WGC – HSBC Champions
It was a good week for us at the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan as we bagged two outright full place payouts in the shape of Gary Woodland and Corey Conners, who finished fifth and sixth respectively.
The week though belonged to Tiger Woods who returned from a lay off from another knee surgery to produce a stunning wire to wire victory to post his 82nd PGA Tour victory and match Sam Snead’s record of wins. Basically an incredible achievement.
So with two thirds of the Asian Swing completed we now move on to the third and final event in Asia, the WGC HSBC – Champions played at Sheshan International GC in Shanghai.
The event was first played in 2005 and has been played every year at its current home in Shanghai apart from in 2012 when it was played at Mission Hills.
The event became a WGC in 2009.
For the third week running the event is a no cut event with 78 players lining up.
The field in principal is made up of the top 50 from the OWGR, the top 30 from the previous seasons Fedex Cup and Race to Dubai.
In addition there are qualifiers from the Asian Tour, The Japan Tour, The Sunshine Tour and the PGA Tour of Australia.
Finally there are wildcards offered to home players from China.
As is often the case in this event due to the time of year it falls in the calendar, several leading names have chosen not to compete.
These include Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, while Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson are both absent for injury reasons.
The field and betting market is headed up clearly by Rory McIlroy who on the back of his fast finishing third place in Japan is sure to be a warm order. He is then followed in the market by Hideki Matsuyama who also produced an excellent performance on his home soil last week to finish runner up to Tiger.
Sheshan International GC is a par 72 measuring just over 7250yds.
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course was designed by Neil Haworth in 2004
The fairways are treelined but are fairly forgiving off the tee.
Over the years we have seen all types of player flourish here, bombers such as Bubba Watson and DJ have both won here, however ball strikers such as Knox, Rose, Stenson and Berger have also had good success here and it is this type of player of anything that has featured more prominently on the leaderboard over the years.
So lets take a look at the last nine winners since the event officially became a WGC;
2018 X Schauffele
2017 J Rose
2016 H Matsuyama
2015 R Knox
2014 B Watson
2013 D Johnson
2012 I Poulter**
2011 M Kaymer
2010 F Molinari
2009 P Mickelson
**Denotes played at different venue, Mission Hills.
As noted earlier, and as we can see from the above list, the roll of honour here encompasses different types of players with bombers such as Bubba and DJ winning along with ball strikers such as Molinari, Knox and Rose.
When you then add in the fact that elite players like Rose, Hideki, DJ and Bubba alongside the likes of Knox, Poulter and Molinari, [before he was seen as the player he is now], have triumphed then you would be forgiven for thinking that the list of past winners doesn’t really help us much, however on closer inspection there is to me one striking link, which I drew attention to in the build up to the event last year, which was rubber stamped once again in 2018 by Xander Schauffele.
The link in question is the form of the winner over the course of that calendar year.
To explain further, of these ten winners six of them had won earlier in that calendar year.
However since Phil won here in 09 straight on the back of winning the Tour Championship, the other five players who won here having already won earlier in the season, had not won for at least six months if not much longer.
Molinari, Poulter, Knox and Rose were all winless for well over a year when they won here [Knox actually posted his first tour win here] while as I highlighted last year Bubba won here in 2014 having last won at the Masters, Hideki won here in 2016 having last won at Phoenix at the beginning of February and DJ and Kaymer were both winless since their respective wins at the Hyundai T of C and Abu Dhabi in January.
To finish off true to form last years winner Xander Schauffele triumphed here for his first victory since his success at the Tour Championship just over twelve months prior.
In essence what appears to be the pattern is whilst the PGA Championship was historically known as Glory’s Last Shot, this event seems to be the real Glory’s Last Shot of the calendar year. One last opportunity for a leading player who has been winless for several months/the whole calendar year, or even considerably longer to grab a trophy.
This is then countered with the flip side of the coin with several leading players in the field who have had hugely successful summers perhaps having run out of gas/gone off the boil for the year.
