We had a solid week of picks at the Portugal Masters, and it was great to see Paddy Harrington get a much-deserved win. There should be a lot of form carrying over into this field, and players who don’t have to travel far to China should have a slight edge over the others.
This week, we head to Shanghai for the WGC-HSBC Champions. The field is headlined by Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, and Sergio Garcia. It’s important to note that for the 2nd consecutive week, we have a no-cut event, so target the birdie makers. We have some decent course history to draw upon, since the event has been played at this course – Sheshan International – six of the past seven years. I’m leaning heavily on course horses this week.
The course is a tree-lined par-72 track that measures just over 7,200 yards, so it isn’t the longest course players see. Although everything should point towards accuracy (as last year’s leaderboard did), we’ve seen bombers like Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson win here. There are four par-5s that are pretty tame, which is likely why those bombers had success. For example, when Bubba Watson won this event at -11, he was -14 for those par-5 holes.
Several other things to note about the course: Scrambling, and especially putting, seems to be very important. Players can find some trouble off the tee, and there is water in play on eleven holes at Sheshan International. I’ll definitely be targeting some of the better putters in this field. Also, if you look at the previous winners of this event, the common thread is pedigree: Russell Knox, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer, Francesco Molinari, and Phil Mickelson. In a no-cut event especially, a stars-and-scrubs roster construction is definitely the way to go.
- Driving Distance
- Scrambling (emphasis on putting)
- Birdie or Better %
- Par-5 Scoring
- Driving Accuracy
Let’s take a look at my favorite European Tour players this week:
Rory McIlroy ($12,100) – I am Team Rory. Always have been, always will be. Watching him dominate the FedEx Cup playoffs was awesome, and this is the year that Rory surges back to being world #1. He’s been experimenting with TaylorMade equipment, and from what I’ve been reading, he’s absolutely mashing their drivers. Although he hasn’t won at Sheshan yet, he’s finished 11th, 6th, 4th, 5th, and 4th in his five appearances. When we’re looking at par-5 scorers, bombers, and scramblers, nobody checks those boxes as well as Rory.
Thomas Pieters ($8,100) – I was surprised to see Pieters so low on the betting odds this week, so I’m all-in. He finished 23rd here a year ago, and is the type of birdie-making bomber to target in a no-cut event. He is still coming down from the emotional Ryder Cup performance, which is why his last two events have been mediocre, but Pieters should rise back up for this star-studded field. Pieters is a future top-5 player in the world who could begin his ascent this week with a World Golf Championship.
The Value Mid-Tier:
Ross Fisher ($7,800) – Fisher is one of our course horses this week, with two runner-up finishes previously and a 3rd last season. He’s also coming off two recent runner-up finishes on the European Tour, so he’s itching for a win. Fisher is one of those players who randomly pops in WGCs and majors, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him contending on Sunday afternoon. He’s a tactician who can putt the lights out.
Bernd Wiesberger ($7,700) – Wiesberger finished 17th here last season in his first appearance, and has been a model of consistency on the European Tour all year. He’s extremely overdue for a win, and his breakthrough could come here. In his past four events, he’s finished 2nd, 5th, 7th, and 2nd, and he tends to play well in difficult fields and on difficult courses.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello ($7,600) – In his last five European Tour starts, RCB has finished 5th, 5th, 12th, 31st, and 10th, with a stellar Ryder Cup performance mixed in. He’s another player who is overdue for a victory, and definitely has the pedigree to win a World Golf Championship. He is a DraftKings points monster and one of my favorite plays in no-cut events. RCB is an elite scrambler which is going to be a major key this week at Sheshan International. He’s coming off a top-10 finish in Malaysia, too.
Tyrrell Hatton ($7,400) – The Mad Hatter finished 54th in his first appearance here last season, but he’s a completely new player in 2016. Hatton has ascended to the top-10 in the Race to Dubai, has contended in majors, and has won several times on Tour. He won the Dunhill Links in dominant fashion two weeks ago, and backed that up with a 9th place finish last week. He’s an excellent putter and is another player who racks up birdies in bunches. Also, Englishmen have had an excellent track record here (Paul Casey, Lee Westwood, Ross Fisher), and Hatton could be next in line.
Richard Bland ($7,300) – Bland is a seasoned veteran still looking for his 1st European Tour win, and it would be so cool to do it on a big stage. Bland’s recent consistency is amazing: 4th, 18th, 7th, 5th, 16th, and 5th in his past six starts. Also, his best finish this year was a 3rd at the China Open. This is definitely an elevation in stage for him, but he’s a dynamite putter who shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the opportunity.
Matthew Fitzpatrick ($7,100) – Like Hatton, Fitzpatrick is another young English star who could break through for his first WGC win this week. He’s shown that he can win the Masters…ok, not THE Masters, but the Nordia Masters and the British Masters, so he’s up for the challenge. He’s an accuracy-first player who hits a ton of greens and can scramble as well as anyone. His form is a little shaky but he did finish 7th here a year ago.
Scott Hend ($7,100) – The ultimate boom-or-bust play, you’ve got to have Hend on the right weeks or else it’s a nightmare. He absolutely crushes the ball off the tee, which can lead to a roller-coaster of birdies and bogeys. Not only is he inconsistent week-to-week and round-to-round, but he’s inconsistent hole-to-hole! If you roster him, you’re going to get birdie streaks, but you’re also going to get double and triple bogeys. He’s one of the more experienced players at this venue and has had a ton of success in Asia over his career. On the China swing earlier this season, Hend finished 4th and 6th, demonstrating that great form in Asia. His form is hot, with four top-10s in his last seven starts, including a 7th place finish in Portugal last weekend.
Hao-Tong Li ($7,000) – When in China… Li jumped onto the world stage here last year with a 7th place finish (although he should have been higher than that). He also won the Volva China Open this year back in April, showing that he can step up on his home soil. He’s been pretty middle-of-the-road since, but recently had a solid stretch of six made cuts in a row with some high finishes. He putts well, hits greens, and will obviously be comfortable playing in China. Li does make a ton of birdies, however, so he’s worth a flier in a no-cut event. One concern: he’s a Nike player, so I don’t know what equipment he may be trying out this week.
Dean Burmester ($6,600) – When looking for bombers, Burmie is your guy. He leads the European Tour in driving distance this year, and is exactly the type of player to target this week for a dirt-cheap price. His form is iffy, but he did finish 8th in his last start. There’s a ton of solid South African players, and they always tend to play well around the world. Maybe it’s the experience on different grasses, or in different wind conditions, but I find that South Africans can bring their games (or their beds, Louis) anywhere.
Good luck this week!