WGC-HSBC CHAMPIONS: The PGA Tour’s Asian Swing concludes this week in China with the Jewel of the Offseason– or more accurately, the event that proves that there really is no offseason in golf anymore, the WGC-HSBC Champions. This isn’t some Fall Series tournament filled with q-school graduates and Korn Ferry vets, it’s a WGC event with a $10.25 million purse and a field that features some of the biggest names in the sport.
Originally sanctioned by the European, Asian, Sunshine, and Australasian tours, this tournament has steadily grown in prestige over the past decade, achieving the WGC designation in 2009 and then becoming part of the FedExCup points race in 2013, meaning it now counts as an official event on both the European Tour and PGA Tour schedules. There is no cut this week and the field is a limited one, consisting of only 78 players, but it includes names like Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, Tommy Fleetwood… the list goes on. Definitely worth setting the DVR if you won’t be able to stay up all night for the telecast.
For the 15th time in this tournament’s 16-year existence, Shanghai’s Sheshan International Golf Club will serve as the host venue. It’s a 7,250-yar par-72 that yields plenty of birdies, but it does have some teeth, as only twice in the past five years has the winner of this event topped 14-under. Longer players have fared particularly well here, with Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama, and Xander Schauffele all hoisting the trophy since 2013. Schauffele is the defending champ and can be backed at around 15.0 at BETDAQ, which is a little short for my taste, though he is coming off a top-10 in last week’s ZOZO Championship. McIlroy (6.8) and Matsuyama (13.0) currently head the market, but as is always the case with field of this caliber, there is value to be found a bit further down the board.
Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Tony Finau (26.0)- Finau certainly fits the profile of someone who should succeed at Sheshan, particularly when it comes to length off the tee, as he’s one of the longest guys in the world. He’s been in excellent form over the past few weeks, logging top-10s at both the Shriners and the Dunhill Links, so I’m not overly concerned about his mediocre play at the ZOZO last week, where he shot 3-over on Sunday to finish T59, though I’m sure that performance will throw some off the scent. Of more interest to me is his history in this event: he finished T11 on debut in 2017, and then last year lost in a playoff to Xander Schauffele after finishing 4 shots clear of the rest of the field. This is an ideal spot for Finau– style meets form meets course history. I’m fairly enthusiastic about him at a price like 25/1.
Rafa Cabrera Bello (41.0)- Though he hasn’t done anything spectacular over the past couple of weeks, finishing 30th at the ZOZO at 26th at the CJ Cup, Cabrera Bello has a nice history in the Far East and has fared well in this event specifically, finding the top-20 in all three of his career appearances and finishing 5th in 2017. Always rock solid tee-to-green, he’s quietly improved his putting stats over the last couple of months, and considering his past success on the greens at Sheshan, one wonders if this could be a breakthrough week for the Spaniard, a week that puts him on top of the golfing world. He was close to having one of those weeks earlier this month, finishing runner-up at the Open de Espana, so the taste of success and winning golf is still fresh. He should be given serious consideration this week as a legit contender with a fairly big price.
J.T. Poston (101.0)- Debutants have a decent record in this event, so I’m more inclined to take a chance on somebody like Poston, who has never seen Sheshan in competition, than I would be most weeks. What this really comes down to for me is price vs. quality of player– Poston is simply too good, and is playing too well, to be offered at 100/1 in a 78-man field. He’s a confident, aggressive young player who is just five starts removed from a victory at the Wyndham Championship, and since then he’s continued on in fine form, finishing 11th at the Sanderson Farms Championship last month and then making his Asian debut with a T27 at last week’s ZOZO Championship. He’s now in the midst of the best stretch of his young career, making him a dangerous player this week and a terrific value at a whopping 101.0.