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Friday, 14 December, 2018

Confident Koepka can crush Challenge rivals

Returning Tiger could be tailed off

Tiger Woods makes his long-awaited comeback this week
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Sky Sports from 5.30pm Thursday

Palmer's top tip
Brooks Koepka 10-1
Tiger Woods has another crack at reigniting his faltering career this week, the 14-times Major champion returning from ten months on the sidelines with back problems, but only his biggest fans will be considering him a title contender for the Hero World Challenge.

Woods has been getting plaudits from peers for his practice form, but they were always going to be respectful when asked about the former king of golf. It is surely going to take time for the 41-year-old to find a groove and he faces top-class opposition in the Bahamas.

Two players look particularly daunting foes for Woods and each-way bets on both are recommended. Betfair and Paddy Power are paying a fifth the odds on the first five. Brooks Koepka, who has taken his game to a new level this season, is the most appealing wager.

More Steve Palmer tournament previews

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Koepka, who cruised to a four-shot US Open victory in June, tied for second in the WGC-HSBC Champions a month ago before a successful defence of his Dunlop Phoenix Open title in Japan last time out. Koepka demolished his rivals in Japan, winning by nine shots, leaving a demoralised Hideki Matsuyama to admit: “I feel there's a huge gap between us.”

Koepka is in mint condition coming to a course which is perfect for him. Albany is wide-open with five par-five holes made even more inviting by pre-tournament showers. Koepka, bursting with power and an underrated putter, should be in the mix on Sunday.

Next best
Dustin Johnson 6-1
Alongside Koepka in a dream first-round twoball is his Presidents Cup fourballs partner Dustin Johnson, and the dynamic duo can inspire each other to a feast of Thursday birdies.

While Koepka is in the form of his life and making hay while the sun shines, Johnson will be seeking some sort of redemption. He will not want to head off for his Christmas holiday still thinking about his final-round collapse in the HSBC.

The setback in China, where Johnson blew a six-shot Sunday advantage with a closing round of 77, means he tees off in the Hero with more motivation than ever. The world number one can be expected to tear into an ideal layout over the next four days, seeking to end 2017 in style.

Johnson has won four trophies this year, including two World Championship events, but allowing Justin Rose to overtake him in China stung badly. Everything which could go wrong did go wrong, as Johnson endured 'one of those days'.

DJ was third in the Hero at Albany last year. Punters should not read too much into his 15th-place finish in 2015 – he sliced the heel of his right foot in a swimming accident before that event, so was playing through the pain barrier.

Others to note
Rickie Fowler
The all-too-regular nearly-man finished second in the OHL Classic last time out, defeated in a duel with a US Tour maiden. He has ended up in third place in both his Hero events at Albany. Another third spot could be on the cards.

Justin Thomas
The favourite has not played since taking a desperately needed break after the CJ Cup a month ago. He has never competed at Albany and has to partner Tiger Woods, and the accompanying media circus, for the first round.

Justin Rose
The Englishman lives in the Bahamas and Albany is his practice base. His comfort there showed in a course-record final-round 62 in the 2015 Hero. He looks a serious danger, although he has just returned from Hong Kong, so has jet-lag to overcome.

Jordan Spieth
The Open champion finished eighth in the Australian Open on Sunday before trekking home. That poor effort in a dismal field makes him unappealing for this much tougher task.

Henrik Stenson
The Swede has not been sighted since complaining of a rib injury at the Turkish Airlines Open, potentially sustained while posing in mid-air as a superhero before the HSBC. He was the Hero runner-up last year.

Hideki Matsuyama
The defending champion was in red-hot form when cruising to victory 12 months ago, but his confidence level is much lower this time. He tied for last place in 2015.

Staking plan
B Koepka
3pts each-way 10-1 BetBright
D Johnson
3pts each-way 6-1 Betfair, Paddy Power

The lowdown

Course Albany, New Providence, The Bahamas
Prize money $3.5m ($1m to the winner)
Length 7,302 yards Par 72 Field 18

Course records – 72 holes 263 Bubba Watson (2015) 18 holes 62 Justin Rose (2015)
Course winner taking part Hideki Matsuyama

When to bet By 4.10pm on Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 5.30pm on Thursday

Time difference The Bahamas is five hours behind the UK and Ireland

Course overview The World Challenge's traditional home was Sherwood Country Club, California, where it was staged from 2000 to 2013, but it moved to Isleworth Country Club, Florida, in 2014, then to Albany in 2015.

Albany is a luxury resort on the island of New Providence, which opened in December 2010. Ernie Els designed the course and is a member there, along with Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

The straightforward and open desert links-style track has five par fives, five par threes and eight par fours, encouraging aggressive golf. There have been 35 yards added to the layout since last year

The story of last year Massively in-form Japanese raider Hideki Matsuyama had a humdrum final-round 73 and still claimed the title by two shots with an 18-under-par total

Weather forecast Rain has softened the course in the build-up to the event, but only the odd shower is expected to affect the competition, with sunny skies for the weekend. Light breezes throughout

Type of player suited to challenge Bubba Watson overpowered Albany in 2015, going 13 under par for the five par-five holes and 12 under par for the rest of the course. Expect big-hitters carrying hot putters to succeed on a soft, long track.

Key attribute Power.

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Koepka is in mint condition coming to a course which is perfect for him
E.W. Terms
Sky bet