A new—or in this case repurposed—format like we’ll see at the inaugural “The Challenge: Japan Skins” brings with a level of unknown to any golf competition. And with an anticipated set of mid-round challenges awaiting them, there’s even more intrigue as to what will take place on Monday between Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day.
What might fans be in store for as they prepare to watch the unique event? We tapped into the most knowledgeable set of golf insiders we know: tour caddies. Thanks to the Caddie Network, we solicited responses to a series of five burning questions we had ahead of Tiger, Rory, Hideki and Jason stepping to the first tee at Accordia Golf Narashimo C.C.
Obviously, birdies are at a premium in a skins format. Rory’s game seems to set up to attack pins in this format, but each player is known for their elite iron play. What other skills are important to play well in this format, and who might succeed?
Caddie 1: Maybe it goes without saying, but the key to success in skins is trying to stay in every hole. Going for broke may lead to winning one skin, but playing your normal game will keep you in a lot of holes. And across the entire match, odds are, more breaks will come your way.
Caddie 2: Generally, skins are going to be had on par 3s or mid-iron par 4s. I think it’ll come down to the guy who can hit those four to six shots [during the round] consistently to 15 feet and in.
Caddie 3: You have to stay in every hole to maximize your chances of winning a big skin late. My guess is that there will be a ton of pushes early, and bigger skins up for grabs late. That’s how it usually plays out.
Tiger has quite a bit of experience in these made-for-TV events. How much of a disadvantage is that for the other players?
Caddie 1: All of the players have played with Tiger enough that it shouldn’t faze them. At the end of the day, it’s just golf for the best players in the world. Each player has been in contention in a major (with three of them winning one), so this will be more fun for them.
Caddie 2: If anyone should have an advantage, it is Hideki. He’s the home-crowd favorite, and I bet he will benefit. I can’t see Tiger having much of an advantage here. The key will be how he looks after his recent surgery. Word is that he’s looking good, but the world will get to see.
Caddie 3: Tiger will be at an advantage in the big stage BUT there will certainly be some rust. He hasn’t been able to practice as much as the other guys in their brief offseasons.
Which of the four guys is most comfortable in the type of atmosphere where you’re supposed to put on a bit of a show along with trying to execute on every shot?
Caddie 1: Tiger has always been a great showman. People love to watch him play, but I expect Hideki to step up in his home country and give Japan a real treat.
Caddie 2: Hideki will walk away the winner here. A ton of national pride on the line—and he’s probably played the course before. I doubt the others have.
Caddie 3: I think Rory and Tiger are tied with relishing the big shot. They’ve done it so often and with a ton of success that it breeds more confidence.
On a largely unknown golf course, what would you look for in the first few holes to determine who might end up finding success, especially for those who might be live-betting the event? Is there any scouting report on Narashimo?
Caddie 1: I’ve heard it is somewhat narrow, which is common for Japanese courses. Land there is very valuable. Hideki again should have a small advantage because he and his caddie have played there previously. But world-class players can learn a course very quickly. Superior tee balls might determine who plays the best.
Caddie 2: My guess is there will be a lot of halved holes early. Between the four of them, two are going to play the holes decent enough to get a push. It’s the late holes that matter.
Caddie 3: In this day and age, you can look up everything you need to know about the course. The problem is it’s hard to know how the course will be set up. Will they make one or two holes drivable? Will they manipulate the tees to create more drama? Again, the winner is going to come from someone who can pick up those skins later in the match, so I would pay more attention to the finishing five holes than the beginning.
Hideki, Rory and Jason are coming off the offseason having played only a few times in recent weeks, and Tiger hasn’t played since August. What can we expect from their games? Do you expect them to be somewhat rusty in terms of competition?
Caddie 1: I do think it is important to have had some reps. I expect Hideki to play the most consistent. Rory will be the most spectacular. Tiger wouldn’t play if he wasn’t ready, and you never know what you will get from Jason. I like Hideki in the homeland.
Caddie 2: They’ll all be ready to go, particularly Rory and Hideki. They’ve been playing some. Tiger coming back from surgery and Jason having a long time off [before the CJ Cup this week] could be the deciding factors. I can see this being back-nine battle between Rory and Hideki.
Caddie 3: It is hard to gauge what form guys will be in, but I do think Rory and Hideki will have an advantage. Rory will still be fresh off his starts in Europe and the end of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Hideki continues to play golf, Tiger is coming out of surgery and a long layoff, and this is Jason days off season to get healthy!