Sheshan to suit prolific Dustin
Ben Coley previews the WGC-HSBC Champions and fancies big-hitting Dustin Johnson to relish the layout.
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Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China, hosts the WGC-HSBC Champions, which for the first time is fully co-sanctioned by the PGA and European Tours.
The course has played host to the event since its inception in 2005, when David Howell beat Tiger Woods, with the exception of last year's renewal which again went to an Englishman as Ian Poulter stormed to victory at Mission Hills.
Sheshan fully stretched is a brutally long golf course. All four par-threes can extend beyond 200 yards and even with a driveable par-four, the 16th, the total yardage is in excess of 7,200.
- 1.5pts e.w. Dustin Johnson at 40/1 (Paddy Power 1/4 1,2,3,4,5) - underrated in the market considering form and course
- 3pts win Rory McIlroy at 12/1 (General) - loves the venue and I believe he's very close to his best
- 1pt e.w. Stephen Gallacher at 150/1 (Sky Bet, Stan James 1/4 1,2,3,4,5) - good record in Asia, hitting it well and overpriced
- 1pt e.w. Brett Rumford at 100/1 (Stan James 1/4 1,2,3,4,5) - won in China earlier this year and arrives in great form
With no rain and little wind forecast this week, conditions shouldn't eliminate short hitters from the argument but they're certainly at a disadvantage. Luke Donald summed things up perfectly by describing Sheshan as a bomber's course, but one which he could compete on if he produced his best.
Past winners here vary to fit that assessment. From Howell's putting exhibition to Sergio Garcia's tee-to-green supremacy, there really is something for everyone.
That being said, a good putting week is likely to prove essential with a winning score towards 20-under par on the cards and the dominance of Francesco Molinari and Lee Westwood in 2010 suggests that good drivers of the ball are suited, a fact backed up by course specialists like Paul Casey.
One thing worth noting is that those past winners all had some recent match practice. Howell and his successor YE Yang had a week off prior to their victory, but the subsequent six winners had all played the week before. Although not guaranteed to continue, this is a trend which suggests it could be hard for the likes of Jason Dufner, Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker to hit the ground running.
Another trend which used to apply was for winners to have shown some excellent form at somewhere like Portugal, a course which requires similarly low scoring, before a low-key performance at the likes of Spain's tricky Valderrama. This dynamic interests me because last week's BMW Masters was played in blustery conditions which may have hindered some birdie makers who could bounce right back here.
But we start with a player who didn't play last week, Dustin Johnson.
Regular readers will be all too familiar with me siding with the 29-year-old and so far it must be said I've not managed to get him on the right week. That, however, won't stop me trying and nor should it, because time has shown that backing Dustin regularly leads to long-term profits.
I could leave it there. Johnson is 40/1 this week despite seven PGA Tour victories ranging from the technical test of TPC Southwind to the multi-course pro-am at Pebble Beach and pretty much all stops in-between. He's gone close in three of the four majors and has form at Augusta, too. Yet here he is at 40/1 alongside Peter Uihlein, who while impressive has so far won one event and a low-key one at that.
Just behind Johnson you'll see Graham DeLaet, who hasn't won any event of note as a professional. Luke Donald, in the midst of swing changes and with no wins to his name this year is shorter, as is last week's winner Ryan Moore, a year older than Johnson but with four fewer victories and none in top-grade events.
Quite simply I remain constantly baffled by the prices quoted about DJ and while in the past I've been forced to chance a return to form, this time I can tell you he's finished fifth and 12th on his last two starts, neither of which have been on courses which on paper suit as well as Sheshan looks to.
DJ has been in China for over a week so he's acclimatised and he played three beautiful rounds at Mission Hills last year, with a third-round 84 costing him any chance of a place. We know from past interviews and his tweets that he embraces travel and loves Asia.
There's not much else to say other than Johnson is truly one of the world's best players yet he's priced up as being below that level and, on a course I think will suit him down to the ground, that's all I need to make him the headline bet.
Beyond Johnson, I find the top of the market very puzzling, with one exception which I'll come to shortly.
