Many believe that golfers get to exhibit their skills in the best of sporting arenas. Indeed, golf courses around the world are carefully blended with natural surroundings. Add to it the elements that lend a certain charm to the proceedings and the experience can be quite exhilarating.
The Albany Resort in Nassau, the Capital of The Bahamas, joined the elite list of courses to host a select band from among the accomplished practitioners in the game. Patronised by names like Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Justin Rose among others, the venue was the latest to hold the USD3.5 million Hero World Challenge, bringing in 18 of the top 43 players in the ranking list.
For the first time in 19 years, the event hosted by Tiger Woods Foundation moved out of the United States. Six from the top-10 ranked golfers were part of the field. World No. 1 Jordan Spieth flew down from Australia to head the elite players in the fray. From the Indian point of view, the presence of World No. 39 Anirban Lahiri provided added interest.
The new sandy course, with 33 bunkers and a few water hazards was expected to test the precision-hitting of the players, both off the tee and from the fairways. However, it was not to be. The soft greens held well and the absence of wind left the course open to a virtual assault by the title-aspirants.
Two-times Masters winner Bubba Watson, a late replacement for World No. 2 Jason Day, took the honours with a tally of 25-under 263, three shots ahead of Patrick Reed.
Strange as it may sound, England’s Justin Rose signed off with a course record of 62 but finished only a distant 13th!
The money earned in the competition does not reflect in a player’s earning from the PGA Tour but the ranking points do help. That was one of the reasons why some of best names agreed to play though the prize-money at stake was not much of a lure.
This year, Tiger Woods stayed away from the competition due to a recent back surgery. But it was his statement on the eve of the annual event that he had no timetable for return to competitive golf, which triggered off speculation whether Tiger had already played his last on the Tour.
The impact of Tiger’s statement lasted through the event. Several television channels in the United States ran special programmes to discuss the legacy of Tiger Woods, assuming the great champion had played his last.
The speculations from the experts continued but Tiger remained unfazed. He neither denied nor confirmed his future plans and stayed around for the duration of the event that remains close to his heart.
In fact, Tiger’s assessment of the low scores came true with the cumulative scoring average of a player in every round being 68!
Watson’s winning tally of 25-under was one short of the record set last year by Spieth. Moreover, he needed only 104 putts to cover 72 holes.
The left-hander hit the ball splendidly through the week and pulled off some miraculous rescue shots in difficult situations. Watson’s hitting and putting enthralled the crowd that followed him once he moved into sole lead after 54 holes.
“A lot of us made a lot of birdies. Seemed like every day the wind died down a little bit more and more. And I made putts. I mean, that was the key this week. It was my week. Next week, it could be another guy. We play this same tournament next week, it’s me coming in 15th or 18th and somebody else winning.”
The words from the 37-year-old champion put the low scores in perspective. All this, after Watson indicated this course, may be, wouldn’t suit his style of play.
Spieth, at the end of a landmark year — during which he won two majors and finished top-four in the other two — announced his arrival by firing a hole-in-one on the second hole. He looked in contention on the first two days but a third-round 68 pushed him down and he eventually finished fourth — five strokes behind Watson.
The top-ranked player was pleased with the fact that he had shot 46-under in two years in the tournament. He looked ahead to a break before the onset of the next season. “Hopefully, we have a decent winter in Dallas but I am not planning any trip. I’ll go out and play and practice. This is when everyone’s in town and we can have some fun games. It’s a fun time of the year to be home for the holidays.”
For Anirban Lahiri, too, it was time to get back home to recharge his batteries after a long season that saw him win two European Tour events. “I am obviously disappointed with my performance here. To be honest, I realised there was nothing left in my tank (after a long season). They say you have to draw from your reserve but I had nothing left. On courses like this, where the greens were soft, you need to make putts. That’s why you see players going so deep (scoring very low scores) on this course. I should have done that but just could not execute the plans.”
Bubba Watson (U.S.) (67, 67, 63, 66) 263;
Patrick Reed (U.S.) (69, 65, 66, 66) 266;
Rickie Fowler (U.S.) (70, 68, 65, 64) 267;
Jordan Spieth (U.S.) (67, 66, 68, 67) 268;
Bill Haas (U.S.) (67, 66, 68, 68),
Paul Casey (Eng) (66, 70, 63, 70) 269;
Brooks Koepka (U.S.) (67, 70, 65, 68) 270;
J. B. Holmes (U.S.) (71, 68, 68, 64),
Jimmy Walker (U.S.) (66, 67, 71, 67) 271;
Adam Scott (Aus) (67, 70, 66, 69),
Chris Kirk (U.S.) (69, 65, 66, 72) 272;
Zach Johnson (U.S.) (66, 70, 67, 70) 273;
Justin Rose (Eng) (71, 72, 70, 62) 275;
Matt Kuchar (U.S.) (70, 66, 69, 71) 276;
Dustin Johnson (U.S.) (68, 69, 72, 71) 280;
Billy Horschel (U.S.) (71, 70, 73, 67) 281;
Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) (75, 73, 70, 66) 284;
Anirban Lahiri (Ind) (69, 70, 73, 72) 284.