As the golfing year edges towards its close, we head to China for the final World Golf Championship of 2018 ahead of the final three Rolex Series events that will bring the European Tour season to its conclusion. After a brief change in venue in 2012 when this event visited Mission Hills and Ian Poulter was victorious, we’re back once again at the more familiar Sheshan track that’s hosted the tournament every other year. Bear in mind then when using this week’s event history stats that we’re on the track that hosted the HSBC Champions event from 2005-2011, as well as 2013-17, in both its pre-WGC and current guise.
Despite its addition to the PGA Tour schedule in 2013, this event is still very much the poor relation when it comes to WGCs. Barring injury and holidays, the other 3 WGC tournaments tend to have pretty much a full attendance from the world’s top 50 players, however this event is different with the likes of Thomas, DeChambeau, Fowler, Spieth, Woods and Watson from the World’s top 15 missing for starters. Nevertheless, this limited field still features a whole host of household names, plus the cream of the 2018 European Tour crop, so we should expect some excellent golf in what has proven over the years to be a pretty open and unpredictable event.
Steve Bamford has previewed the Sanderson Farms Championship that’s also running this week – you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Sheshan International GC, Shanghai, China. Designer: Neil Haworth, 2004; Par: 72; Length: 7,261 yards; Fairways: Paspalum/Rye; Rough: Paspalum/Rye with Bermuda overseed; Greens: A1/A4 Bentgrass; Stimp: 11-11.5ft.
Course Overview. The Sheshan International course is a 7,261 yard, Par 72 that features relatively wide but tree-lined fairways and 11.5 stimp bentgrass greens. With 4 par-5s and a driveable par 4 (the 16th hole), this track bears all the hallmarks of a bomber’s paradise, however even in the years with softer conditions it has tended to be those players who can churn out strong greens in regulation numbers over the 4 days and have putted well enough who have prevailed. It’s fair to say there’s been a real mixture of players adorning the top of the leaderboard here in recent years – a play-off between Bubba Watson and Tim Clark in 2014 for instance reinforcing the view that this track suits no particular style of play over another.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Justin Rose, 20/1; 2016: Hideki Matsuyama, 22/1; 2015: Russell Knox, 150/1; 2014: Bubba Watson, 28/1; 2013: Dustin Johnson, 40/1; 2012: Ian Poulter, 20/1; 2011: Martin Kaymer, 25/1; 2010: Francesco Molinari, 55/1.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Shanghai is here. A showery couple of days to start the event with Friday seeing winds of 20 mph on what may well prove to be the toughest day, before the weather clears for the weekend with dry, sunny and relatively calm conditions. Temperatures will peak around the low 70s Fahrenheit in what will feel very much like northern European conditions.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Analysing the final stats of recent winners here at Sheshan gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited here:
- 2017, Justin Rose (-14). 60.7% fairways (29th), 77.8% greens in regulation (3rd), 50% scrambling (42nd), 1.70 putts per GIR (7th).
- 2016, Hideki Matsuyama (-23). 55.4 fairways (43rd), 75% greens in regulation (10th), 66.7% scrambling (9th), 1.54 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2015, Russell Knox (-20). 73.2% fairways (5th), 84.7% greens in regulation (4th), 63.6% scrambling (31st), 1.64 putts per GIR (6th).
- 2014, Bubba Watson (-11). 66.7% fairways (18th), 66.7% greens in regulation (18th), 61.1% scrambling (17th), 1.69 putts per GIR (18th).
- 2013, Dustin Johnson (-24). 69.6% fairways (13th), 84.7% greens in regulation (1st), 63.6% scrambling (23rd), 1.52 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2011, Martin Kaymer (-20). 60.7% fairways (29th), 76.4% greens in regulation (10th), 76.5% scrambling (3rd), 1.62 putts per GIR (4th).
- 2010, Francesco Molinari (-19). 76.8% fairways (7th), 65.3% greens in regulation (23rd), 84% scrambling (2nd), 1.57 putts per GIR (2nd).
