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Flag Hunting: PGA Betting Picks - 2023 Hero World Challenge

After 11 months, 46 tournaments, and tens of thousands of words documenting my thoughts on golf courses from Tokyo to Merseyside, we've reached the end of the 2023 PGA campaign. We've had our fair share of triumph and heartbreak at Flag Hunting over the course of the season, but above all else, 2023 has blessed me with the opportunity to do what I love alongside content creators I've looked up to for many many years (shoutouts to Joe, Byron and Spencer). No matter where this journey takes me in the years to come, I'd like to thank each and every reader, follower, or fan for being an essential part of this endeavor – I hope I've been able to provide as much value to you in your weekly process as your support given to me.

Before we officially put a bow on this wild golf season, there is one final score to settle in the Bahamian Islands. 19 of the top 39 players in the World have made the trip to Albany for this year-end celebration, and the only man in the field who doesn't meet that current criteria happens to be the owner of 15 Major Championships, 82 PGA Tour Titles, and an indisputable claim as the most dominant player to ever tee it up.

From some of golf's hottest up-and-comers to perhaps the greatest to ever do it, the PGA Tour is sending us off with a bang; here's everything you need to know about Albany GC and the 2023 Hero World Challenge!

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The Golf Course

Albany Golf Club - Par 72; 7,449 yards

Past Champions

  • 2022: Viktor Hovland (-16)
  • 2021: Viktor Hovland (-18)
  • 2019: Henrik Stenson (-18)
  • 2018: Jon Rahm (-20)
  • 2017: Rickie Fowler (18)

You wouldn’t initially think of a 20-man, year-end exhibition as an event set to boast a particularly strenuous venue, but in terms of yardage, Albany is one of the longer courses we see on the annual schedule. At 7,449 yards, only Torrey Pines, Augusta National, and Muirfield Village can boast a higher scorecard yardage, and notably, Albany reaches this lofty figure despite the presence of five Par 3’s and two drivable Par 4’s within its routing.

This elite length hasn't necessarily translated into U.S. Open-esque scores however, as the five Par 5’s (and aforementioned drivable Par 4’s), at Albany will provide these players with ample opportunities to rack up birdies and eagles. In fact, nearly half (8/18) of the holes on-site have conceded birdie or better rates of 30% in the history of this tournament, and only three holes on the property would be categorized as “Bogey-Avoidance Opportunities”, or holes in which par would net at least 1/10th of a stroke to the average field.

Over the last five years, the scoring average here at Albany sits almost two full strokes under par (70.024) – and that’s including last year’s iteration which featured two days of heavy winds and a Saturday slog of mud balls that drastically raised the variance players encountered on approach shots from the fairway. Without severe intervention from Mother Nature, I’d anticipate winning scores cresting the 20-under mark this week. So despite the daunting scorecard length here in New Providence, this is no week to be weighing Bogey Avoidance or Scrambling.

One reason for the lower all-around scores here at Albany lies in the forgiveness it affords these players off the tee. Historic Driving Accuracy rates have sat well above the Tour Avg at Albany: (70% vs 62%), and these percentages are not propped up by guys clubbing down off the tee – as only three holes will routinely see players incentivized to play for position with a fairway wood/driving iron.

Although the fairways do provide some fairly generous landing areas off most tees, players who cannot keep their drives within the rough lines will face a lot of uncertainty in these Bahamian native areas. Wayward drives here will face everything from rocky outcrops to dense native grass, and unnavigable lowland brush. In this way, Albany plays quite comparably to the desert courses we see in Las Vegas and Scottsdale every year: generally forgiving to most driving profiles, but a single mistake can have you staring down the barrel of a sizable penalty.

As such, most of the driving metrics I’ll be looking at this week revolve around keeping the ball in play off the tee (Fairways Gained, Good Drive %, etc.). Although Albany’s fairways are quite forgiving, I’d rather lean into safer driving profiles that are capable of avoiding the many pitfalls, and lean even harder into the most important facet in the Bahamas this week: iron play.

We touched on a lot of this in the initial course specs, but with five Par 3’s measuring over 180 yards, five reachable Par 5’s, and four Par 4’s that all measure over 470 yards, it is conceivable to project players to have an approach shot from >175 yards on 14/18 holes here at Albany. 

If you line up the list of past champions, it’s quite easy to find a through line in their games, as Hovland, Stenson, Rahm, Fowler, and Matsuyama have all proven themselves as elite mid/long-iron players throughout their careers.

When you combine the threat of wind and some of the smallest green complexes we’ll see through the fall swing (4,500 square feet on average), it’s easy to identify elite ball-striking as a key element in determining this week's champion. I’ll be using proximity splits from 175 yards and beyond as one of the cornerstones of my modeling this week, and with the bevy of ball-striking talent present in this field, I’d go as far as to say that if a player doesn’t rate out as an elite long-term iron player from this range, I have no interest in betting him in the outright market. 

