The final WGC event of the year takes centre stage in the golfing world as Sheshan Internal Golf Club in China plays host to the WGC HSBC Champions. It is the only WGC event staged outside of America and it’s positioning at the end of the golfing calendar has meant it has suffered in terms of field strength on occasion. This year is the first year the event is part of the official PGA Tour calendar, as well as being part of the European Tour’s Final Series and now offers an increased prize fund of $8,500,000.00. One player not in attendance is Tiger Woods, who is forgoing the event for the third year in succession, a decision which has attracted some criticism given that he is taking part in an exhibition match with Rory McIlroy in China this Monday. Tiger will be teeing it up in Turkey next week though, a tournament which, as the cynics will point out, offers appearance fees unlike this weeks event, as with most things with Tiger, there will always be two very distinct schools of thought as to how much that is a factor in his scheduling.
Even without Tiger, this years event boasts its strongest field since it obtained WGC status in 2008. Masters Champion, Adam Scott is not attending but the other three major champions will be in the field as well as multiple major winner Ernie Els. Also in the field are major winners in the shape of McDowell, Bubba, Oosthuzien, Kaymer and Bradley. There will be effectively two defending champions this week, Ian Poulter who won this event last year when it was held at Mission Hills and Martin Kaymer who won at Sheshan in 2011. Both will be hoping to have strong weeks, particularly Kaymer who continues drop further down the World Rankings. his current position is 38th and he has lost around 50 points this year alone so needs some big weeks soon if he is move back up. As I stated in last weeks article, the signs have been positive for Martin, so I wouldn’t put anyone off him this week but he is not in my picks.
The Race To Dubai will be the primary focus once again this week for European Tour players, particularly Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy who both find themselves outside the top sixty in the Race To Dubai standings so need good weeks. Donald has had a pretty ordinary year by his standards and like Kaymer is moving down the World Rankings at a pace, he did have a third place finish at Sheshan in 2010 in his only appearance here so has course form but needs to up his current form. McIlroy too has good course form, he’s finished inside the top five on all three occasions he has played at Sheshan. He is perhaps the most frustrating golfer in the world right now as seems unable to put together four rounds of a consistent level. In fact to date in 2013, he has not shot under par in all four rounds of a tournament, only Rory has the answers in regard to the cause of his woes but don’t be surprised to see him perform well this week.
The first of my picks this week is Peter Hanson, who comes into the event on the back of a final round 63 in Shanghai to finish tied for eighth. Last week was Hanson’s first tournament since the Wyndham Championship in August due a back injury which had hindered him since July. After opening with a 79, Hanson played his next three rounds fourteen under par, very impressive and more like the form he showed last Autumn when he picked up two victories in three starts. I had Hanson down as a player to follow this year, it hasn’t quite gone to plan despite an encouraging start, finishing inside the top ten in two of his first five stroke play events and inside the top twenty five in two of the others. He showed last week that his game is still in great shape when fully fit and his form in China makes good reading, he won last year’s BMW Masters and has finished sixth here in 2010, he has also played well in the China Open posting three top twenty five finishes in five starts. He looks a big danger this week.
Paul Casey is my second pick, he has pulled himself back from the mire in both his personal and professional life and looks like getting back to the play that saw him reach third in the World Rankings. He still has a long way to in terms of World Ranking positions, he is currently ranked 107 but a big week here will see that improve considerably. Like Hanson, he has good form in China, he has won the China Open and finished fourth and sixth there, finished inside the top ten in both BMW Masters and more crucially has finished sixth and fourth in his two completed appearances at Sheshan, Golf is a confidence game and when he was in the midst of his struggles last summer, Casey was short of this but now he looks full of it and some might say full of himself too. He is ranked fifth in GIR stats on the European Tour and this has resulted in a stroke average which is almost two shots better than last year, this is despite his putting stats being worse. He can go very close this week and potentially win if his putter find some heat this week.
Finally, I am going to plump for the rising star of Asian golf, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who already has one European Tour win to his name this season and looks in great form coming into this week. He finished one shot away from making the playoff in last weeks CIMB Classic on the PGA Tour and will no doubt have eyes on moving into the world’s top 50 before the year is out. He is a big powerful guy and it would be easy to typecast him as a bomber but he is inside the top twenty five for putts per GIR on the European Tour so he has a touch on the greens as well. One thing he does lack is a touch of control, he is prone to firing high numbers, recently shown in Wales when he shot second round 84 which included an 11 on a par 4. He has made noises to suggest he may seek to earn a card on the PGA Tour so this week will have added significance as a win would achieve that feat and would also guarantee him a place in all four of next year’s majors, which is incentive alone. He is perhaps underestimated this week and could go close.
- Tiger falls to McIlroy in duel (cnn.com)
- WGC-HSBC Champions (forethewingolf.wordpress.com)
- Stenson Rested, but Not Recovered, on Return (abcnews.go.com)
- Stenson rested, but not recovered, on return (bnd.com)