The WGC-HSBC Champions in China - the fourth and final world golf championship event of the season - is the second leg of the European Tour’s four-tournament Final Series.
With prize money of $8.5million, it offers the most valuable purse on this season’s Race to Dubai in tournaments played on non-American soil. Yep, there’s more money up for grabs in Shanghai than at the Open Championship.
In other words, it’s a huge week for fantasy managers as the European Tour heads towards its concluding DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in a fortnight.
This is the seventh edition of the event and all but one (2012) of the previous six were held at this week’s venue, Sheshan International Golf Club.
From 2013, the tournament has been an official PGA Tour event and part of the FedEx Cup schedule but this preview will only focus on players eligible for the European Tour fantasy game.
In all, 44 European Tour members are in the 78-man line-up making the trip to China.
Sheshan International Golf Club
Designed by Robin Nelson and Neil Haworth, the course is a tree-lined par 72 measuring 7,261 yards and featuring Bent grass greens. It’s undulating and water is on play on 11 holes. After the course had rather been taken apart in previous years, it had some bite 12 months ago and yielded a winning score 13 shots higher than in 2013. That was due to the thicker, more penal rough although it’s still a course where hitting it long offers a real advantage. Cashing in on the four par 5s is key and Bubba played them in 14-under last year (bear in mind, he won the tournament with 11-under). It tends to be a venue where previous course form definitely counts for something.
Past winners, winning scores and stats
2014 Bubba Watson -11 (DD: 1, DA: 16, GIR: 18, Scr: 17, PA: 18, AA: 4)
2013 Dustin Johnson -24 (DD: NA, DA: 13, GIR: 1, Scr: 23, PA: 1, AA: 1)
2012 Ian Poulter -21 (played at Mission Hills)
2011 Martin Kaymer -20 (DD: 19, DA: 29, GIR: 10, Scr: 3, PA: 4, AA: 2)
2010 Francesco Molinari -19 (DD: NA, DA: 7, GIR: 23, Scr: 2, PA: 2, AA: 1)
2009 Phil Mickelson -17 (DD: 5, DA: 71, GIR: 20, Scr: 1, PA: 15, AA: 5)
Notes: Putting looks particularly key and it was his prowess with the flatstick that took Francesco Molinari to victory in 2010. Usually, we know him as a player who finds lots of greens but becomes unsure when on them. With three-big hitting Americans winning at Sheshan, we could presume length is a huge factor but the short and steady Tim Clark almost took victory last year after ranking 1st for fairways hit so there is more than one way to skin a cat. All six winners had already played in a Ryder Cup so class tells.
Temperatures should be fairly pleasant (in the early 70s) but, after a clear forecast in round one, the umbrellas go up. Rain is expected over the final 54 holes and downpours are predicted for Sunday afternoon.
The Leading Contenders
After shooting three very easy 67s in Turkey last week, Rory couldn’t find an extra gear on Sunday and had to settle for T6. Disappointment is relative at his level but McIlroy certainly cut a frustrated figure over the final few holes when his chance had gone. There were some obvious positives though and it was a step forward from his T26 in the Frys.com Open. The four-time major winner has lots of good form in China and in this event his results read: 6-4-5-4. Expect him to play a prominent part.
Stenson chose PGA Tour ahead of European Tour last week but his decision to head to Malaysia rather than Turkey didn’t come off as he limped home in T47, his worst finish since May. Rust could clearly have been a factor as he hadn’t teed it up since the Tour Championship and the Swede’s short-game numbers certainly smacked of someone who was just dusting off his clubs again. His record at Sheshan is pretty modest (best of T13 in last four starts) although he did close with 65s in both 2013 and 2014.
Only Tiger Woods has won back-to-back WGC events but Lowry has the chance to join him having won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August. The Irishman is keen to kick on rather than rest on his laurels and he’s finished runner-up in the British Masters and T8 in last week’s Turkish Airlines Open on his last two starts. His strong scrambling skills look a good fit for the course and gamers should pencil him in for a vast improvement on his only two previous starts here, T34 last year and T28 in 2009.
Kaymer is a big fan of this course and has only been outside the top 10 once in his last five visits. He won the tournament in 2011 after a majestic final-round 63 and he also hit the front in round four last year before slipping back to T6. The German looked rather flat in two starts in October (T56 Alfred Dunhill and T50 Portugal Masters) but his love of Sheshan International means he looks a fairly obvious selection for any 10-pick European Tour line-up.
Like Stenson, Garcia also tried his luck at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia last week but he simply couldn’t keep up in the birdie-race (Justin Thomas won with -26) and finished T24. That wasn’t a huge surprise after six weeks off so it’s reasonable to brace ourselves for an improved showing this week in China. Garcia won this tournament in 2008, the year before it was given WGC status, while he also made the top four in 2013.