To flesh this out further it is not to say that the winner has come here in poor form, in fact eight out of the last ten winners had finished in the top 10 in one of their previous two starts, with Knox who had finished 38th & 21st in his previous two starts and Schauffele who had finished 48th and 25th in his previous two starts the exceptions.
In fact seven of these top 10 finishes were actually top 5s.
Finally with regards to previous course form, whilst naturally it is useful to have some and the likes of Rose, Bubba and Molinari had previous top 10s here to their names, both Knox and DJ won here on their course debut, Xander won here last year after a 46th place on debut the year before and Hideki had had a dreadful time here prior to his win, so I would not see this as hugely important.
So to sum up if history is anything to go by we are looking for high level player who has not won over the past 6 months but is coming in to form nicely over his past couple of starts.
The early part of the week leading in to the event along with all four tournament days looks set to stay dry so we should see a reasonably firm golf course.
Temperatures also look to be good with four days all in the low 70s forecast.
The wind does not look to be a huge issue for the first three days although Thursday does show the possibility of gusts up to 15mph. Sunday however is a different story with gusts of over 30mph in the forecast and if these do come to fruition we could be in for a wild ride on the final day!
As I always say though…this could all change!
While there are some players near the the top of the market, most notably Hideki, who strongly fit the profile I am looking at this week, I can't bring myself to back them at the odds on offer and I have therefore gone with four players this week as follows;
BILLY HORSCHEL –35-1 – 1.5pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 24th
First up this week is Billy Horschel.
Horschel has had an incredibly solid twelve months on the course missing only two cuts in the 2018/19 season and posting five top ten finishes across the 2019 calendar year, the latest of, which came last weekend in Japan.
The one thing missing therefore from Billy’s CV over the past year is another PGA Tour trophy and there are solid reasons to think this could be the week he puts that right, which I shall outline as follows.
Firstly after a sluggish performance to start the new campaign at the CJ Cup, an event, which Billy is yet to sparkle at, he produced an excellent all round performance for his sixth place finish in Japan, as he finished 22nd for the week in DA, 13th for the week in GIR and third for the week in putts per GIR, basically everything was in great working order.
Moving on from this as we know Horschel is always a man to keep on side when he starts to hit his straps as one good performance more often than not leads to another. This was something that was most memorably seen in his run to Fedex Cup glory in 2014 but was on display again only three months or so ago when he followed a ninth place finish at the WGC Fedex St Jude with a sixth place finish at the Wyndham.
More encouragement is then offered by the fact that if we look back at last years event here Billy pitched up straight from a tough week in Korea to post an excellent 11th place finish so the fact that he arrives here this year after playing so well in Japan gives me huge encouragement that he can produce an even stronger display this time around.
I mentioned earlier that two types of player appear to get the job done here, the out and out big hitting aggressive players like Bubba, DJ and more recently Schauffele, or the ball striker who plots their way around the course like Knox, Molinari or Rose.
Well, this week my hunch is that with firmer conditions anticipated and the potential for the wind to pick up over the weekend we may see a year where the latter type of player flourishes more than the bombers and Billy certainly fits in to the that category.
All in all in a week where, while the event is a WGC by name, but in all honesty the field is not a hugely strong one, I see this as an excellent opportunity for a player who sits slightly below the elite of the game to bag a huge trophy and Billy is the player I fancy most to seize that opportunity.
MATT FITZPATRICK –60-1 – 1pt e/w 1/4 odds 1st 5 - FINISHED 7th
Matt Fitzpatrick is a player that I will confess I have struggled to get right this year as on the occasions I have had him on side he has failed to really get going.
As the saying goes though ‘faint heart never won fair maiden’ and on that basis I shall step back in to the fray with the Yorkshireman this week in an event that to me he has the perfect profile to succeed in.
The crux to my above viewpoint is the theory I have already outlined about winners of this event being players who basically still have a point to prove in their season and are in reasonably strong form coming in to this week and Matt fits that bill perfectly.
Fitzpatrick’s last win came in September 2018 at Crans in the European Masters, however since then despite five second place finishes and a fourth place finish across both tours he has been unable to add any further silverware to his trophy cabinet and if he does remain winless for the next couple of months this will be the first time since 2014 that he has not posted a victory in the calendar year.
