Tiger’s gait, Scheffler’s putting: 3 things to watch Sunday at the Hero World Challenge
It’s been over two months since Scottie Scheffler last played a competitive round.
Technically, it’s been over three months since the Ryder Cup isn’t an official event on the PGA Tour. Neither is this week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
But even though this is the World No. 1’s first action in stroke play since the Tour Championship, and it will still be another month before the 2024 PGA Tour season gets started, Scheffler is viewing this week as an official start to the next year.
“Usually it’s kind of a year ender, but to me it feels like the beginning of a new season with the long break and kind of a warmup for Kapalua,” Scheffler said after his third round 65 Thursday.
Scheffler has a lot of reason to treat this week as a new beginning. So does this week’s host, Tiger Woods.
With Scheffler opening up a three-shot lead Saturday and Woods a distant 16 shots back, there are still a number of storylines for Sunday’s final round, which will be the last round of 2023 for much of the 20-man field.
Three things to watch for Sunday at the Hero World Challenge
Tiger Woods completing 72 holes
Since the 2020 Masters, Tiger Woods has walked 72 holes over four consecutive days just two times. He’s well on his way this week to completing all four rounds for the third time.
Woods is playing for first time since a painful looking Saturday at the Masters when he withdrew midway through a sloppy third round after making the cut at Augusta for the second straight year. He had ankle surgery days later and didn’t hit a competitive shot until Thursday.
While Woods opened with 75 Thursday and followed with rounds of 70 and 71 to battle back to even par, he’s still viewing the week as a win so far.
“I’m very excited at how I have felt physically,” Woods said. “Knocking off some rust. I mean, we can always knock off rust at home, but it’s so different come game time.”
He’s continually stated his surgically-fused ankle is no longer causing him pain, but other parts of his injured right leg are. So too is his back, where he’s gone under the knife seven times in the last ten years.
It’s a different swing than what we’re used to seeing with Woods, more driven with his upper body and his right foot noticeably less active, but it’s still getting the job done through three rounds.
His driving and short game have carried him through the week, ranking seventh in strokes gained: off the tee and eighth around the green.
But the important thing is that he finishes the tournament, and through three days, he’s shown little laboring and his gait has stayed consistent. In the two times he’s withdrawn since his return at the 2022 Masters, he’s pulled out of the final round well before it started.
“To be able to knock off some of the rust as I have this week and showed myself that I can recover each and every day, that was kind of an unknown,” Woods said. “I’ve done all my training, but add in playing and concentration and adrenaline and all those other factors that speed up everything, I’m very excited how the week’s turned out”
Scottie Scheffler’s putting
If this is supposedly the beginning of the next season for Scheffler, it’s pretty clear he’s taking a “new year, new me” approach to his putting.
The top-ranked player in the world was just 162nd in strokes gained: putting on the PGA Tour last season.
Armed with a surprising new putter this week, he’s third in the category. He hasn’t been in the top-three in the stat for a single event since he was second in putting during his debut win at the 2022 WM Phoenix Open nearly two years ago.
He also added putting coach Phil Kenyon to his team after the Tour Championship, who he said helped facilitate the flatstick change.
“[the new putter] has a little thing on the top that helps me line the ball up more consistently in the middle of the face and then obviously the grip is different than what I’ve used in the past, but that’s something that Phil and I have worked on together,” Scheffler said. “I feel as if I’m much more clear in what I need to be working on and a lot of that has to do with how I’m set up over the ball. When I’m set up in the right position, then I feel like my mechanics are really good.”
Scheffler’s lead was as big as five shots Saturday thanks to two eagles, both of which he made from mid-range. His tee shot on the last unfortunately just rolled through the fairway, leading to a bogey. He’ll start Sunday up three at 16 under with a chance to notch his first win since March, despite have one of the most consistent runs of all-time throughout the rest of this year.
Fitzpatrick plays Spieth’s game
The only player within five shots of Scheffler heading into the final round is Matt Fitzpatrick at 13 under.
Like Jordan Spieth Thursday, Fitzpatrick had a bit of psycho scorecard himself Saturday. He made just seven pars, but also eight birdies, an eagle, a bogey and a double on his way to a 65.
While two-time defending champion Viktor Hovland made a name for himself winning at tropical/island locales before this past year, Fitzpatrick could do the same if he comes back Sunday.
While his first PGA Tour win was in the notably not tropical Boston at the Country Club and 2022 U.S. Open, but his most recent was at the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
However, more of what the Bahamas has to offer off the course seems to be on the top of his mind this week at this unofficial event.
“This is a vacation week, so yeah, I’m just trying to play as well as I can and yeah, I’m just having an enjoyable week,” he said. “Got friends here, my fiancee’s here. Yeah, we’re having a good laugh.”
Hovland, meanwhile, will not become a three-time winner as he’ll start Sunday tied with Woods, 16 shots back.