The PGA TOUR is sticking around in Asia for one more week as we ready for the first World Golf Championships event of the season.
The WGC-HSBC will take place in Shanghai, China, at Sheshan International Golf Club, like it has for all but one edition (2012 when Ian Poulter won).
The course is a par 72 that plays just under 7,300 yards. The makeup of the holes place it on the longer side of the course length spectrum, but it is certainly manageable for all in the field. The winning score has landed between 16 and 21-under-par in all but one edition. The grasses are seashore paspalum from tee-to-green but bentgrass once you reach the green surfaces.
Is it a distance or accuracy course? I would say neither (or both). Guys like DJ and Bubba have won here but guys like Knox and Molinari have also won. Plenty of other short knockers have also flown into contention like Kevin Kisner, Tim Clark, Ian Poulter, Freddie Jac, and others. In six trips (three official) Rory never landed on the podium. Distance isn’t everything here as it shows a dramatic GIR penalty if you miss the fairway around here.
A big part of GIR penalty for missing fairways is the fact there is water on 11 holes. If you are spraying the ball then you are playing with fire, or in this case, water. If you are looking for high upside plays on DraftKings or FanDuel then long hitters are still very appealing. They should rack up tons of birdies and potentially eagles, but they may throw in a double or two, along the way.
Looking at other courses that really require you to golf your ball, the following five courses popped up as potential pointers: Firestone CC, TPC Sawgrass, TPC Boston, Bay Hill, and TPC River Highlands.
Weather this week looks to be on the chilly side, like last week, but golfers will get a relief from the heavy winds that hit Jeju Island over the final three rounds. Winds look to be in the 5-to-15 MPH range for most of the week.
Check out the HSBC Fantasy Golfanac for more quotes on the course setup.
Players to Watch
Paul Casey… The Englishman has a pair of wins in China. He won the 2005 TCL Classic (Asian Tour event) and the 2005 Volvo China Open (Euro Tour). Sure it’s been over three years since he last cracked the winner’s circle and even that was in the less-than-stellar KLM Open. But, he continues to play well on a week-to-week basis, so it’s hard to turn away now. Even last week he managed a top 20, despite never really getting into a groove. That was his ninth top 20 in his last 10 starts. On top of that, I wasted him in my One-and-Done pool last week, so he is sure to pop this week.
Daniel Berger… I have a mental note stored on Berger to play him on any course where water is heavily featured. He’s mentioned it in pressers before that some courses fit his eye because they remind him of the courses he grew up playing in Florida where you need to be confident (yet smart) when taking on the water. That certainly puts him into play here as there is water on 11 holes at Sheshan. On a similar note, I’ve written the same thing about Alexander Levy on the European side, making them an interesting duo this week if you want to play that angle. Levy’s last few wins came on courses where there was water featured on at least 15 holes and he also reached a playoff at Green Eagle’s this year (water on 15 of 18 holes).
Ross Fisher… The Grey Fox has been hovering around the winner’s circle lately, finishing runner-up in his last two Euro Tour starts. Add that to his stellar record at Sheshan (T6 and T3 the last two years) and we have a good play in the making. Fisher launches it straight up with the best of them which certainly plays well on an often-soft Sheshan layout.
Marc Leishman … Cracked the playoff last week but couldn’t take down the reigning Player of the Year. He won’t have JT in his way this week as he looks to improve upon finishes of solo 9th and T11 in his last two starts here at Sheshan. I expect him to get right back into contention this week.
Patrick Cantlay… We was a pre-tournament WD last week, but I hope he still made the trip over to give his back some time to recover from the long flight. After the WD, I’m less optimistic about him playing an expanded schedule this year but he will still draw my attention any week he pegs it. He’s elite when it comes to landing greens in regulation which is the perfect recipe for success at Sheshan.
Rafa Cabrera Bello… Skipped some key events for the Race to Dubai, but he could jump back into 2nd place with a win here. Obviously, that’s asking a lot but he’s been in Asia for two weeks now and should be a bit more comfortable in that regard, compared to some of the other Euros heading over from mainland Europe. Playing on the Race to Dubai narrative, Tommy Fleetwood is in the driver’s seat and we should have his full attention for all four rounds this week, as every point matter for him as he strives to win the R2D. That certainly makes him an interesting option, but isn’t enough by itself for him to crack my top 25.
Hao Tong Li… He gets the superstar treatment when this event rolls around. He got Super Hero’d into being known as THE FORCE in last year’s pre-tournament sketches. The year before that he entered the final round just one stroke off the lead before fading to T7. Since that time he returned to win the Volvo China Open, making it five career victories for him as a pro, all coming in China. The 22-year-old is still looking for his breakout on the PGA TOUR, and this is definitely the right stage for that to happen.
Francesco Molinari… The big hitters will be able to feast on the par 5s this week but guys like Molinari will keep it between the pipes and grind the course to death. Moli has proven he can do that here, winning the 2010 edition (before it was an official PGA TOUR event). He also finished T6 last year and is coming off a T6 in his latest Euro Tour start.
Peter Uihlein… The Uihlein in Asia narrative pops again. Even though he just missed out on my top 25, I think you could make a case for him to replace anyone outside the top 15 of my rankings below. I don’t see him winning in a field like this but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him fling himself into contention, racking up a bunch of birdies along the way.
My Top 25 for the 2017-18 WGC-HSBC Champions
1. Paul Casey
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Justin Rose
4. Hideki Matsuyama
5. Marc Leishman
6. Henrik Stenson
7. Francesco Molinari
8. Daniel Berger
9. Matthew Fitzpatrick
10. Ross Fisher
11. Xander Schauffele
12. Matt Kuchar
13. Adam Scott
14. Jon Rahm
15. Rafa Cabrera Bello
16. Alex Noren
17. Tony Finau
18. Brooks Koepka
19. Patrick Reed
20. Pat Perez
21. Jason Day
22. Kyle Stanley
23. Patrick Cantlay
24. Hao Tong Li
25. Thorbjorn Olesen