HSBC CHAMPIONS: Big-time golf knows no offseason, and this week many of the game’s brightest stars have made their way to China, where Shanghai’s Sheshan International Golf Club will once again play host to the WGC-HSBC Champions. This is the 11th time in the past 12 years that this event has been held at Sheshan, and though the course is generally inoffensive (if rather bland) and has been renovated several times over the past decade with this specific tournament in mind, the players didn’t come to China for the scenery– they’re here for the money.
While the WGC designation and corresponding world ranking points no doubt factor into the decisions of many players who travel halfway around the world for what is, for some, a one-off event, make no mistake– it’s the eye-popping purses that have made this a yearly stop for the game’s elite. This year’s haul is $9.75 million (USD), with a cool $1.6 mil going to the winner. That’s enough cash to make a 20-hour flight bearable enough, I suppose.
Dustin Johnson is the defending champion and he heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 10.0, but he’ll have to fend off the likes of Hideki Matsuyama (12.0), Jason Day (21.0), Jon Rahm (23.0), Brooks Koepka (24.0), and Justin Rose (25.0), among others. This is a no-cut event that features a limited, 78-man field, so there’s plenty of opportunity for the cream to rise to the top. And we can expect some low numbers, as it’s taken 20-under or better to win this tournament in four of the past five stagings.
With that in mind, here are this week’s selections:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Tommy Fleetwood (33.0)- Fleetwood looks to have found his form again after a mediocre couple of months, turning in a solid 25th-place showing at the Alfred Dunhill Links and following that with a T6 at the Italian Open. He’s played this event three times and has never finished outside the top-30, so he knows his way around Sheshan, and he’s had great success at another tournament based in China– the Shenzhen International, which is played at Genzon Golf Club, a course that just so happens to be designed by the same architects that created Sheshan. So there are some peripheral reasons to like Fleetwood this week, and then there’s the main one: his price. At 33.0 in a 78-man field, an in-form Fleetwood is a tremendous value.
Pat Perez (46.0)- Though most are aware of his current hot streak, I believe many are still hesitant to back Perez in a field of this quality. He’s been a middling Tour player for much of his career, and his quirky appearance and mediocre ball-striking stats have always been an impediment to him being taken seriously as a world-class player. But a reevaluation may be in order– Perez is coming off the best season of his career, and he’s playing like a man who’s hungry for bigger things in 2018. He turned in a dominating performance at the CIMB Classic a couple of weeks ago, winning by 4 shots and finishing 7 strokes clear of third place. He followed that up with a T5 at the CJ Cup last week, and he’s now shot par or better in 19 of his past 20 competitive rounds. Plus, he seemed to like Sheshan in his only previous appearance here (2009), closing with a 66 to sneak into the top-10. I’m happy to ride the hot hand this week.
Alexander Levy (132.0)- In a field like this all the focus is naturally on the big names, but a wide array of different styles have won at Sheshan over the years, so I wouldn’t totally discount the long-odds guys. One to keep a close eye on is Levy, the Frenchman who has made a boatload of money in China over the course of his career, with two China Open wins (one coming this year) and six top-10 finishes in 11 career starts in the country. None of those came at Sheshan, but he’s only played this tournament twice and he finished 14th on one of those occasions (2014), so I’m sure he’s plenty comfortable with the layout. Critically, Levy is playing very well at the moment, finishing 7th at the Alfred Dunhill Links a couple of weeks ago and 26th in last week’s Italian Open. He may be a longshot this week, but he’s a live one.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Francesco Molinari (1.92) vs. Henrik Stenson (1.76)
Most weeks, at most courses, you would pick Stenson heads-up against Molinari. He’s the more accomplished player and is more physically gifted, which is evident to anyone who’s ever seen them both hit a driver. But he seems to have drifted a bit since his victory at the Wyndham Championship, finishing 51st in his last start and then taking a few weeks off, so I’m not quite sure what to expect out of him this week. Molinari, meanwhile, won this tournament in 2010 and always seems to play well at Sheshan, most recently tying for 6th last year. And he comes in on a bit of a roll, having finished 12th or better in each of his past two starts. Recommendation: Molinari at 1.92
Tyrrell Hatton (1.91) vs. Ross Fisher (1.91)
Hatton is in the midst of a brilliant stretch that includes four consecutive top-8 finishes and back-to-back victories in his past two starts. It’s difficult to bet against someone playing that kind of golf, but Fisher hasn’t been too shabby himself– as a matter of fact, he’s coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes, with only Hatton besting him both times! The difference between these two guys is course history: Hatton has teed it up at Sheshan twice, never finishing better than 23rd, while Fisher has had many great performances here, including a T3 and a T6 in the last two years and a memorable runner-up finish in 2007, when the win seemed to be in his grasp before disaster struck on the 72nd hole. Recommendation: Fisher at 1.91