The WGC-HSBC Champions and Sanderson Farms Championship marks the first two-step of the 2016-17 PGA TOUR season. We will hit the WGC-HSBC first, and then share a few thoughts on the Sanderson Farms Championship later.
The WGC-HSBC Champions returns to Sheshan International Golf Club for the seventh time in the last eight years. The lone outlier was in 2012, when Ian Poulter won at Mission Hills. Russell Knox won the 2015 edition and was the latest in a list of ball-strikers to hoist the hardware at Sheshan International GC. Expect a ball-striker to emerge this week as well. . In addition to Knox and excluding Poulter, the other champions are Bubba Watson (2014), Dustin Johnson (2013), Martin Kaymer (2011), Francesco Molinari (2010) and Phil Mickelson (2009).
Sheshan International GC is a par-72 layout that tipped out at 7,261 yards last year. Considering this layout features four par 5s, it’s a course of relatively moderate length by current standards.
Last week’s CIMB Classic is about as good of a measure of current form as we are going to get, but take a look at other events around the world where relevant.
With that as the backdrop, let’s do this!
1. Dustin Johnson – Followed up his win in 2013 with a T5 last year. He offers OAD players a very tough dilemma, as the purse is strong enough to burn a horse this week but it’s so difficult to pull the trigger this early in the season.
2. Rory McIlroy – Another stud who performs well at Sheshan International GC, the Ulsterman has four top-six finishes in five tries with a T11 last year.
3. Bubba Watson – Went T8-Win-T35 in his last three WGC-HSBCs. Not that he isn’t always a bit of a wildcard, but that’s definitely the case this week. It’s not a big surprise to see a falloff in a title defense, so there is some hope that he finds his way back inside the top 10 this week.
5. Hideki Matsuyama – His solo second last week in Malaysia continues his run of fine play. Unfortunately Sheshan International GC has not been kind. He’s gone WD-T41-WD in his three starts. With two WDs on the ledger, it’s a little tough to write his name down in a OAD league.
6. Henrik Stenson – Getting better by the trip, posting a T31-T24-T11 run in his last three WGC-HSBC Champions. His class is undeniable, meaning a top 10 is entirely likely.
7. Paul Casey – Broke his streak of four consecutive top-four finishes with a T21 in the CIMB Classic last week. Earned a T20 and a T23 in his last two trips to Sheshan International, so it will be interesting to see if he can at least get back on the top-10 train.
8. Sergio Garcia – A known commodity at this stop, the Spaniard’s last three trips to Sheshan have included a T4 in 2013 and a T11 in 2015.
9. Justin Thomas – Despite a T27 here last year, it’s impossible to ignore last week’s winner considering how closely his strength’s mirror guys like Watson and DJ.
10. Patrick Reed – While he had a T7 here last year, one has to wonder if he’s getting a little burned out with a heavy schedule of late.
11. Rickie Fowler – Another wildcard, Fowler does offer a T3 in 2014 and a T17 last year in terms of positive history.
12. Martin Kaymer – This is 100% based on course history, as his win here is one of four top 10s. Anyone who watched the Ryder Cup knows he didn’t demonstrate his A-game that week.
13. Kevin Kisner – A runner-up here last year was a piece of a magical 2015 calendar year puzzle for Kisner. He cooled off in 2016 but bears watching this week.
14. Branden Grace – A T5 last year is plenty of reason to earn this class player a spot inside the top 15.
15. Danny Willett – Grabs the last spot due to a T3 last year.
The Sanderson Farms Championship returns to the Country Club of Jackson in Mississippi for the third consecutive season. The previous two winners are Nick Taylor (2014) and Peter Malnati (2015), meaning predicting this tournament is a crapshoot.
The Country Club of Jackson is a great layout by most accounts, stretching out to 7,421 yards and playing to a par of 72. As is the case with most layouts in the Deep South, it’s not a bad idea to focus on players with strong ties to the Southeastern United States.
Five players to keep an eye on are as follows:
- Russell Henley – First time here, but he jumped off the page. Georgia native and UGA grad, Henley has a history of performing very well on Bermuda greens and is a proven winner. The slight concern is that he normally is at his best on par-70 or par-71 layouts.
- Chris Kirk – A second UGA grad, Kirk has arguably the most current class in the field. A decent ball-striker and good putter, he could very easily find himself in the mix.
- Patton Kizzire – After nearly winning the season opener, he makes his second start of the 2016-17 season at the site of a T4 a year ago. Form meets history!
- David Toms – LSU product and Louisiana native, Toms has two top 10s in two tries here.
- Boo Weekley – Posted a T2 in 2014 before retreating to a T39 last year. Still, one has to like his chances for a solid week.
Best of luck to all this week!