Westwood should play well and 33/1 tempted me but I don't see him winning and it's hard to know exactly how fit he is. Kaymer could bounce back but he needs to putt better and his price assumes that he will do that.
Keegan Bradley fits the bill in so many ways but he's awfully short - I'd rather chance him in the first round leader market if any, as he led here after round one on his sole visit and typically starts fast in these events. Casey loves it here but the 40s has gone so he has to be left out too.
Poulter could defend his title and he's a bigger price than last year, but this course isn't quite as suitable and at 28/1 I can just about ignore him. Garcia loves the place but again, 25/1? It seems right to me. I could go on.
But the one I did expect to be shorter is Rory McIlroy and while I'll keep stakes relatively small given the obvious concerns, he's definitely a bet for me.
We all know it's been a poor year for Rory and it'd be a waste of column inches to go through all the reasons behind his struggles. What's important is to establish whether circumstances look right for a return to form and to my eye they do.
Last week, McIlroy led the greens in regulation statistics through three rounds of the BMW Masters. He only hit nine of them in round four and accordingly slipped down the stats and the leaderboard, but what I saw of him was most encouraging and he said he felt great from tee to green.
He backed up those words on Monday, beating Woods in an exhibition match. I'm well aware that this 'victory' isn't particularly relevant as it stands, but a bogey-free six-under with some sparkling golf on the back nine is very relevant and bodes well for his return to Sheshan.
It's a course Rory loves. In 2010, he said, "It's a great golf course. It's actually one of my favourite golf courses that we play all year," and his results - three places in as many visits regardless of current form - back that up.
Indeed, he loves playing golf in Asia full-stop. In 12 starts in China he has a win and seven further top-six finishes, he's been in the top three in each of his last three starts in Korea, he was third on his last start in Malaysia and has been third and fourth in two trips to Singapore.
Ultimately it comes down to how close you think McIlroy is and my feeling is that he's very, very close. He said on Sunday that he feels he can win 'one or two' of the final four events he's scheduled to play this season, and I believe him.
But the most important thing is that I expected him to be 8/1. He was that price last week despite a blustery forecast and a course which may not suit as much as Sheshan does, and while his finishing position doesn't say so he played well in the main, had he closed with a round of 68 he'd have been 8/1, so at 12s I'll forgive him that and hope he rediscovers his best at a course he adores.
Finally, there are two players who, I must confess, may not be up to this but nonetheless look overpriced for a couple of reasons.
First up is Stephen Gallacher, who has to be worth an each-way play at 150/1 for the place part alone.
Gallacher has generally found winning difficult over the years and is more talented than two European Tour titles would lead you to believe.
But this year he's generally managed to get the better of injuries which have so often held him back and his results have a more consistent look to them.
The pick of them, of course, is his victory in the Dubai Desert Classic when rounds of 63 and 62 demonstrated his ability to shoot incredibly low numbers, which was again on display when he finished third in Portugal two starts ago.
Last week in China he never really got going after an opening 77 in the worst of the weather but, as touched upon previously, it has often paid to ignore such form as it could well prove to be close to irrelevant here at Sheshan.
Gallacher was fourth in Hong Kong and second in Malaysia last year, while among his best finishes this season is a sixth in Korea. Clearly, he can perform in this part of the world.
Despite a poor finishing position last week he did rank ninth for greens hit so we know the long game remains in good order, and while his WGC form so far - all of which has come in America - leaves something to be desired, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at a venue which could suit.
Fellow Scot Richie Ramsay was third here a couple of years ago and there are several examples of European Tour regulars being able to step up a gear in an event which is more within their comfort zone than a trip to the US.
Finally, Brett Rumford is another who shouldn't be a three-figure price.
The Australian has two European Tour wins to his name this season, and both came in Asia - the first in Korea, which was followed just seven days later by another in China.
Perhaps predictably, he then suffered a lull in form as expectations changed but he's really bounced back of late, with a run of form which reads 6-8-15-MC-6-15, and continues to excel on and around the greens.
Rumford has played here twice without much success but he started well on his last visit, sitting 13th at halfway, and is a much more confident and efficient player at present.