Every time Reed is available, he’s delivered so managers should again take advantage of the American’s eligibility this week. He had a look at Sheshan last year and came away with a respectable T22 when the course played tough. In the last fortnight, he’s turned up in Hong Kong and finished third while, staying in Asia, he made the top 10 at last week’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia and made just two bogeys all week. Reed had scrambling stats of 91.7% so his short game is razor-sharp.
The South African has played at Sheshan just once and shot himself in the foot with an opening 77 in 2013. But he did recover on the weekend to finish halfway down the 78-man field after rounds of 67-69 while he also has a win in the China Open in 2012 on his record. Grace has played some wonderful golf this year, especially in the majors, and could be ready for another big week after warming up with a T17 in the CIMB Classic (final round 67) last week. Last month, he also won all five of his matches at the Presidents Cup.
It’s been a slow process but Westwood is slowly turning his form around after a flat season. In the last two weeks he’s posted T17 in the British Masters at Woburn while he took T11 in the Turkish Airlines Open on Sunday after opening with a 64. Westwood has six top 20s from his seven visits to Sheshan International and that includes a pair of runner-up finishes in 2007 and 2010. Last year he took T20.
From week to week, it’s hard to get a handle on Schwartzel’s form. He missed the cut in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, sparked back to life with T6 in the Frys.com Open but never got anything going when T50 in last week’s Turkish Airlines Open. It means he represents a gamble this week and past course form adds to the conundrum. Last year he could only manage T64 but on his previous visit in 2011 he took fourth. Then again, that was the year he won The Masters; his confidence is way below those levels right now.
True, Poulter’s win in this event came at Mission Hills in 2012 but he’s a big fan of Sheshan International too. The Englishman hasn’t finished worse than T13 in his last four starts there and in the latest two he finished runner-up in 2013 and T6 last year. As for latest form, it can be classed as progressive; T33 British Masters, T29 Hong Kong Open, T16 Turkish Airlines Open. It’s a deeper field but Poulter could be ready for a big week.
The Next Rung
We haven’t seen Oosthuizen in a strokeplay event since September’s T19 at the BMW Championship in Illinois but he did play in last month’s Presidents Cup where he won 4.5pts out of five after forming a formidable partnership with Branden Grace. He’s also done well at this course, reeling off five finishes of T16 or better in his last six visits. His best was T7 in 2011.
This has been a breakout season for the Indian with two European Tour wins and a top five in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. He’s also got one hand on the Asian Tour Order of Merit trophy after adding a T21 in the CIMB Classic last week. Before that he’d taken T7 in the Hong Kong Open and finished runner-up at the Macau Open. As for course form, Lahiri made his debut in this event last year and shot two 70 and two 74s to finish T28.
This will be a first start for the Austrian in this event but he has made the top 20 at the BMW Masters on the last two occasions he’s pegged it up in China. Wiesberger was a model of consistency early in the season but he’s become very hit-and-miss since. The highs include a superb win in the Open de France, a second in the Irish Open and a recent fourth in the Alfred Dunhill Links but a T50 in Turkey last week was another reminder that he’s lost some reliability.
If gamers don’t know what they’re getting from Wiesberger from week to week, the polar opposite is true of Wood. The Englishman has now connected four top 10s, a fifth place in Turkey last week following a run of 2-9-4. Before we pencil him in as an automatic pick, it’s worth noting that his record in China is modest and includes a T39 here on his only appearance in 2013. That said, he looks a threat on any course at the moment.
He remains McIlroy’s nearest challenger on the Race to Dubai but Willett lost some ground in Turkey last week, finishing T11 to Rory’s T6. Still, he limited the damage and will certainly feel there’s more in the tank after four solid rounds (69-70-68-69). His memories of Sheshan won’t be very good after he racked up two 77s and a 75 to finish T67 but that was five years ago and he’s a vastly improved performer since. His last two results in China show a pair of top 25s in 2014.
Yes, despite now being set for what could be a glittering career on the PGA TOUR following his win in the Frys.com Open three weeks ago, Grillo still has European Tour membership and is available for selection this week. The young Argentine hasn’t played at Sheshan before but his previous form in China is eye-catching. In five starts, he’s made the top 25 every time and that includes third place in this year’s China Open.
There may come a point where the youngster’s heroics and busy schedule really catch up with him and perhaps we saw that in Turkey last week. A second-round 63 was a reminder of his excellence but the two 73s and 72 that went with it were perhaps tell-tale signs of fatigue. Fitzpatrick will be making his 30th start of the season and that’s more than anyone in the top 50 on the Race to Dubai. The recent British Masters winner sits in 14th ahead of his tournament debut.
