It is time for the final WGC event of the season as a 78-man field assemble for the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. This event has been running since 2005 but was only upgraded to its current WGC status in 2009. Despite some noticeable absences each year, this event does now tend to attract a strong field, due to the fact it is now a WGC and this week is no different.
This year’s renewal is headlined by World Number 1, Dustin Johnson and World Number 4, Hideki Matsuyama both of whom are previous winners at this event since 2013. Matsuyama won this event 12 months ago and Johnson three years before him and the two will look to battle it out this week.
Henrik Stenson, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose and Marc Leishman are also all in the field this week and each sit inside the world’s top-13. Leishman was on the losing-end of a play-off last week as Justin Thomas lifted the CJ Cup, but returns to a course where he has finished 11th and 9th on his last two starts.
The Course and what it will take to win
Sheshan International Golf Club, 7,261 Yards, Par 72
Sheshan International Golf Club has been the host course of this event for all but one renewal since the inaugural staging in 2005. In 2012 Mission Hills played host but the event returned to its original course the following year and has remained there ever since.
Despite changes being made in both 2014 and 2015, this course still remains very easy to score on and whilst the winning score was just -11 in 2014 due to bad weather, the last two winning scores have been -20 and -23 ensuring that the winning score has been -20 or lower in five of the last six renewals.
Bombers do have a distinct advantage here, but if you can take advantage of the scoring holes you can contend or even win as a shorter hitter, as both Russell Knox and Francesco Molinari have proven in recent years.
There is no secret recipe for success here at Sheshan, but to score well enough to reach the desired target of -20, plenty of birdies are needed, so taking advantage of the Par 5’s and the driveable Par-4 16th will be essential.
Other than that a good putting week will of course help put those low rounds together at a course that really is easy for this level of field.
Generally speaking, the winners list at this course come straight out the top-drawer. More than half of the winners of this event can also boast major titles on their CV and last year’s winner, Matsuyama also looks destined to join that list in the near future.
Course experience isn’t a necessity either. Knox, Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia all won this event on their course debut, so don’t let inexperience at the course put you off. If a player has played here several times and not performed that is different altogether but if you like a player this week and he is a debutant don’t let that sway your decision.
Here are my selections for the 2017 WGC-HSBC Champions.
Paul Casey 20/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w:
Paul Casey, a player well criticised in recent years will look to silence said critics in China this week and get back to winning ways, for the first time in three years.
It is easy to see why Casey, a once prolific European Tour winner is berated for his apparent inability to perform when it matters. Since getting wins on the European Tour in both 2013 and 2014, following a two-year absence from the winners’ circle, it has been far from plain sailing for the Englishman.
Much to the bemusement of European Tour and Team Europe fans, Casey decided to count himself out of the running for Team Europe at both the 2014 and 2016 Ryder Cup’s. Casey did not agree with the qualifying criteria and would not commit to the required number of European Tour events to make the team. This caused quite a stir amongst the golfing community, as a player of his talent could really help Europe’s cause against the Americans.
Moving on from the fiasco that is his Ryder Cup views, since Casey’s win at the KLM Open in 2014, Casey has four runner-up finishes (two play-off losses), three 3rd place finishes and a staggering twenty top-10’s in that time, without a win.
Whilst this run of form has been good for his wallet, it must surely get on top of a man who has 17 professional wins to his name, and he needs to get another win sooner rather than later.
Luckily for Casey, Sheshan International may just be the place he returns to winning ways. In ten starts at this course, Casey has never finished worse than 23rd (2015) and he has posted eight top-10 finishes in that span, including a 4th in 2011.
You have to go back to the Sony Open in January for Casey’s last missed cut and he has finished in the top-5 on five separate occasions since. Three of those five top-5’s came during the FedEx Cup play-offs with a T33 finish at the BMW Championship the only result dampening such an excellent run of form.
Given how well he performs in fields absolutely littered with world-class talent, he may well take advantage of the fact that some star names are missing this week. With the likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler all absent this week, this may well be Casey’s best chance of his 18th professional title for the foreseeable future, should he continue his stand-off with the European Tour.
