will/should Woods’ play at the Hero influence how often he plays himself at the Presidents Cup? Basically, how should Tiger captain Tiger?

Sens: Assuming he’s feeling well physically, Tiger should play Tiger in the four-balls sessions with Reed or DeChambeau and let the chips fall where they may.

Bamberger: I’m guessing that Tiger, just based on how he approaches 72-hole stroke-play events, has a firm plan in mind that he’ll change only if he really needs to. I think Tiger would much prefer to play in best ball over alternate shot, so given my track record on these matters that means he’ll play two sessions of alternate shot. Bryson could use the lift the most.

Zak: He will be well-rested and looking at another long break after this event, so Tiger should play Tiger a lot. If he’s clipping it well, I’d expect him to sit one session and only one session.

Dethier: I’m with Zak in the four-sessions camp. If he’s playing well, keep him in! I’d keep him away from Reed and put him with Rickie Fowler or Justin Thomas, who seem like they could bring the fire out of Tiger. But man, if he starts off with a couple of losses there is going to be a weird pressure that starts to build.

Shipnuck: Tiger is a man of immense pride. He wants to play well and he wants to win. In this case, being the winning captain is the more important thing, so I don’t doubt he’ll sit himself if his game isn’t quite there.

3. Speaking of the Presidents Cup, Australian Adam Scott recently told the Herald Sun in Melbourne that he’ll be “disappointed” if Aussie fans enthusiastically cheer for Tiger or the U.S. team at the Presidents Cup. (The home-field advantage is important, he says.) Does Scott have a fair gripe? And how do you think Aussie fans will act toward Woods?

Sens: Perfectly reasonable to want the home crowd on your side. Who wouldn’t? I’d expect the Aussie throngs to greet Tiger warmly and enthusiastically, though I suppose that could change depending on how lopsided the matches get and how much beer is consumed.

Bamberger: Well, I don’t think Scott was griping, I think he was trying to rally his people. These Presidents Cups have never been partisan enough to become emotional, and emotion is what makes a team event a team event. But a quote in the Melbourne Herald Sun is not likely to achieve anything.

Zak: He has a very fair gripe. Look at what a true home-course advantage did for the Euros in France. Make this thing mean(er)! That said, the Aussies get this many talented players to their country all at one time…maybe once a decade? They’ll rejoice until more International players tell them not to.

Dethier: Culturally and geographically, the only thing the International team has in common is that it’s not American, so I think they’d do well to rally an anti-American sentiment from a rowdy home crowd. It’s (nearly) all good fun, after all. I’d expect a big reception for Woods until the putts really start to matter.

Shipnuck: Scott is kidding himself — this is part of Tiger’s farewell tour, and the Aussie fans are going to be delighted to see him. I expect they’ll cheer for Woods as lustily as any of their own players.

No person could have lived the past decade that Woods has lived and not be fundamentally different than he or she was.

4. It was 10 years ago on Thanksgiving 2009 when much changed for Woods (our Michael Bamberger reflected on the decade since here). But at his core, is Tiger a markedly different person than he was 10 years ago?

Sens: Not to get all armchair philosophical, but does anyone ever really know anyone else? In public, his words and actions make him seem like a guy who has his life and his game in healthier perspective. But what’s really going on inside? That would just be speculation. Looking forward to that memoir, though.

Bamberger: I agree with Josh, but I would also say he would have to be. No person could have lived the past decade that Woods has lived and not be fundamentally different than he or she was.

Zak: He’s definitely different. Has to be. Life goes on, but big moments change you, and damn Tiger had some big moments, for better or worse.

Dethier: Everyone’s right, but I think the biggest question that remains is whether we know him better than we did then. A decade ago, as Michael wrote in his column, nobody knew him as well as they thought. Now he’s in the public eye more than ever, and he seems more open, more genuine. I think he is — right?!

Shipnuck: Tiger has always been an enigma and remains one to this day.

5. GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com recently unveiled their latest Top 100 Courses in the World ranking. Those gems aside — or included, up to you — what’s your favorite course you played for the very first time in 2019 and why?

Bamberger: Well, this is cheating and I apologize for the name-dropping, but I played Shinnecock Hills from forwardish tees for the first time, and I was amazed at how playable and fun it can be. Also, so beautiful, pure and challenging. But fun. My other time there, playing from too far back, all I can recall is feeling beat up, hole after hole, and then, after 36 of them, dragging myself to the car, my load lighter by a half-dozen balls.

Sens: Somerset Hills, a Tillinghast course in New Jersey with two distinct nines. One heathland, the other wooded. Both killer.

Zak: Tough question! For me, I loved seeing a revamped Chambers Bay for the first time. It’s gorgeous online and even more impressive in person. We played 24 holes at our own pace as the final group on the course, sun setting on a windless day. As close as you can get to a 10 of 10 experience.

Dethier: I got to play my first ‘cross-pond golf this summer after the Open, and as part of that trip I played Ardglass Golf Club with two friends. What I loved about Ardglass is my favorite feeling at a golf course: the sense that I’m headed out for an adventure. The clubhouse (a castle and the oldest golf clubhouse in the world) sets the stage, and a wild, raw, craggy setting was the most memorable course of a dreamy trip.

Shipnuck: Cape Wickham. Duh.

6. Happy (late) Thanksgiving! Which piece of game-improvement advice are you most grateful for?

Sens: Own your swing, though I say that mostly because I have an ugly, homemade swing and at this point feel that I have no other choice but to live with it.

Bamberger: I got this from my friend and former colleague Gary Van Sickle years ago and I think it is a fundamental part of golf and our efforts to improve at it: always be working on something.

Zak: Whoever told me to take driver out of the bag 18 months ago. Not having it as an option meant I had to get really good with the 3-wood and hybrid. That happened, and now the driver is back for whenever we need it most. The handicap is thankful.

Dethier: Sean Zak told me to swing harder. Still a work in progress, but I’m thankful for that mindset.

Shipnuck: Still looking for a good one. I’m all ears.

To receive GOLF’s all-new newsletters, subscribe for free here.