A raised fist caught on camera behind him suggested Aphibarnrat’s chip for eagle on the 72nd hole at last week’s Turkish Airlines Open had gone in. Instead it cannoned off the flag and his play-off hopes vanished. Still, it was another great week for the big Thai whose last four worldwide finishes now read: 3-6-5-4. By contrast, his record at Sheshan is miserable (55-66-74) so he presents a classic course form v current form dilemma for gamers this week.
His first start in this event is reward for that brilliant six-shot win in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May. An hadn’t posted a top 15 in 11 starts since but changed that with a big weekend in the Turkish Airlines Open when, with a hot putter, he fired 65-66 over the final 36 holes to take solo fourth. The Korean also made the top 10 in April’s China Open so has some form in the region.
The European Tour’s only three-time winner this season is another first-timer at Sheshan International. The latest of those victories came just two starts ago when he went wire-to-wire in the Portugal Masters so his confidence must be sky-high again despite a T60 in Turkey last time week. However, Sullivan is still to prove he can get in the mix in elite company like this so a leap of faith is required to squeeze him into a 10-man line-up.
With big hitters faring so well at Sheshan in the past, Pieters should be licking his lips. But, as with Sullivan, his wins this season came in lower grade events (Czech Masters and KLM Open) so can we find a place for him? The Belgian was T26 in the Turkish Airlines Open and made the top six in Portugal before that. He posted T18 in the China Open on his trip to the Far East.
The young Englishman has finished T24 (2014) and T18 (2013) in his two appearances in this event so knows the course. He’s also posted a second and a third in his last five starts in China so appears to enjoy this corner of the globe. The niggle is whether recent form (T60 Turkish Airlines Open and T22 Portugal Masters) is quite good enough.
Given that he won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last month and finished T6 in this tournament last year, the Dane has to be worth a mention. The counter argument is obvious; he’s wildly inconsistent. Apart from that win, he hasn’t managed better than last week’s T41 in Turkey in his last seven starts.
Who’s On The Team?
Rory’s course record and improved performance in Turkey suggests he could be the European to make the biggest noise this week.
As usual, the question is this: Is there good reason NOT to pick for Star Player in the European Tour fantasy game?
Patrick Reed could be an interesting alternative if you don’t think Rory is read yet as the American is clearly coming into hot form again. He’s certainly an each-way option for bettors at 40/1.
Martin Kaymer, the 2011 winner, is always a horses-for-courses type so has to be given full respect at this venue.
I’ll add my full 10-man line-up at the end of this preview on Tuesday.
One To Fade
If putting is a big factor (it usually is this week), Charl Schwartzel is the obvious big name to leave alone. He was again way down the putting stats in Turkey last week.
2015 Fantasy Race to Dubai
Dave Tindall is our newest contributor, but he’s been a fixture in Europe. In addition to his weekly previews of European Tour events on Mondays, he’ll share his selections and analysis for the Fantasy Race to Dubai at EuropeanTour.com.
Pick 10 golfers. Players accumulate points based on Race to Dubai (R2D) points earned. Star player’s points are doubled. Unlimited team changes and unlimited star player changes are available each week.
Missed out on Dubuisson but borderline pick Aphibarnrat banked some big dough. Shame he fluffed a two-foot birdie putt at the last to miss out on solo second. A slight gain of 70 spots. Current position: 1,362.
Team Tindall (Team name: YESSIR!)
Star Player: Rory McIlroy
Never outside the top four here in four starts and warmed up with T6 in Turkey last week. Hungry for a win.
- Henrik Stenson: Sluggish last week and course form not great but can land big payouts so worth a spot.
- Martin Kaymer: Brilliant winner here in 2011 and close to a second win last year so loves course.
- Shane Lowry: Chasing back-to-back WGC wins. Runner-up and T8 in last two Euro Tour starts.
- Patrick Reed: Never lets gamers down when eligible. Third in Hong Kong and top 10 at CIMB.
- Louis Oosthuizen: Five top 20s in last six starts at Sheshan. Unbeaten (4 wins) in Presidents Cup.
- Danny Willett: Still chasing McIlroy at top of Race To Dubai so has huge incentive. T11 last week.
- Branden Grace: Won all 5 matches at Presidents Cup. Has shone in the big events this year.
- Sergio Garcia: Shook off rust with top 25 at CIMB. Course winner and also top five here in 2013.
- Lee Westwood: Strong record in Asia including six top 20s at Sheshan. Coming back into form.