Preview: Hero World Challenge, Tiger’s return

Preview – Hero World Challenge – Iselworth Golf and Country Club – Windermere, Florida –

Tiger Woods returns to competitive golf this week at the Hero World Challenge.

Last year, the World Challenge came down to Woods and Zach Johnson.  The pair dueled down the stretch at Sherman Oaks Country Club in California. Zach rinsed his approach shot on the final hole but then holed out after proceeding to the drop zone from about 60 yards out.

Johnson went on to win in a playoff.

This marks the 12h edition of this tournament but the first at Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Windermere, Florida. The 72-hole affair features hefty prize money for the champion and world ranking points. But, it does not count as an official PGA Tour victory.

Woods, who has five victories at this event, returns after a long layoff to repair his injured back. He is the headliner, but the 18-player field also features some of the game’s best and rising stars including 21-year-old Jordan Spieth, who won last week at the Australian Open.

Six Top 10 players are teeing it up including second-ranked Henrik Stenson, who won the European Tour’s season-finale DP World Tour Championship just two weeks ago. Bubba Watson, the Masters champion and recent winner at the World Golf Championship-HSBC Champions in China, is the top-ranked American in the field at No 4.

Fan favorites Steve Stricker, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Graeme McDowell are also playing. G-Mac won this title in 2010 and 2012. FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel and Hideki Matsuyama, who captured the Japan Tour’s Phoenix Dunlap Open just two weeks ago, are also in this elite field.

The Golf Channel has the television coverage all week.

Motivation could be the key this week, as players are certainly looking for the holidays and more family time. But, others need to prep for 2015.

Woods will tee off Thursday with Jason Day, also returning from injury, at 12:15 p.m. local time.

FANTASY: Look for guys already in great form. Consider Stenson, Spieth and Matsuyama, who all enter off victories in November overseas. Spieth might be a bit exhausted as the week progresses with the week of travel. But at age 21, he should be fine. This field might be a bit too deep for him to win.

BETTING: At Ladbrokes, Stenson is the overall betting favorite at 6-to-1 odds followed by Watson and Justin Rose at 7-1. This could be a great spot for Bubba. Tiger (14-1) is a risky pick after the layoff. He is also playing new equipment rolling out all Nike Vapor products. For the value and his history playing this time of year, take G-Mac at 16-1 odds. His two victories in this limited field should factor this week.

Other Golf News:

  • Spieth, now 11th in the world rankings, became the first American to win the Australian Open since 1993. He used the new Titleist 915 D2 driver and prototype ProV1x ball.
  • Prize money at the Hero World Challenge is $3.5 million.
  • Woods, who finished 2013 at No. 1 in the world ranking, turns 39 years old later this month. Woods is currently 24th in the rankings.
  • Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson announced he will make his 2015 debut at the Humana Challenge Jan. 19-25 in the Palm Springs area.
  • The European Tour and Sunshine Tour tee off the Nedbank Golf Challenge this week in South Africa. Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel headline the field along with defending champion Thomas Bjorn.