PGA Preview – Packed Field at Shanghai WGC HSBC Champions
by Kent Whitaker Scores & Statson
The first of this season's popular World Golf Championship tournaments is gearing up in Shanghai and the field is packed with talent. Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and the new No. 1 player on the Official World Golf Rankings – Brooks Koepka – will be teeing off with a host of familiar names. It’s round three of the PGA Asian Swing and could be the best WGC HSBC Champions event is several seasons.
The problem is, who are you going to pick? Don’t worry if you’re struggling with selecting a favorite as it seems oddsmakers are having the same trouble. They’re no clear top-five list of favored players as so many are bunched together. In fact, Johnson, Rose, and Koepka are all knotted at +800 while a host of other players fall in behind them at +1600. The only player separating the two groups is Rory McIlroy at +1000. Here’s the modified top-five list at Intertops:
Koepka moved into the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings when he won the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges Golf Course in South Korea last week. Plus, he has two US Opens and the PGA Championship under his belt. Last year Koepka finished two strokes out of the lead after starting the event with a 64 and 68 but went 73 during round three while closing with a 71.
Rose, who overcame an amazing eight-stroke deficit last year, walked away with the win while Koepka finished T2 with Dustin Johnson and Henrick Stenson. This year Rose will once again face Koepka and Johnson but also Rory McIlroy (+1000) who missed the event last year as he was healing from a rib injury. The addition of McIlroy to the field means there are four of the top-five players in the world teeing it up in Shanghai, China.
Sure, four of the top five golfers in the world are riding the favorites list heading into round one of the WGC HSBC Champions tournament. But, let’s not forget about everyone sporting a +1600. Jason Day and Tony Finau both finished the event towards the top last season. Day and Finau ended T11 along with Paul Casey. Fleetwood fell back to T20 just behind Phil Mickelson at T15.
Hideki Matsuyama has five PGA Tour wins with three of those coming in 2017. The Japanese golfer finished T18 at the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges last week but showed signs that his game was coming back to his 2017 form. Currently, Matsuyama is ranked 22 in the world and could move up dramatically if he finishes well in Shanghai.
Points to Ponder
• Ten members of the winning European Ryder Cup team will be playing in Shanghai. • Four members of the losing United States Ryder Cup team will be playing in Shanghai. • The field will include 19 of the top thirty players in the Official World Golf Rankings. • Only 12 players will have played in all three of the “Asian Swing” tour events this season. • Dustin Johnson has won five WGC Titles in his career. • Dustin Johnson holds the 72-hole record at Sheshan Golf Club with a 264 scored in 2013.
Sheshan International Golf Club West by the Numbers
Sheshan International Golf Club has a relatively short history as it is China’s first “premier” Golf Club being completed in 2004. The course was once called “the crowning jewel of all of Asian golf” by Tiger Woods. In fact, he liked the course so much that it was part of his EA Sports Tiger Woods PGA Tour video game in the 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014 versions.
The course sits near Sheshan Mountain and features changes in elevation while maintaining a classic golf course look with rolling fairways. Ponds come into play on many of the holes while bunkers protect all greens. Fairways also include several tricky landing areas which will force some players to use long irons off the tee.
Many tee shots play downhill as over 1.5 million cubic meters of earth were moved to create individual valleys and changes in elevation for each hole. All of the water features on the course are manmade.
The course features several tough par-threes including No. 6 which carries over water, which protects the left side, onto a small green with bunkers to the rear. The finishing hole is probably one of the toughest on the tour – certainly on the Asian swing. No. 18 forces players to the narrow landing area to the left as the right-hand side of the fairway is all water. Too long of a shot will bring bunkers into play. Any approach shot will have to carry over water onto a small green with a huge trap to the left.
Location: Shanghai, China Designers: Nelson and Haworth Design Established: 2004 Par: 72 Length: 7,261 Course rating: 70 Slope rating: 110 Greens: Penn A1 Bentgrass Fairways: Seashore Paspalum
WGC HSBC Champions TV Times - all times ET
Note: Due to time differences between the United States and Shanghai, China, the TV schedule begins Wednesday night – in the States – instead of Thursday morning.