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Monday, October 28, 2013

WGC-HSBC Champions - Preview and Power Ranking

With Ryan Moore’s win at the CIMB Classic in the rear-view mirror, let’s turn our full attention to the WGC-HSBC Champions for a combined preview and power ranking.

My apologies for not posting the preview separately last night, but I played in a Ryder Cup tournament (we call it the Silver Club) at my club all weekend and it just wasn't happening. I now have a sore shoulder, elbow and knee to go along with a lot more respect for the pros that play 90 to 108 holes per week along with practicing in between.

Enough about me.

The WGC-HSBC Champions returns to Sheshan International Golf Club (West) after a one-year sabbatical to Mission Hills. For course history buffs, make sure you note the venue lapse in 2012. The course is expected to play as a par 72 at 7,266 yards with a full slate of par 5s and par 3s (four each).

Given that there isn't the ShotLink data available for this tournament that we usually enjoy in tournaments in the U.S., we must glean what we can from what we know of the players at the top of the list.

In the three previous trips to Sheshan International, Martin Kaymer (’11), Francesco Molinari (’10) and Phil Mickelson (’09) hoisted the hardware, while Freddie Jacobson (’11), Lee Westwood (’10) and Ernie Els (’09) played second fiddle. With only those six names, we can begin to draw conclusions. Here are some observations.
  • Five of those six are non-Americans. Typically, the greens on the U.S. PGA TOUR are faster and more difficult to navigate than those on the European Tour. That alone could point to a decreased emphasis on traditional putting stats.
  • Lee Westwood and Ernie Els are well known as some of the best ball-strikers in the world, though in the twilight of their prime. They are also known for being more than a little shaky over short putts. 
  • Martin Kaymer and Francesco Molinari are Euro Tour players with tons of success, neither one particularly known for putting. Jacobson is the Junkman, and the ultimate wild card. Mickelson is a world class player, so his success anywhere can’t be ruled out.
  • The prototype I’m looking for in sizing up this tournament is a player who is known as a very good to excellent ball-striker, with experience across the globe. If there is ever a week to pay attention to a top-tier player whose Achilles heel is putting; then this is it.

With that as the backdrop, here we go with the power rankings.
  1. Sergio Garcia – Hasn't finished outside the top 20 since The Barclays and looked the part of a contender during stretches of the CIMB Classic last week. Ball-striker? Check. Putter? Better than his reputation. Tied for 23rd here in his only trip back in ’09, but had to overcome an opening 75 to do so. Final three rounds were all sub-par and each round was better than the one before.
  2. Keegan Bradley – At the half-way point of the CIMB Classic, Bradley looked like a safe bet to win the tournament. He faltered over the weekend, but should be well worth your attention this week. He has a knack for showing up in WGCs and other no-cut events, so anything is possible. He tied for 16th here in 2011 after starting strong, but fading on the weekend, very similar to last week.
  3. Justin Rose – When you talk about pure ball-strikers who can be just average with the flat stick, Rosie has to jump to mind immediately.  He’s only played this venue one time, but tied for seventh in 2011 with all four rounds at 2-under or lower. Has not popped up since finishing sixth at the TOUR Championship, which should eliminate him from one-and-done consideration.
  4. Francesco Molinari – It’s doubtful he topped many people’s power rankings when he won here in 2010, but he fits the mold. He surrounded that win with a T10 in ’09 and a T23 in ’11. He headed to the BMW Masters last week on the heels of a couple of top 20s and promptly tied for second. Given his form and course history, he’s certainly worth consideration in plenty of formats.
  5. Rory McIlroy – This could be as likely a spot as any for him to break out of his 2013 winless drought. He’s finished no worse than fifth in any of his three starts at Sheshan International, so clearly the course fits his eye. He tied for second at the Korean Open two weeks ago before sharing 27th last week at the BMW Masters. 
  6. Lee Westwood – For the most part, he’s done a nice job in peaking in and around the major season the last few years, but he has a record that can’t be ignored in this specific event and on this course. He has a T8, a 2nd and a T13 in three starts at Sheshan to go with a T6 at Mission Hills last season. Worthy of one-and-done consideration.
  7. Jason Dufner – Let me be clear that he isn't on this list because he tied for second at Mission Hills last year, rather because he is an excellent ball-striker with a somewhat shaky putter and that plays well at Sheshan International.  So what has Duf done for us lately? Nothing, really. He hasn't played since the Presidents Cup.
  8. Phil Mickelson – Was vocally upset about his ball-striking at the CIMB Classic, yet still managed to finish T19. Always just one successful experiment away from success, Lefty has the aforementioned win at this event and should not be overlooked. If anything, his realization that his swing is struggling could lead to him working harder to find it faster. Remember….identifying the problem is the first step!
  9. Ryan Moore – Already fulfilling the potential of the big year I predicted in my Rotoworld season preview with a win last week, he turns his attention to Sheshan International where he finished third in his only start in this tournament back in 2009. Normally, I don’t advocate plugging in a winner the very next week, but I could make an exception this week because playing in Asia has to be so far outside of his normal routine that all bets are off.
  10. Martin Kaymer – Won here in 2011, so he’s the defending champion for the venue. He tied for sixth back in ’09, but slumped to T30 in ’10 before his win.  He’s broken 70 in eight of his 12 rounds, so it’s all about avoiding that one poor round for the German. Tied for 13th at last week’s BMW Masters and has cracked the top 15 in his last three worldwide starts.
  11. Ian Poulter – It’s easy to toss him out as the defending champion at the other venue, but when you dig deeper it becomes clear that he’s had moderate success in this event no matter the course. He tied for 13th in 2010 and 2011 at Sheshan International. The only possible knock is that he’s never fired lower than 68 in 12 rounds at this venue.
  12. Ernie Els – Course history buffs should be all over the Big Easy. Remember that his T2 last year was at a different venue, but he has a second and a T6 at Sheshan International  to go with a T33 in ’11. At this point in his career, he is a risk week-to-week, but offers some known value to gamers in a no-cut event where his record speaks for itself.

Next 5: Aphibarnrat, Casey, Haas, Uihlein and Walker

We will return tomorrow to explore some games. Until then, best of luck to all!

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