- 2009, Phil Mickelson (-17). 50% fairways (71st), 70.8% greens in regulation (20th), 85.7% scrambling (1st), 1.67 putts per GIR (15th).
Incoming Form: Ian Poulter’s win in 2012 was at Mission Hills and I’ve excluded those stats from the list above accordingly. Of the winners of this event when played at Sheshan, pre-and post-WGC status, all had won an event earlier in the season with the exception of Francesco Molinari who’d finished runner-up twice including a play-off defeat, Russell Knox who gained his first career PGA Tour/European Tour victory here 3 years ago, and Justin Rose who’d finished runner-up 3 times in the season prior to victory. All had decent enough recent form with at least one top-12 finish recorded by each of those players in their previous 5 events, so entering this week with at least some semblance of form has got to be seen as a positive:
- 2017, Justin Rose: 2/65/12/MC/4/54/63/MC/10/10/2/10
- 2016, Hideki Matsuyama: MC/MC/42/MC/4/3/MC/15/24/5/1/2
- 2015, Russell Knox: WD/10/MC/39/MC/MC/20/12/45/MC/38/21
- 2014, Bubba Watson: 48/3/MC/31/16/MC/37/64/30/29/2/14
- 2013, Dustin Johnson: 10/55/18/32/2/33/8/MC/27/62/5/12
- 2011, Martin Kaymer: 31/39/18/4/12/29/MC/2/MC/30/8/23
- 2010, Francesco Molinari: MC/2/4/MC/8/39/33/3/8/MC/2/35
- 2009, Phil Mickelson: 5/5/55/59/2/58/73/52/27/30/1/14
Course Form: Sheshan International form prior to winning for those same 8 victors is detailed below. Russell Knox and Dustin Johnson both won here on debut whilst Hideki Matsuyama had a far from stellar record at Sheshan before lapping the field in 2016:
- 2017, Justin Rose: 7/5/48
- 2016, Hideki Matsuyama: WD/41/WD
- 2015, Russell Knox: Debut
- 2014, Bubba Watson: 8
- 2013, Dustin Johnson: Debut
- 2011, Martin Kaymer: 20/6/30
- 2010, Francesco Molinari: 9/10
- 2009, Phil Mickelson: 1/8
2014 saw somewhat of a turning point for ‘Asia’s Major’ with thicker (wetter) rough, some new tees and additional bunkering coupled with inclement and colder conditions making Sheshan International far more of a challenge than previous years. Straying off of the fairway was more of a penalty and the bermuda overseeded rough around the greens made for challenging scrambling, however with less run on the wet fairways the course also played long. Clearly this led to two vastly differing styles getting into contention with Bubba Watson overcoming Tim Clark in a play-off. 2015 was a little easier though with soft conditions underfoot combined with warmer and calmer weather by comparison which led to a far lower winning score by Russell Knox at 20-under, however Hideki Matsuyama eclipsed that winning score 2 years ago despite some fairly inclement weather and slow and bumpy greens to triumph by 7 shots. Soft conditions last year didn’t particularly help the players as the wind picked up throughout the 4 days, leading to Justin Rose’s 14-under total being good enough to lift the Old Tom Morris Cup as he picked up the pieces after Dustin Johnson relinquished a 6-shot lead.
For me, I’m looking for an aggressive sort who can find birdies on these bentgrass greens, or a strong tee-to-green exponent who has a very strong week with the putter. Winners here have generally either been putting excellently in recent times (Matsuyama, Kaymer, Mickelson) or finding a high number of greens in regulation (Rose, Knox, Watson, Johnson, Molinari) and then did well enough on both counts on the week to ultimately prevail.
With rain forecast for the first two days before a calm, sunny weekend, I suspect we’ll see the bulk of the scoring achieved over the final two days and ultimately a winning score that’s closer to the 20-under totals than the 14-under that Justin Rose won with 12 months ago. The Bermuda over-seeded rough is tricky to navigate, so those players who are hitting the driver well are advantaged here, however making a low-enough score over the weekend will likely be the deciding factor in my view, so players who are scoring well at present should be favoured.
My selections are as follows: