WGC - HSBC Champions: Classy Kaymer can contend again, says The Punter

Martin Kaymer – one of three Punter’s picks in China
Martin Kaymer – one of three Punter’s picks in China

We're off to China this week for the year's final World Golf Championship event so read Steve Rawlings' in-depth preview of the Sheshan showpiece here...

"The 2001 winner, Martin Kaymer, plays this venue superbly and he should have at least gotten to a playoff here two years ago. He putted terribly that week and when needing a birdie to make the playoff on the 72nd hole he found water but he’s in decent form this year and he’s worth chancing at over 40.039/1."

Tournament History

David Howell won the inaugural HSBC Champions event in November 2005 when it kicked off the 2006 European Tour season. For the first four years the event was co-sanctioned between the European, Asian and Sunshine Tours, as well as the PGA Tour of Australia, and then in 2009 it was upgraded to World Golf Championship status. Mission Hills hosted the event in 2012 but the Sheshan International Golf Club has hosted the event on every other occasion and this will be the 12th staging.


Venue

Sheshan International Golf Club, Shanghai, China


Course Details

Par 72, 7,261 yards
Stroke index in 2015 - 70.58

Sheshan International was designed by Robin Nelson and Neil Haworth, who were also responsible for last week's CIMB Classic venue. The fairways are Seashore Paspalun, of average width and tree-lined and the undulating greens, which usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter, are bentgrass. There are plenty of changes of elevation and water is in play on 11 holes.

There were a number of changes to the course prior to the 2014 renewal, with new bunkers added to holes 8, 14 and 18. The right hand fairway bunker on the 5th was reshaped and extended to make the carry from the tee in excess of 300 yards. The 13th hole was extended to bring water back in to play and in addition to having two new bunkers added, the par 5 14th had its green extended to offer up another pin position but the holes length was reduced by 31 yards

There were further changes to the course again last year. There was a reshaped fairway bunker on the first, a green redesign on the eighth, creating two new pins positions, and the second shot landing zone on the finishing hole was also been redesigned.

Par fives are usually the holes that the pros find easiest to pick up strokes at but at Sheshan, the drivable par four 16th is the easiest hole and the par five eighth hole is quite tricky and only reachable in two by the very longest hitters. Last year it averaged 4.95 and ranked as the 12th easiest.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning on Thursday at 4.00.


Last Five Winners

2015 - Russell Knox -20
2014 - Bubba Watson -11 (playoff)
2013 - Dustin Johnson -24
2012 - Ian Poulter -21 (Mission Hills)
2011 - Martin Kaymer -20


What Will it Take to Win the WGC-HSBC Champions?

The winners here have been quite diverse and the stats don't offer up many clues either but I'd favour length over accuracy and Par 5 Performance looks like a good place to start.

Last year's winner, Russell Knox, isn't renowned for his length off the tee but he still ranked inside the top-ten for Par 5 Performance here 12 months ago and so did the three winners before him. And the top ranked player on the long holes has been placed in the event in each of the last five years.

This is usually an out-and-out birdie-fest but the 2014 edition proved much trickier. Wet weather in the lead-up had created thicker rough and cooler conditions during the event reduced the scoring considerably and we could be due for something similar this time around with wind and rain forecasted.

It's going to rain for much of Wednesday and into Thursday and it's going to be blustery all week but especially so on Friday and Saturday but it's very hard to make a judgement prior to seeing the condition of the rough. If it's up, just bombing it miles won't be much of an advantage if the fairways are repeatedly missed but if it's down, we'll see very low scoring despite the wind.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

There doesn't seem to be any strong trends or patterns to follow here. Europeans had the upper hand for a while but Phil Mickelson has won the title twice and big-hitting Americans won both the 2013 and 2014 editions. And in Knox, we got an American-based, Scottish winner.

Previous course form isn't at all essential - Knox was playing here for the first time last year and so was Johnson three years ago when he won, as was Lefty in 2007 and Sergio Garcia in 2008.

Knox was matched at a high of 300.0299/1 before the off last year and plenty of outsiders contend for the title but the majority of winners are quite well fancied beforehand and last year's result looks like a bit of a one-off.

This tends to fall to the classy types and with the exceptions of Knox and the 2009 winner, Y.E Yang, who wasn't eligible anyway; every winner has played in at least one Ryder Cup.

Five of the six winners prior to Knox had all won a WGC event or a major previously.


In-Play Tactics


A fast start is very important and Bubba is the only winner here not to shoot a first round in the 60s. As already stated above, conditions were tougher in 2014 and even though he opened up with a 71, he still only trailed by four strokes and only one winner, Phil Mickelson in 2009, has been any further back than that after round one. He sat tied for ninth and five adrift.

Although getting off to a quick start is very important, you don't necessarily want to be in front early. Francesco Molinari, who isn't the greatest in-contention, is the only first round leader to go on to win and he did it wire-to wire.

All ten course winners have been within four strokes at halfway and four of them have led or co-led after 36 holes. Knox sat second at halfway. And finally, four of the last six winners, and six of the ten, have been in front after three rounds.

Last year was a straightforward final day for the leader (once Dustin Johnson dropped away - see below) and Knox was the only player to go odds-on but we've witnessed all sorts of late drama over the years at this event and none more so than in the 2014 edition...

The lead changed hands several times and when the final three-ball stood on the 17th tee, five men were tied for the lead on ten-under-par. Bubba, playing in the penultimate group, having led with three to play, had imploded with a bogey at 16 and a double at 17 and he trailed the leaders by a stroke as he played the final hole.

Having been matched at a low of 1.282/7, Bubba had drifted out to 55.054/1 when he found the greenside bunker with his second shot, the game looked up but he produced an astonishing eagle from the sand to jump ahead of the five tied at the top. Tim Clark was the only one of the five on ten-under-par to birdie the par five 18th so he and Bubba played off before Watson sank a 20 foot birdie putt at the first extra hole to take the title.

Dustin Johnson also lost the lead before rallying again 12 months earlier and Phil Mickelson also looked to have thrown the event away in 2009 so don't be surprised if that happens again this time around. The drivable par four 16th and reachable par five 18th offers up plenty of drama and a chance of redemption. The 16th was the easiest hole on the course last year and the 18th the third easiest.


Market Leaders


Rory McIlroy has taken a few weeks off to recharge the batteries after the Ryder Cup and his stunning FedEx Cup Series win and it's very hard to envisage him not contending here. He's already played here four times and his figures read 5-4-6-11 so we know the place suits him.

My only reservations are which Rory will re-emerge from the break and how is he getting on switching clubs not that Nike have decided to cease manufacturing golf equipment? They're both minor niggles that could transpire to be easily surmountable but at less than 7.06/1, I'm happy to look elsewhere.

Dustin Johnson is currently trading at a shade over 8.07/1 and of the two clear market leaders he's the one I prefer. This place really suits his game and he's arguably unlucky not to be chasing a third win in-a-row here.

He was matched at just 2.285/4 last year after he'd layed up on the par five eighth hole but then he was dreadfully unlucky with his third shot and his chance was lost after that.



There's not much to choose between Hideki Matsuyama and Henrik Stenson but neither appeal at the prices. The Japanese star putts woefully at times and I'm a bit concerned that the Open champ won't be 100% after returning to the fray following injury.


Selections


The 2001 winner, Martin Kaymer, plays this venue superbly and he should have at least reached the playoff here two years ago. He putted terribly that week and when needing a birdie to make the playoff on the 72nd hole he found water but he's in decent form this year and he's worth chancing at over 40.039/1.

If the wind arrives that will suit the two-time major winner and he's top of the Par 5 Performance stats on the European Tour over the last three months - averaging a fabulous 4.3. It's a sizable concern that he hasn't won anywhere since the US Open two years ago but I'll be very disappointed if he doesn't at least contend.

I've laid out my argument for Ross Fisher in this week's each-way column here and I'm following Paul Krishnamurty in with Alex Levy at a triple-figure price.


Selections:
Martin Kaymer 44.043/1
Ross Fisher @ 80.079/1
Alex levy @ 100.099/1


I'll be back later with my Sanderson Farms Championship preview later today.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
https://twitter.com/SteveThePunter

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