Say what you will about this week's WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China, but one thing is for certain: Whoever wins this thing will have earned it.
Eight of the top 10 players in the world and 33 of the top 50 are scheduled to compete, making the HSBC one of the strongest events all year, if you put much stock in the World Ranking.
The confusing weekly number crunch is neither responsive — Tiger Woods was No. 1 all year — nor very predictive. The higher seeded player won just eight of the 12 singles matches at the recent Ryder Cup in Wales. Italian teenager Matteo Manassero was 164th in the world when he won the Euro tour's recent Castello Masters in Valencia, Spain, and Jonathan Byrd was 183rd when he won with an ace at the Timberlake/Shriners Tour stop in Vegas.
Still, the numbers are hard to ignore because Lee Westwood on Monday finally unseated Woods as the No. 1 player, and also because those two will be joined by Nos. 3 and 4, Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson, respectively, at the par-72, 7,200-yard Sheshan International.
(The top spot could have gone to Kaymer had the 25-year-old German played better at last week's Andalucia Masters on the Euro tour.)
Mickelson will be making his first start since the Ryder Cup, and he is not only the HSBC's defending champion but also the only two-time winner of the event, which will be played for just the sixth time. He is seeking his first win since the Masters in April, more than six months ago.
For the first time since 1997, the top four players are all going into a tournament with a chance to leave as No. 1. Kaymer is the only one who comes to Shanghai in terrific form — he's won three of his last four starts and leads the European Tour's Race to Dubai — but several others in this week's field are on a major heater.
Graeme McDowell, who won the Andalucia Masters in Spain last weekend, is coming to the end of undoubtedly the finest season of his life, with a victory at the U.S. Open and the clinching point at the Ryder Cup.
The same could be said for Farmer's Insurance (San Diego) Open champion Ben Crane, who just won the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic Malaysia. Even Luke Donald, who should have won it, is having a fine year.
Padraig Harrington recently triumphed for the first time in more than two years, also in Malaysia, and Manassero just got his first victory as a pro, becoming the youngest to lift a trophy in Europe at 17 years, 188 days.
As Mickelson said, "It's a field of winners."
With that in mind, it's perhaps no great stretch to assert that the Big Four at Sheshan are not Westwood, Woods, Kaymer and Mickelson, but instead red-hot McDowell, Crane, Manassero and Harrington.
Then again the winner could be Paul Casey, Ryo Ishikawa, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter or Louis Oosthuizen.
In the end it doesn't really matter what you think of the World Ranking, because by any measure this is a truly spectacular field.
On other tours this week …
• The LPGA finishes the Asian swing with the historic Mizuno Classic at Kintetsu Kashikojima County Club in Shima-shi, Mie, Japan. Although the field is not as strong as the HSBC on the men's side, the Mizuno, in its 38th year, will feature Jiyai Shin, Ai Miyazato, Na Yeon Choi and Yani Tseng. Morgan Pressel (16) will be the highest-ranked American, followed by Angela Stanford (18) and Brittany Lincicome (21).
• The Champions tour season comes to a conclusion with the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco, where sports fans are sure to still be delirious over the World Series.
After winning five times already this season, Bernhard Langer is in control of his destiny and most likely headed for the $1 million annuity that goes to the winner of the season-long Schwab points race.
Even if second-place Fred Couples wins at Harding, where he captained the U.S. Presidents Cup team to victory a year ago, Langer needs only to finish no worse than a two-way tie for fourth to claim the bonus money.
This is Harding's first year as host of the tournament. John Cook won the '09 CSC Championship at Sonoma Golf Club.