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An invite to paradise from Tiger Woods. A post-season hit and giggle by the beach. A $100,000 minimum payday. Oh, and a boat load of world ranking points.
What’s not to like about the Hero World Challenge?
This glorified exhibition at the ultra-exclusive Albany course in the Bahamas is the best working holiday the game’s elite could ever imagine.
A 20-player field, no cut, and no FedEx Cup points, yet a $1 million winner’s cheque and more ranking points than most events on various tours across the world. Silly season is in full swing, folks.
Of course, consternation surrounding the Hero World Challenge’s ownership of ranking points is not a new phenomenon. Ever since 2009, players have been granted that added incentive to lap it up for a week on the lavish New Providence Island.
And this year, world No.4 Viktor Hovland is going for a third straight victory in an unofficial tournament that he won’t even be able to count on his PGA Tour record.
The Norwegian will win more than 30 OWGR points if he does the ‘threepeat’ on Sunday, which is more than the winners will receive in this week’s full-field Australian and South African Opens combined.
Tommy Fleetwood finished 23 shots behind Hovland last year in dead last but still collected 2.0886 OWGR points. That was the equivalent of a top-12 finish in the DP World Tour’s season finale in Dubai.
Such irony has certainly not been lost on supporters of the points-stricken LIV Golf League.
The Greg Norman-fronted series was denied access to points that would provide crucial validation earlier this year on the basis that it was effectively a closed shop. “LIV players are self-evidently good enough to be ranked,” the Official World Golf Ranking chairman Peter Dawson explained after LIV’s application was rejected.
“They’re just not playing in a format where they can be ranked equitably with the other 24 tours and thousands of players to compete on them.” Touché.
The OWGR has, in essence, invalidated itself as a concept here with its inconsistency in recognising some of the game’s best players in contrasting limited-field no-cut events.
There is an argument that the quality in the Hero field justifies the rewards. That point was made last year by Justin Thomas, who claimed an event with around 15 of the top 20 players in the world justifies world ranking recognition.
Nobody is suggesting it is easy to win an event made up of players who, barring Woods, reside in the world’s top 50.
But let’s be clear. This tournament isn’t even made up of the crème de la crème. Four of the world’s six top-ranked players haven’t bothered making the trip to Albany. Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay were curious late withdrawals, while Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm do not think it’s worth their time either.
McIlroy, perhaps the game’s most pre-eminent player, has made the end-of-year jaunt just once since the event moved to the Caribbean in 2015.
And therein lies the problem. Some players treat this tournament like the exhibition that, on surface level, it really is.
But for someone like Thomas, the stakes are actually relatively quite high. A miserable season has seen the American drop to 27th in the world rankings after his failure to qualify for the newly-renovated FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Now, though, Thomas has the chance to battle for his status in the PGA Tour’s big-money signature events in 2024. He is not automatically in the field for the $20 million tournaments after, somewhat surprisingly, failing to finish in the top 50 in the FedEx Cup standings.
Instead, his world ranking status is now of primary importance, with any player in the OWGR’s top 30 in the week before a signature event able to secure a spot in the field. His competitors who didn’t get Tiger’s invite won’t get the same chance.
And what better place to rack up a few bonus points to move up the rankings than at Albany, where crowds are sparse, players are rusty, and the competitive edge is simply not there?
Better still, Thomas has been drawn rather conveniently alongside his good friend and host for the week. And given this is Woods’ big comeback, he’ll have all the spotlight on him. Make of that what you will.
Woods, meanwhile, could shoot four rounds in the 90s, yet still jump up 350 places in the rankings – provided he finishes all 72 holes.
The flaws of an inaccurate OWGR system are about to be laid bare again in the Bahamas. LIV bosses will be gritting their teeth.
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