It’s a World Golf Championship week with the HSBC Champions taking place and one of the leading contenders is Brooks Koepka who is the new world number one. Justin Rose defends the title as he returns to action after a break following two tumultuous weeks in his outstanding career. Only Rose truly knows if he felt better winning the Ryder Cup or FedEx Cup and $10 million bonus. Money is probably not an issue for such a wealthy man and you can’t put a price on betting the United States.
Koepka won the US Open and USPGA Championship this season and was named the PGA Tour Player of the Season. Tiger Woods made a wonderful return to the sport and won the Tour Championship but the measure of the true greats is their tally of major championships. The best two players in the history of the sport are probably Jack Nicklaus and Woods and they are the leading major champions numerically. Both have won each of the four majors at least three times.
Koepka is rare in that he has won more majors than regular tournaments in the States. He won the Turkish Airlines Open on the European Tour in 2014 which means he has won the same number of majors as regular events in total on the two main tours. Koepka hits the ball a long way and overpowers courses so this week’s host course may not suit his game. Sheshan International in China is a par 72 layout over 7,261 yards. The course is short by modern standards and rewards accuracy more than distance. Rose is the defending champion this week.
The English player chased down Dustin Johnson a year ago who won the title in 2014. Rose is suited to courses that require sound course management and could get in the mix again on his first start of the 2018-19 Tour. The field also includes Francesco Molinari and Patrick Reed which means the current holders of the four majors are playing in Shanghai this week. Rory McIlroy is prominent in the betting for a championship he has never won and Tommy Fleetwood also competes.
There have been nine WGC-HSBC Champions which have been played on the same course. Six of the winners have been former or future major champions so the cream rises to the top. The average winning score is 19 under and there has been just one playoff since 2009. Three Americans have won the title and five players from Europe have prevailed. Hideki Matsuyama from Japan was the champion in 2016. Rose won with a score of 14 last year and the joint runners-up were Johnson, Koepka and Henrik Stenson. The Swedish player also finished tied second behind Matsuyama.
Four of the top five players in the world rankings are teeing it up at Sheshan this week. The field features 19 of the leading 30 players in the current standings. Ten members of the winning European Ryder Cup team are competing but only four US players from the beaten side in France have entered. It’s the first tournament of three stops in Asia but for most of the US contingent it could be the last meaningful tournament before the Tournament of Champions in January.
One notable absentee is Justin Thomas, the 4th ranked player in the world. The PGA champion from last year is struggling with his game and the putting stroke does not look good. If another major champion is to win again Molinari has the best game. Mental letdown could be an issue but he has the skills to add a WGC event to his CV which now includes a major championship.