The WGC HSBC Champions kicks off on Thursday 25th October at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai. This will be the sixth consecutive season in which the event has been co-sanctioned by both the PGA Tour and the European Tour.
However, the previous five renewals have all been won by PGA Tour regulars. Dustin Johnson won in 2013, with victories following for Bubba Watson, Russell Knox, Hideki Matsuyama, and Justin Rose, suggesting the course is usually set out more like courses on the PGA Tour rather than the courses in Europe.
The top-5 in each of the last five renewals also adds plenty of weight to this argument, with 16 of the 20 players to finish between second and fifth in that period also PGA Tour regulars.
Apart from Russell Knox, this tournament also tends to be won by supreme ball strikers, with Johnson, Watson, Matsuyama, and Rose all regularly leading tee-to-green statistics. A look at last year’s top-six also confirms that theory, with Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson, Rafa Cabrero-Bello, and Kyle Stanley occupying those positions.
It’s therefore no surprise to see Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Justin Rose all priced-up at single-figure prices this week, with Johnson slight favourite in most lists. Having won in 2013, Johnson should have also won last year, but he threw away a six-shot lead in the final round by shooting 77, with Rose being the beneficiary.
However, this year, there is also the sub-plot and motivation of being world number one. Koepka took over the mantle with victory on Jeju Island last week, whilst Johnson and Rose have also both been number one this season. All three could easily be in contention this week, but I’m going to side with Brooks Koepka for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I think he’s got the best all-round game. He’d also love to win his first WGC to add to his three major victories. We also know he’s in great form after last week, whilst he’d love to keep his hands on his new number one spot, so motivation looks guaranteed. He also opened with rounds of 64 and 68 last year before faltering at the weekend but, as he’s added three more victories to his C.V. since then, he should be better equipped to close it out if in contention.
This tournament is in no way guaranteed to be a three-horse race though, with the next wave of players including the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Tony Finau, Matsuyama, Tommy Fleetwood, John Rahm, and Francesco Molinari.
McIlroy has loads of excellent course form, with five top-six appearances in six visits, though he’s yet to finish higher than fourth, whilst he also returns from a few weeks off.
Meanwhile, Fleetwood and Molinari both looked knackered less than two-weeks ago, and it remains to be seen whether they have recharged their batteries in the interim. Fleetwood has also yet to perform to his own high standards here yet, though Molinari did win here in 2010.
John Rahm was another that didn’t hit the high notes on his first appearance here, though the same could be said of Brooks Koepka, who finished 40th prior to finishing tied second last year.
Meanwhile, Jason Day remains an enigma, though finished a creditable eleventh on debut last year. However, Day’s score last year was matched by another debutant in Tony Finau and the big American has looked full of enthusiasm for the game of late. He’s yet to achieve anything like as much as those around him in the market, but looks worth chancing as this course should be a great fit for the big-hitter.
I’m also going to finish this week’s betting strategy off with two ball-strikers that proved they’ve got the tee-to-green games for this course last year, Rafa Cabrero-Bello and Kyle Stanley. Both can frustrate with the putter, but the feeling is that Cabrero-Bello will want to get himself into a position in the world rankings that guarantees him a spot in the next Ryder Cup, and there’s plenty of world-ranking points available here. Meanwhile, Stanley strikes me as the type of old-fashioned golfer that is likely to reach his peak now he’s hit his thirties. Both look each-way value in a classy field.
WGC HSBC Champions Free Tips
All prices are with PaddyPower who are paying out on the top 7 positions:
Brooks Koepka 2 Points Each-Way @ 9.00
Tony Finau 1 Point Each-Way @ 21.00
Rafa Cabreo-Bello 1 Point Each-Way @ 31.00
Kyle Stanley 1 Point Each-Way @ 61.00
Odds Correct at Time of Publication