From a positive point of view though fans of the 25yr old can take heart that the five time European Tour winner has posted four of these victories in the months of September, October and November, so while many a player at this time of year is winding down Matt seems to actually pick up his game as winter approaches.
Matt has made four previous starts in this tournament and apart from last years disappointing 54th place, he has acquitted himself excellently at Sheshan International with further finishes of seventh, ninth and 16th and my thought is that like Horschel he will be suited by this weeks anticipated firmer conditions.
Currently sitting fourth in the Race to Dubai Fitzpatrick has an awful lot left to play for and with one of those above him Jon Rahm choosing not to make the trip East a big week here could see Matt make further big strides in the rankings.
Matt arrives here on the back of disappointing week at the Zozo Championship, however now that he has had that week to adjust to the change in time zone my hope is that he will revert to the sort of form we saw from in his previous outing in Italy, where he finished second yet again.
There is no doubt in my mind that Fitzpatrick is a player who will make the step up to win trophy’s at WGC and quite possibly Major level in his career and to me this week represents the perfect opportunity for him to take that next step and I can see a great week for him ahead.
KEEGAN BRADLEY – 1pt e/w – 70-1 - 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 24th
One player who has already proven he can get the job done at WGC’s and indeed Major Championships is Keegan Bradley and at the odds on offer I am happy to chance that he can make a return to victory at that level this week.
Bradley tasted victory for the first time in six years in September 2018 when he posted a win in the BMC Championship Fedex Cup Play Off event.
Following on from this Keegan had a solid if unspectacular campaign through 2018/19 the highlights of, which were a sixth place finish here last year and second place finish at TPC River Highlands at the Travelers.
The latter performance is one of particular interest to me here in that it has an interesting form link with two former winners of this event Watson and Knox, as they are both also former winners of the Travelers.
The 33yr old has been busy so far in the 2019/20 season having made four starts already, with his best performance to date coming last week at the Zozo Championship where he finished 13th.
if we look at Keegan’s numbers for the week in Japan we’ll see he finished sixth for GIR and even more interestingly 11th in putting so not only was his traditional ball striking in good shape but his normal nemesis the flat stick was in good working order as well.
As mentioned earlier Bradley was sixth here last year, however in addition to this he has also posted finishes of 11th and 16th in two of his three previous visits so this is clearly a venue he is comfortable at I am confident he can build on last weeks steady play, and indeed take some inspiration from two rounds in the company of Tiger, and produce a great week this week.
KURT KITAYAMA – 125-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 28th
For my final pick this week I am going to stray away from theory of siding with neat and tidy players due another win and on the basis of price on offer roll the dice instead on a big hitter who has been in superb form this year, Kurt Kitayama.
The American has had an absolutely outstanding debut season on the European Tour posting two wins and two further top five finishes, both of which have come in his last two starts in Italy and France.
Kitayama was born in California and attended UNLV, however after a couple of unsuccessful seasons on the Web.com tour after turning pro, he plied his trader on the Asian Tour in 2018, after posting an initial victory on the Asian Development Tour in Malaysia.
Following this Kurt then entered the European Tour School at the back end of 2018 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Kitayama has shown with his two wins this season that he can produce the goods on both tough and low scoring tracks as he was victorious with totals of -20 in Mauritius and -7 in Oman, it is also worth noting that both of these victories came on par 72 tracks, which is what Kurt will face this week.
In addition the win in Oman certainly showed Kurt can handle windy conditions, which he could potentially face this week.
The UNLV grad currently sits tenth on the European Tour DD stats so he clearly sits in the mould of players who have used ‘giving it a rip’ as the route to success here.
While I am sure Kurt has thoroughly enjoyed his time on the European Tour his undoubted goal will be to find his way on to the PGA Tour and he will see this week as a huge opportunity to make strides in that direction and to put it bluntly with the form he is in this season and of late I feel the odds on offer are just too big to ignore.