The number of European Tour starts Casey needs to make has been in order to be eligible for the 2018 Ryder Cup has been reduced to four, and he is pleased with that decision. In an interview with Yahoo Casey said “Pelley (European Tour CEO Keith Pelley) is changing it down to four next year and that’s a decent change”. He also spoke of his relationship with captain, Thomas Bjorn “You know Thomas has been working me very hard. He’s a hard man to say no to. He’s very big” before going onto to say “Seriously, I’ve got a good relationship with Thomas and I’ve got a good relationship with Pelley as well”.
In his two starts since the FedEx Cup play-offs, Casey has finished 7th at the CIMB Classic and 19th at the CJ Cup and he will be looking to build on that form this week, in order to get that elusive 18th victory.
Casey is only 20/1 this week, but this is a reduced field and he clearly has an affinity with the course, so all in all the price doesn’t look as quite as bad as it may first appear.
Justin Rose 20/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w:
Rose has not played since the FedEx Cup play-offs so comes into this week fresh from a run of form that saw him finish inside the top-10 in each of the four FedEx Cup play-off events with a 2nd and three 10th place finishes.
There is an argument to be made that a four-week break will lead to some rust in his first event back, but I suspect Rose will fare well around a course he likes despite the time off.
Surprisingly, Rose has only played here three times in his career but those three appearances have yielded two top-7 finishes and he looks in good enough to form to build on that success this week.
Rose was favourite for this event in 2014, following his 5th and 7th place finishes in his first two trips to Sheshan International, as well as his three 4th place finishes in his last six starts leading into the event. It wasn’t to be for Rose that week though as he limped to a disappointing 48th place finish, much below his usual high standards.
It has been a strange season for Rose, with injury problems playing their part. After finishing a close 2nd behind Sergio Garcia at the Masters in April, Rose struggled for form in the bigger events, missing the cut at both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship as well as finishing just T54 at the Open Championship and T63 at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
A T4 finish at the Irish Open and T12 at Wentworth in that same span gave reason optimism though and once he got himself fully fit and in the right frame of mind, he managed to put together that great run during the FedEx play-offs.
Confidence back intact and part of a field which is missing some of the world’s best players, there is every chance Rose gets his hands on his second WGC title.
Rose is the definition of a globetrotter, winning in six different continents during his career, including twice in Asia, which gives further hope this week.
Whilst he is only 20/1, the positives outweigh the negatives here and he looks in good shape to contend for his first win of the season.
Thorbjorn Olesen 100/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Thobjorn Olesen is a fantastic player, who despite winning four times already sometimes gets looked at as an underachiever. One thing for sure is that Olesen will be desperate to make the European Ryder Cup team, as his compatriot Bjorn is the captain this time around.
Given the strength in depth for Team Europe, Olesen would have to do something dramatic to make the team, without being accused of getting preferential treatment from his fellow Dane. A win at this event would be a springboard in the right direction and will certainly peak Bjorn’s interest.
Not only does Olesen have a decent record in this event, finishing T6 and T19 on his two starts here, he has also performed well in other events in China.
Earlier this year, Olesen finished T8 at the Shenzhen International for the second year in a row, making it three top-10’s in this part of the world.
Olesen is also not daunted by the big stage. Wins at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Turkish Airlines Open prove he is capable of winning at the top level of the European Tour whilst top-10’s in two separate majors (2012 Open Championship and 2013 Masters) and two WGC’S (2014 HSBC Champions and 2017 Bridgestone Invitational) prove he can perform at an elite level when in form.
One thing Olesen has always struggled with is consistency, but this year that seems to have crept into his game as well. He has missed just four cuts in 2017, two of which came on the PGA Tour and between the BMW PGA Championship and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, he made ten straight cuts.
That missed cut at the Dunhill will be disappointing given he won the event and finished 2nd there, but he bounced back on his next start, making the cut and finishing T32 at the Italian Open.
He has five finishes inside the top-14 this season, including 3rd and 4th place finishes at the Open de France and Nordea Masters respectively and can perform well this week, on a course and in an area of the world that he has enjoyed in the past. Three-figure odds about a player with two top-20’s in his two starts in this event seem generous, especially given his talent level.
Total points staked this week: 8
Profit/Loss for 2017: – 41