WGC-HSBC Champions: Rory and Rose are ready to roll

Golfer Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy - the worthy favourite in China

We're off to China this week for the final World Golf Championship event of the year and our man has the lowdown ahead of Thursday's very early start here...

"All 13 course winners have been within four strokes at halfway and inside the top-eight places and five of them have led or co-led after 36 holes."

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 15th staging.

Following the CJ Cup in Korea and last week's inaugural ZOZO Championship in Japan, the WGC-HSBC Champions is the third leg of a mini Asian Swing for a large number of PGA Tour professionals.

Venue

Sheshan International Golf Club, Shanghai, China

Course Details

Par 72, 7,440 yards
Stroke index in 2017 - 73.26

Designed by Robin Nelson and Neil Haworth, Sheshan International's average width fairways are a mixture of rye grass and Seashore paspalum and they're tree-lined and undulating. The often raised bentgrass greens usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter. There are plenty of changes of elevation on the course and water is in play on 11 holes.

The course is constantly tweaked but the only change this time around is the lengthening of the fifth hole by three yards.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 2am UK time on Thursday and Friday and 2:30 over the weekend

Last Five Winners

2018 - Xander Schauffele -14 (playoff)
2017 - Justin Rose -14
2016 - Hideki Matsuyama -23
2015 - Russell Knox -20
2014 - Bubba Watson -11 (playoff)

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

There were no Driving Distance stats produced in 2015 but nobody could describe the first and second that year, Russell Knox and Kevin Kisner, as powerful players renowned for their length off the tee. That was an unusual result for a number of reasons though and Knox is not you archetypal HSBC winner. He was a 240.0239/1 shot playing in his first WGC event, whereas the majority of winners are highly ranked, and most of them, unlike Knox, give it a good biff off the tee. Length off the tee is very important here and how you play the long holes is particularly significant.

There were no DD stats again last year but the first three home, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau and defending champ, Justin Rose, all ended last season ranking inside the top-30 for Driving Distance on the PGA Tour. Zander played the par fives better than anyone else 12 months ago and he was the seventh winner in-a-row to be ranked inside the top-ten for Par 5 Performance.

Matthew Southgate, who finished tied for 24th two years ago, played the long holes better than anyone else that year and he's the only player in the last eight years to rank number one for Par 5 Performance and to finish outside the places so that's a really key stat.

A year earlier, Henrik Stenson must have concentrated on hitting it straight off the tee because he ranked number one for Driving Accuracy and 72nd for DD but the other three players to occupy the first four places ranked first, third and fifth for DD.

The par fives here are all tough for the shorter hitters. The 18th is the only one of the four to measure under 550 yards but that plays over water so all four are three-shot holes for those that lack length off the tee. It's no wonder the power players shine here as a rule. Not only do they benefit on the par fives, but the par four 16th is reachable off the tee for those that can give it a proper whack too.

Justin Rose, who has an excellent record here, thoroughly understands the importance of playing the long holes well given he had this to say last year.

"I think the par 5s are key this week. No. 2, for example, and No. 18 is also a pretty narrow tee shot. No. 8 is a very intimidating tee shot. So if you can be brave off the tee on the par 5s, I feel like there's quite a bit of an advantage to be had. I think that's why guys like Dustin and Brooks and myself, we've played well on this golf course before because we drive the ball pretty well generally."

JUSTIN ROSE SEPT 2018.jpg

The number one Scrambler for the week has finished inside the top-five places in each of the last six years and last year's 1-2-3 ranked first, second and third for Scrambling so that's a key stat to ponder also.

Is There an Angle In?

Previous course form is a plus but it isn't at all essential. Xander was only playing here for the second time when he won last year, having finished 46th on debut in 2017, Hideki Matsuyama's course form figures read a bizarre looking WD-T41-WD before he won three years ago and his last two appearances have seen him finish 50th and 30th. First-timers actually do quite well. Knox was playing here for the first time when he won in 2015 and so was Dustin Johnson six years ago, Phil Mickelson in 2007 and Sergio Garcia in 2008.

Schauffele was the eighth winner in 11 years to have played the week before so a warm-up event is clearly a big plus but a recent win is far from essential...

Although he ended the 2016/17 season by winning the Tour Championship, Schauffele hadn't won in over a year when he claimed the title 12 months ago and Bubba Watson is the only winner in the last ten years to have won as recently as April (he'd won the US Masters before winning at Sheshan in 2014). Backing a classy type who hasn't won all summer looks like it could be a good strategy.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Big-hitting Americans have a great record but longshots don't. Although Knox was matched at a high of a 300.0299/1 before the off four years ago and plenty of outsiders contend for the title, this isn't an outsider's event and the cream tends to rise to the top. The majority of winners are quite well fancied beforehand and the Knox result looks like a bit of a one-off. Although matched very early on Monday at 90.089/1, Schauffele was generally a 50.049/1 chance last year and the two previous winners, Rose and Matsuyama, were both 28.027/1 shots. Francesco Molinari was a 60.059/1 chance in 2010 but every winner since (apart from Knox and Schauffele early on) was a shorter price than the Italian.

Class-acts tend to win here and six of the last nine winners (with the exceptions being Schauffele, Knox and Matsuyama) had all won a WGC event or a major prior to winning this event.

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. Conditions were tougher in 2014 though 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, back in 2010, is the only first round leader to go on to win. And he did it wire-to wire.

Remarkably, all 13 course winners have been within four strokes at halfway and inside the top-eight places and five of them have led or co-led after 36 holes. And finally, five of the last nine winners, and seven of the 13 in total, have been in front after three rounds, although that really doesn't tell the real story as this place has created all sorts of drama...

Tony Finau, who had led by three after rounds two and three last year, was matched at a low of 1.211/5 before he lost the playoff to Schauffele but that's nothing compared to some of shenanigans we've witnessed.

Dustin Johnson, who was matched at just 1.061/18 in-running, having begun the day as a 1.11/10 chance, lost a six-stroke 54-hole lead in 2017 and the winner, Rose, was matched at a high of 200.0199/1. It was an incredible turnaround but one that we were perhaps due looking at the tournament's history.

Back in 2014, 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 he drifted out to 55.054/1 when he found the greenside bunker with his second shot on the 18th. The game looked up but he produced an astonishing eagle from the sand to jump ahead of the five players 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.

Just like Bubba, Dustin Johnson also lost the lead here before rallying again in 2013 and Phil Mickelson also looked to have thrown the event away in 2009, so don't be surprised if we get a thrilling finish.

Market Leaders

Although only 54th last year, Rory McIlroy has an understandably strong bank of course form here reading 4-5-4-6-11-4-54 and I suspect we'll see him contend again this time around. He's been in decent form since his surprising missed cut in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush and after his third placed-finish in Japan on Sunday, his form figures since that almighty hiccup around his home track read an impressive 4-6-19-1-2-9-26-3. His poorest performance came in the Alfred Dunhill Links Pro-Am when he played alongside his dad but that hasn't been an ideal partnership in the past and I suspect that might be the last time they pursue it.

This is the weakest renewal of the WGC-HSBC Champions in many a year and odds of around 6/1 about Rory finally lifting a trophy he's threatened to hoist on several occasions is more than fair.

The 2016 winner, Hideki Matsuyama, arrives in fair form too, having finished three strokes behind Tiger Woods in second on Sunday but three ahead of Rory in third. Matsuyama topped the Putting Average rankings in Japan and the rest of his game is so strong that he's always dangerous when he starts to find a bit of form on the greens. That second followed a third at the CJ Cup in Korea so he's certainly trending in the right direction but his course form is really quite poor aside for the win and I'm happy to swerve him.

The defending champ, Xander Schauffele, is harder to dismiss at the prices. He's a tough nut to crack in-contention and the lightly raced American looks primed for a stout defence. Since finishing runner-up to Rory at the Tour Championship in August, he's finished down the field in Germany, in what was as much about a trip to his dad's homeland (Stefan Schauffele was a German decathlete) than it was about winning on the European Tour and he finished a very respectable 10th in Japan on Sunday after a break of seven weeks.

xander schauffele (720).JPG

After a really busy spell, Justin Rose was on his last legs when he arrived here 12 months ago to defend the title and he was a huge market drifter but still finished a respectable third. The Englishman hasn't won since he claimed the Farmers Insurance Open in January and he's put in some odd efforts of late - failing to kick on over the weekends in each of his last three starts. He finished eighth in the BMW PGA at Wentworth, having sat third at halfway three starts ago, he fell from fifth to 34th at the Alfred Dunhill Links in his penultimate outing and having sat third and just three off the lead in the Italian Open three weeks ago, he shot an inexplicable 78 in round three before rallying with a 64 on Sunday to climb from 51st to 15th. He needs to finish the job off better but with he's clearly close and with course form figures reading 7-5-48-1-3, he has to be highly respected.

Selections

I've had a small bet on Rory McIlroy at 7.413/2 and on Justin Rose at 19.018/1. They're the only two players in the world's top-eight in attendance (Schauffele is ranked ninth) and both have great course form. It's very hard to imagine that both will fail to contend.

After that, I've had a small bet on big-hitting American Kurt Kitayama, who made hay on the par fives in France last time out and who ranks highly for Scrambling, and I've also had a small bet on Mexico's Abraham Ancer, whose stats are also favourable for the venue but it's not an event in which I have a strong fancy.

Selections:
Rory McIlroy @ 7.413/2
Justin Rose @ 19.018/1
Kurt Kitayama @ 160.0159/1
Abraham Ancer @ 160.0159/1

I'll be back later with my Bermuda Championship preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

Get a Free £/€20 Exchange Bet

  • Join Now - Open account using promo code VAL225
  • Bet - Place a £/€20 Bet on the Exchange
  • Earn We'll Refund You £/€20 If the Bet Loses

T&Cs apply.

Discover the latest articles

Read past articles