The European Tour: WGC HSBC Champions 2018 Preview

Golfer admires his shot

Damien Kayat previews the WGC HSBC Champions taking place at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai from the 25th to the 28th of October. 

WGC HSBC Champions 2018
Sheshan International Golf Club, Shanghai, China
25th-28th October 2018

David Howell won the inaugural staging of this event in 2005- which heralded the beginning of the 2006 European Tour Season.  This event was formerly a co-sanctioned event between the European, Asian, Sunshine and Australasian Tour.  It acquired WGC status in 2009 and was finally assimilated into the US PGA Tour in 2013.  Sheshan International Golf Club has played host to all but one of the incarnations: Mission Hills played host to the event in 2012.  Winning this event will present the champion with a three year exemption on the PGA Tour. 

Sheshan was designed by Robin Nelson and Neil Haowrth, who were also responsible for the track at the CIMB Classic.  The tree-lined course has fairways of rye grass and Seaside Paspalum.  The width is fairly average while the rough is not particularly penal.  While winds did truncate scoring somewhat last week, this course is renowned for being a birdie festival that rewards strong iron play.  Distance off the tee could prove pivotal here, especially with four massive par 5’s: only one of them measures under 550 yards.  Thus the bombers may have the opportunity to get ahead of the field by reducing three-shot par fives to two shot par fives. 

The select 78 man field includes four of the world’s top five, with the five leading men in the markets either the current or former World Number One.  Brooks Koepka is the man who currently holds that mantle after that sensational victory in the CJ Cup.  Defending Champion Justin Rose will be looking to take the mantle back while Koepka’s compatriot Dustin Johnson will no doubt be keen to end the year as World Number One.  Rory McIlroy and Jason Day complete the former World Number One list.  Of great interest will be the duel between Francisco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood for the Race to Dubai title. 

Past Winners

  • 2017: Justin Rose (-14)
  • 2016: Hideki Matsuyama (-23) 
  • 2015: Russell Knox (-20)
  • 2014: Bubba Watson (-11)*playoff 
  • 2013: Dustin Johnson (-24)

Betting Favourites (To Win): 

  • Dustin Johnson (8/1)
  • Justin Rose (8/1)
  • Brooks Koepka (9/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (10/1)
  • Jason Day (16/1)

Value Bets

Matthew Fitzpatrick- To Win (50/1), To Place (11/1)

It’s easy to forget that Matthew Fitzpatrick is still just 24 years old.  He is bidding to claim his 6th European Tour title this week.  He has always struggled to compete at the very highest level.  Major Championships and WGC events have not been kind to young Fitzpatrick, though this event has proved contrary to that trend.  He hasn’t finished outside of the top 16 here in three visits.  He probably benefits from the Asian location due to his familiarity with the continent on the European Tour.  In fact, five of the last eight champions around this course have been based on the European Tour.  Fitzpatrick has more broadly performed admirably in China, having only ever finished outside the top 20 once in eight events. 

Thorbjorn Olesen- To Win (66/1), To Place (14/1)

Thorbjorn Olesen’s successful Ryder Cup included an emphatic single’s victory over three-time Major Champion Jordan Spieth.  Already a five-time winner on the European Tour, Olesen has added a dash of consistency to a game that has always held fierce potential.  Olesen loves a birdie fest and can absolutely tear the par 5’s apart- which could prove critical round here.  Olesen has some course form, with finishes of 8th, 19th and 31st to his name.  He is a much more rounded player now and will have no doubt benefited from his kick of Ryder Cup adrenalin.  The Italian Open Champion can be forgiven for a tepid British Masters showing in a Ryder Cup triage that disappointed. 

Branden Grace- To Win (125/1), To Place (25/1)

Here’s one for the more speculative punters.  Grace has always shone a penchant for mixing it in exulted company, as evidenced in his various tilts at Major success.  Grace has had some personal upheaval to deal with this season, resulting in a quite noticeable dip in form.  The 2017 Nedbank Cup Champion will be defending that title soon and clearly enjoys this period of the season.  Grace’s long game looks in fine fiddle, with the South African 3rd for greens hit at the CIMB Classic.  He just needs that errant putter to play ball.  The former China Open Champion clearly enjoys conditions here and looks enticing at three figures. 

The Man to Beat- Rafa Cabrera Bello- To Win (40/1), To Place (17/2)
Perhaps not quite the man to beat this week, Cabrera Bello certainly does look a player completely undervalued considering recent form.  The Spaniard would have probably felt a bit disheartened not to be assimilated into Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup plans.  But the Spaniard has four top 11’s in his last seven worldwide starts.  That included a tie for 10th at the PGA Championship and a brilliant 3rd place finish last week in Korea.  He was also 5th in this event last season and will be hoping that his incredibly reliable iron play will put him in contention once again. 

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Written by Damien Kayat for

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