The Punter's De-Brief: Gritty Xander and big-hitting Champ take the spoils
Xander Schauffele won the WGC HSBC Champions in China and Cameron Champ has got off the mark on the PGA Tour at the Sanderson Farms Championship. Read our man's customary look back at both events here...
"I’m not taking anything away from Cameron Champ, because he isn’t just some sort of big-hitting freak of nature. He has plenty of game and he putted like a demon all weekend but is it really right that he should be able to hit almost twice as many greens as fairways over the weekend?"
Only three men managed to break 70 on a tricky, blustery day in Shanghai yesterday. The Open Champion, Francesco Molinari, and the world number one, Brooks Koepka, both shot three-under-par 69s but the eventual winner, Xander Schauffele, really impressed with a four-under-par 67 under all sorts of pressure.
Having passed third round leader, Tony Finau, Schauffele was matched in-running at a low of [1.67] with five to play but after Finau had birdied the 14th and Schauffele had bogeyed the 15th, the initiative swung back in favour of the third-round leader and Schauffele was matched at well in excess of [5.0] with three to play.
A pair of pars at 16 saw the two move on to the 17th with Finau still leading by one but this magnificent birdie at the par three 17 saw the pair tied again with just one to play.
Both players birdied the par five 18th in regulation play before Finau failed to match Schauffele's birdie four after finding sand off the tee at the first extra hole.
Finau, who was a solid [30.0] chance before the off, was matched at a low of [1.21] and Justin Rose, who's charge for the title and for a return to the top of the world rankings ended with a bogey at the 15th, had been matched at [1.7] as early as Saturday. To his credit, it was a bold defence by Justin but Tiger Woods is still the only man to defend a WGC event. He managed to achieve the feat eight times!
The winner was matched at a high of [90.0] on Monday but was a well-backed [50.0] shot by the time they teed off on Thursday.
Pre-tournament [60.0] chance, Cameron Champ, who was matched at a high of [80.0] before the off, entered the final round of the Sanderson Farms Championship with a four-stroke lead and he was soon matched at a low of [1.08] after a steady start but back-to-back bogeys at seven and eight and a birdie at nine for Canada's Corey Conners saw the lead disappear completely.
Conners, who was generally a [160.0] chance, was matched at a high of [1000.0] after a slow start to the tournament and a low of [1.7] when it looked like Champ was going to fold tamely but to the 23-year-old Californian's credit he bounced back spectacularly, birdying four of the last five holes and how's this for an approach on the 72nd hole!
With Conners making his only bogey of the day at the 18th, Champ finished up winning by four but it was much tighter than that margin suggests and an entertaining watch.
Pre-tournament [100.0] chance, Roberto Castro, who eventually finished tied for fifth, gave me a bit of excitement when he posted 29 on the front nine yesterday but did well to hang on for a place in the end. It's been a disappointing week all round and one to forget.
Is Driving Accuracy an Irrelevant Stat Now?
I'm not taking anything away from Cameron Champ, because he isn't just some sort of big-hitting freak of nature. He has plenty of game and he putted like a demon all weekend but is it really right that he should be able to hit almost twice as many greens as fairways over the weekend?
Champ's Driving Accuracy percentage on Saturday was 42.86% but his Greens In Regulation percentage was 83.33% and it was a similar story on Sunday. He had a DA percentage of just 35.71% but his GIR percentage was 61.11%.
Champ hits the ball a country mile (his Driving Distance average on Sunday was 343.5 yards!) and he should certainly be rewarded for such prodigious power but why on earth don't they make the rough a bit more penal? It's seems a bit crazy to me but until the PGA Tour begin to penalise inaccuracy more, we really do need to continue to give DD far more weight than DA almost every week of the year. Champ, unsurprisingly, ranked first for DD, but only 65th for DA.
What Have We Learned For Next Year?
The fact that the first four home last year were playing in the WGC HSBC Champions after a bit of a break skewed my thinking a bit ahead of this year's renewal but Schauffele was the eighth winner in 11 years to have played the week before so a warm up event is clearly a big plus.
Although he ended the 2106/17 season by winning the Tour Championship, Schauffele hadn't won in over a year and thanks to Sundogmonkey on Twitter for this one... Bubba Watson is the only winner in the last ten years to have won as recently as April (won the US Masters before winning at Sheshan in 2014). Backing a classy type who hasn't won all summer looks like a good strategy.
The last five winners of the Sanderson Farms Championship have been first time winners and Champ was the first winner priced at less than 100/1 in six years so it's very much an event for outsiders. It might also be worth concentrating on the Web.com Tour graduates given Conners was the only player in the top-six that wasn't a graduate.
Putting was again the key to victory at the Country Club of Jackson. The winner got really hot over the weekend and he finished the week ranking first for Putting Average and second for Strokes Gained Putting.
Is Major Success Imminent for Xander?
I couldn't have been any more impressed by Xander and he really does look like a major champion in waiting. Although his first PGA Tour title was the low-key Greenbrier Classic, he first came to the attention of most observers when he finished fifth in the US Open a month before his maiden success and he certainly seems to thrive at the bigger events.
Having won the Tour Championship at the end of the 2016/17 season, he finished second at the Players in May, sixth at the US Open in June, and runner-up to Molinari in the Open in July. Now he's won a WGC event.
He showed plenty of mettle yesterday, and not for the first time. It looks like his father, Stefan, who was once a competitive athlete, has been instrumental in installing his calm demeanour. "A lot of breathing and things he taught me when I was younger were put in play. I was pretty nervous after I birdied 17 on the walk over to 18." It didn't show.
In contrast to the winner, Finau may have shown why he's still only won one opposite field event. Some will say I'm being picky, but he left his eagle attempt on the 72nd hole a few feet short and he also left his birdie putt short on the first extra hole, even though he knew he needed to hole it to stay alive.
Finau is incredibly talented and extremely consistent. This was his eighth top-ten in 11 starts and he's now been placed in three of his last five events so there's definitely an argument to be made for backing him each-way or in the place markets but this defeat will sting and the wait for that illusive second victory might just continue a while yet.
That's more than enough looking back, especially when we have a couple of nice events to look forward to this week and I'll be back later today or tomorrow with my Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and Turkish Airlines Open previews.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter