Market and Overview
Sheshan International GC in China is once again the venue for the co-sanctioned WGC HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai but this year it doesn't form part of the European Tour's Final Series. The likes of George Coetzee - 251.00 - who currently sits 96th in the Race To Dubai will be looking to force his way into next week's 78 man Turkish Airlines Open Field as the European Tour hits it's home stretch. Danny Willett - 81.00, Rory McIlroy - 6.00 - and Henrik Stenson - 23.00 - will be jostling for first position in the R2D rankings before the Final Series gets underway.
For PGA Tour members, 550 Fedex Cup points are on offer here. Justin Thomas - 29.00 - has started the season with a bang, emulating Ryan Moore - 34.00 - by winning back to back CIMB Classic titles at TPC Kuala Lumpur. Former HSBC Champions winner Dustin Johnson - 7.00 - battles Rory McIlroy for tournament favouritism at Sheshan with the in form Hideki Matsuyama 3rd in the betting at 17.00.
If we look at last year's stats, scoring was higher than usual, and emphasis has shifted more towards driving accuracy over distance in recent years as fairways have been pinched in by both the rough and new strategically placed bunkering. The semi and intermediate cuts of rough were grown thicker than normal on the par 72, 7,261 yard layout and finding fairways is always vital to allow pin hunting. Previous winners of the event include big hitting Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson - 29.00 - and the erratic Phil Mickelson but last year's top 3 ranked 5 - 2 - 6 in driving accuracy respectively. Total driving will still be key, and greens in regulation is always the premium at Sheshan. I always think back to 2010 here where Lee Westwood - 81.00 - and Francesco Molinari - 61.00 - finished nine and ten shots respectively ahead of the field. Both players are tee to green experts and were flushing it that week. Long par 3s are also a theme so this puts even more emphasis on the strong iron play theme.
The track - Sheshan International GC
The tree-lined Sheshan course plays 7,261 yards to a par of 72. It's built on rolling terrain around a quarry and, as mentioned, premium at Sheshan is on approach shot accuracy to usually firm, elevated greens - many of which include false fronts and are surrounded by deep bunkers. It's vital to be playing from the fairways for maximum control, so top ball strikers and drivers are the focus of attention for the HSBC Champions. Elevation changes and numerous water hazards also feature around the track. The elevated, undulating and usually firm greens with said false fronts are the main feature at Sheshan International and a good touch is needed on and around the surfaces. Scoring on the par fives and some short par 4s here is essential.
Ross Fisher - 67.00 or 13.00 - is the obvious play this week at the prices: "About to start the long journey to Shanghai for HSBC. Can't wait for this week. Course I Enjoy and have done well #3togo #endofseasonnear " "I feel comfortable here and have played well in the past". These are just a couple of recent quotes by the man in form who has posted 2 runner up finishes in his last 3. He slipped a bit at The Grove for the British Masters but didn't get the best of the draw and conditions there. Fisher is a tee to green expert with long straight driving and a towering ball flight with the irons so his record here is no coincidence. Ross has lost a playoff at Sheshan pre it's WGC days. He recorded a T3 finish on his return last year, posting 4 rounds in the 60s and ranking 10th in greens in reg for the event.
Bernd Wiesberger - 46.00 or 9.00: “I enjoy this course. It feels like it suits my eye off the tee and you can take advantage of a couple of those par fives out there if you hit good tee shots. I played well here last year so I’m looking forward to this week." Bernd finished T17 here last year ranking 13th in GIR. Wiesberger is also a tee to green expert coming here in his best form of the season. The Austrian is showing a form line of 2-5-7-2. The ball striking machine averages 295 yards off the tee with a driving accuracy clip of 60%. He smashes 75% of greens in reg, again good enough to sit 13th in the year long ranks.
Sticking with the theme of tee to green efficiency I cant ignore the price of Byeong Hun-An. It was a similar story before his win at Wentworth where I decided to ignore him but I'm not going to make that potential mistake again here at a big price of 101.0 or 19.00. Benny is a bomber, renowned for his precision iron play which he admits is the strongest part of his game. He's actually averaging just 28.55 putts per round on the European Tour in 2016 (limited starts) and posted a top 3 at the KLM Open. Wentworth has big elevation changes and dome like greens requiring accurate distance control from approaches and it's the same at Sheshan. Benny hit a top 20 here on his debut last season and warmed up for his return with a closing round of 67 in the CIMB Classic last week.