The golfing year is winding down but there is one last stage on which many of the elite will gather.
For the sixth time that venue is Albany Golf Course at New Providence in The Bahamas where a limited 20-man field will battle it out for the $1 million first prize.
This event was scrapped last year due to the pandemic but punters have form dating from 2015 to 2019.
The winners and scores here were Bubba Watson (-25), Hideki Matsuyama (-18), Rickie Fowler (-18), Jon Rahm (-20) and Henrik Stenson (-18).
Not a bad bunch! Four of the five are major winners although Matsuyama and Rahm weren’t at the time.
The first four winners had enjoyed a top-four finish on their previous start so current form is obviously a good way in.
Those winning scores put an emphasis on birdies while one quirk of Albany is that it has five par 5s along with five par 3s.
The par 72 course which has Bermuda greens measures 7,309 yards from the tips and is there for the taking once more with winds – the main defence – forecast to be moderate.
Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy front the market at 15/2 and there’s a very decent chance one of those two lift the trophy following their performances at the DP World Tour Championship.
There’s a ‘without McIlroy and Morikawa’ market for those who can’t see past them but I’ll play the main one and take Webb Simpson at 20/1.
It’s important to be on the side of a real tryer this week as the top players start planning their breaks and I think Simpson is one who will be giving it 100% after his modest year.
The good news is that he’s ending it on an uptick after finishing tied 14th at the CJ Cup and then tied eighth in the RSM Classic on his last two starts.
Simpson’s last six rounds read 66-65-67-67-66-66 so the numbers are there for a birdie shootout.
He enjoys Bermuda greens and had a first look at the course two years ago when tied 10th. That’s only midfield but he was hampered by an opening 73 but should be better prepped this time.
At the RSM a couple of weeks ago, Simpson said: “I grew up
at the beach, I love being near the water, so I feel like I’m just relaxed here.
“I’ve had a month off. I’ve been working a lot on my game. I feel really good. I feel like I had a lesson with Butch Harmon in Vegas and he simplified it for me and just told me these are the couple things I want you to work on, and I’ve done that and I feel really good about my game.”
Simpson was ranked 1st for both SG: Tee To Green and Approach at Sea Island last time so the game is there if he can just hole a few putts.
He’s 14th in Birdie Average this season and was in the top eight in that category in 2020. Take the 20/1.
There are clearly plenty at the front end of the market who cases can be made for.
But given that we’re on Bermuda grass, I’m going to make Sam Burns my second bet at 16/1.
The 25-year-old has made rapid strides in 2021. He ended 2020 ranked 154th in the world but he’ll start this event inside the top 20.
He made his first big leap (91st to 44th) win victory on the Bermuda greens at the Valspar Championship and then added a second victory of the year at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Burns won the latter with a score of 22-under while he also fired 21-under when tied fifth in the CJ Cup in October.
In other words, he likes a birdie-fest and to show just what a consistent player he’s become, Burns has finished 21st or better in 10 of his last 11 starts.
That run also includes a second place in elite company at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude where he posted 64s in rounds two and four.
Ranked 11th for Par 5 Scoring last season, Burns’ big hitting will be suited to this course and it’s hard to pick a hole really.
True, it’s his first look at the course but with confidence sky high I’ll play him each-way at 16s.
Justin Rose was a long-time Bahamas resident before moving permanently back to London and, importantly, that local angle has played out well here.
Rose has played all five editions at Albany and after closing with a 62 on debut in 2015 (one off Fowler’s course record), the Englishman has gone 5-3-5 in the last three. He closed with 65s in each of the last two.
With five each-way places to go at, Rose’s past finishes clearly make appeal so why are there only two players beneath him in the betting?
Clearly, Rose is further down the world rankings than the vast majority of his rivals after a fall over the last couple of seasons but his latest form really isn’t bad.
He didn’t make the FedEx Cup Play-offs but signed off with a 10th at the Wyndham Championship before heading back to England to take tied sixth in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
After over a month off, he had to settle for tied 57th in the CJ Cup (R2 65) and tied 40th at Mayakoba but then shot bookend 65s at the RSM Classic last time to post tied 12th.
On a course which he clearly likes, that current form is good enough to suggest he can get in the mix once more.