As we move closer to the green complexes themselves at Albany, we begin to lose a bit of predictiveness when it comes to projecting success at this venue. Viktor Hovland took this title in each of the last two seasons despite ranking 191st and 124th on the PGA Tour in SG: Around the Greens, and despite his many successes in the game of golf, you would hardly consider 2019 Champion Henrik Stenson as one of the preeminent scramblers or putters in the sport. 

As is the case with many of the PGA Tour’s other preeminent birdie parties, the simple fact of the matter at Albany is if you’re having to routinely scramble from out of position, you’re not likely to be keeping pace with the top of the leaderboard anyways. Putting will play enough of a factor to look at some long-term splits on Bermudagrass, but many of my traditional short-game stats will be accounted for in more general metrics like Par 5 Scoring and SG: Tee-to-Green. 

One final thing to keep in mind when assessing the field this week has been the consistent throughlines we've seen from past champions at the Hero from a recent form standpoint. Over the last four years here at Albany, we've ended up crowning a European champion (Hovland x2; Stenson; Rahm). When you consider the fact that the European Tour season doesn't traditionally end until the end of November, it's easy to come to the conclusion that the competitive lead-in reps put them at an advantage compared to many of the big-name Americans who use the fall swing as more of a rest period - especially considering each of those three recorded a Top Five finish over the course of their fall schedule leading up to their respective triumphs.

Going even further back, we find that the other three previous champions here had a similar run of form prior to lifting the trophy in New Providence. Rickie Fowler recorded a runner-up finish in his previous start in Mayakoba before winning here in 2017, Bubba Watson had a very successful fall stint in Asia before winning here in 2015 (finishes of 3rd, 15th, and 35th), and Hideki Matsuyama did a few better than that: recording three wins and a runner-up across Asia in four fall starts before taking down the 2016 Hero World Challenge.

If elite long-iron play has been page 1 in the playbook of projecting success at Albany GC, lead-in form has not been far behind. With a seven-year sample to draw from, I see no reason to deviate from that blueprint in 2023. As tough as it is to fade names like Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Young, or Rickie Fowler, I'll take my chances against anyone without a proper Fall CV.

Key Stats Roundup: 

  • Elite, long-term Iron Play (Key emphasis on Proximity splits from 175+)
  • Signs of life over the course of the fall - whether it be on the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour, the Ryder Cup, etc.
  • Key Scoring Stats: Birdie Chances Created, Birdie or Better Percentage, Par 5 Scoring
  • Total Driving (small lean to accuracy > distance)
  • SG: Putting - particularly long-term on Bermuda surfaces

 

Did you know RotoBaller has a Premium DFS PGA subscription? Like what you read today? You can show your support for Ian by using the discount code BALLER when purchasing a PGA Premium Pass. You get 10% off and full access to all of our Premium PGA articles, DFS tools, and Lineup Optimizer! You also get access to weekly betting picks from Spencer Aguiar, one of the top betting minds in the industry.

Hero World Challenge Betting Card

Viktor Hovland (6-1)

In a year rife with off-course drama and division within our game, perhaps the biggest storyline inside the ropes has been the ascension of a 26-year-old superstar from Oslo, Norway. Although he’s long been counted as one of the game’s premier young talents, Viktor Hovland’s 2023 has placed him in a different conversation entirely: That of perhaps the best player on the planet.

Hovland parlayed Top 10’s in each of the year's first three marquee events (The PLAYERS, Masters, and PGA Championship), into his biggest career triumph at Jack’s Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village. That win alone garnered him enough prestige to be talked about as one of the sport's fastest risers, but it was in a seven-day stretch during the Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs in which Hovland cemented his spot as a contender for golf’s number one title. 

A dazzling Sunday 61 around a daunting Olympia Fields North catapulted him to his second marquee win in two months at the 2023 BMW Championship, and the very next week, Hovland surged to a five-shot victory at the TOUR Championship at Eastlake. Over this two-week, $22 million stretch, Hovland not only showcased the ball-striking prowess that many have recognized since his days at Oklahoma State but also a certain penchant for the dramatic with his short game down the stretch.

Hovland will bring that newfound confidence, along with a Fall Swing form sheet that includes a 5th at Wentworth, a 2nd in Dubai, and a remarkable display in September's Ryder Cup (+9.72 Strokes Gained in five matches – #1 in the event), to a venue he's won at each of the last two years. His main competitor on the odds board (Scottie Scheffler), enters the week having not played a competitive round since the Ryder Cup (where he went 0-2-2 and lost over 1.3 strokes to the field), and there are very few names down the board that can make compelling cases for the current state of their games - seriously, when's the last time you saw Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth, or Rickie Fowler on a weekend leaderboard?

He's got the ball-striking profile, he's got the recent momentum, and with two wins in two career starts, he's about as comfortable as you could possibly be around Albany's layout. If Viktor can continue to play to these lofty baselines, he casts a very formidable figure to even this cast of golf's best and brightest. I'm comfortable staking my entire weekly budget on it. Let's keep the Bahamian sweep of the 2020s intact.

Kom igjen!

Best of luck guys, and Happy Hunting!

 

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