This week’s WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International GC in Shanghai, China, has a field resembling that of a major championship. Of the world’s top 50 players, 40 will be present, as will 11 of the 12 European Ryder Cup team members and 10 major champions, among whom 15 Grand Slam titles have been won.
Last year’s champ, Dustin Johnson—out of the field after taking a personal leave from the PGA Tour—finished 1st in greens in regulation, 1st in putts/GIR and T-13 in fairways hit en route to victory. Sheshan International is a course of medium length, wide fairways and tiny, elevated greens that undoubtedly award precision approach shots more than any other aspect of the game.
The WGC-HSBC Champions falls at a weird time. It’s the second of four events in the season-closing Race to Dubai on the European Tour, while also the first WGC event and fifth tournament on the 2014-15 PGA Tour calendar. As such, our predictions for this week are European heavy.
Here’s a brief look at a few guys who we think have the best chance to win at Sheshan based on current form, statistics, past performances, and hunches. We’ve also included a look into their bags, and highlighted a few products that may help them most along the way.
Ian Poulter Poults finished solo second behind Dustin Johnson last year in an effort that included a third-round 63. The Englishman finished T-13 in both 2010 and 2011, when the event was also held at Sheshan International. He won the HSBC in 2012 at Mission Hills GC (Olazabal Course) in Guangdong, another Chinese resort course not dissimilar to Sheshan.
Based on some Getty photos from the event, Poulter, a new Titleist staffer after eight years with Cobra Puma Golf, has a full set of Titleist clubs in play, including Titleist CB 3-9 irons. A mediocre ball-striker at best (he's cracked the top 100 in GIR percentage on the PGA Tour once since 2010), the CB irons should play an important role for him at Sheshan International.
G-Mac finished third at Sheshan in both 2011 and 2014. Traditionally known as a great ball-striker, McDowell actually led the PGA Tour in strokes/gained putting in 2013-14 and finished 12th in driving accuracy. If he can somehow combine the three into one solid performance this week, he’ll get the push he needs for a last minute Race to Dubai charge. He’s currently 16th on the points list.
McDowell will be playing Srizon’s new Z745 irons, which are forged from 1020 carbon steel and include a “Tour V.T. Sole” designed to improve turf interaction and aid trajectory control. His 3 and 4 iron are Srixon Z545s, a more forgiving model. On the greens, he’ll have an old Odyssey White Hot #7 Mallet and is using a 440-cc Callaway OptiForce driver.
Rose is among the favorites at any big event. He seems to always be near the top of the leaderboard at the most difficult courses. Sheshan International certainly isn’t one of them (the highest winning score in the last four HSBC’s at Sheshan was -17 by Phil Mickelson in 2009) but it’s tough to count Rose out of any big event.
Two of Rose’s best stats on the PGA Tour in 2013-14 were strokes gained: tee to green (4th) and GIR percentage (41st). This week, he’ll have a 430-cc TaylorMade SLDR driver in play, along with a set of TaylorMade Tour Preferred MBs.
Despite having one of the best seasons in recent memory, winning the US Open and Players Championship by eight shots each, Martin Kaymer has emerged as a streaky player. Other than the two victories, Kaymer has only two PGA Tour top-10 finishes last season, one of which was a T-8 at last year’s HSBC. The German was victorious at Sheshan in 2011, and we’re not all that far removed from Pinehurst, when Kaymer’s impressive display of approach-shot precision absolutely stomped the field.
Kaymer will play TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC irons and a 460-cc TaylorMade SLDR driver.
Coming off a somewhat disappointing T-2 finish in Shanghai last week, Garcia is more than due for a victory. He has 11 top-10s in his last 16 PGA Tour starts, but hasn’t won since the European Tour’s Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in January. Garcia finished last season on the PGA Tour 14th in greens in regulation percentage (68.68%) and T-21 in proximity to the hole (33’11”), two stats that bode well for a win at Sheshan.
Garcia will be playing TaylorMade's new RSi2 irons and a SLDR driver.
Woodland finished T-2 behind Ryan Moore last week, and has several good finishes when the PGA Tour visits China. One of the tour’s longest hitters, Woodland will be free to swing away considering Sheshan International’s wide fairways. He was T-9 in 2014-15 in driving distance, but only 51st in GIR percentage. Regardless, Woodland seems to like playing in China, which is a good enough reason for us to pick him.
The first tour players to put the Big Bertha Alpha 915 Double Black Diamond driver in the bag, Woodland will have a 9° model (set to 8°) in play, with an eight-gram toe weight and two-gram heel weight for a draw bias.