Before we review the players at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, be advised that the tournament begins at 8:50 p.m. ET on Wednesday in the United States. That's 5:50 p.m. on West Coast and 2:50 p.m. in Hawaii. This will be the last time we adjust radically until The Open Championship at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland next July.
The first of four WGCs of the 2018-19 season bills arguably the weakest field since a plethora of U.S.-based qualifiers elected not to travel. It's an annual phenomenon, so much so that I omit the tournament from the page listing all qualifiers into the majors, WGCs and THE PLAYERS.
That said, the board is loaded with countless options who will rise as candidates throughout the season. In fact, because of the relatively top-heavy field of 78 in a tournament that awards its champion 550 FedExCup points just like the other three WGCs (and a not-too-shabby $1.7 million for you earnings-based gamers), it's a smart time to swing your first haymaker.
Loyal readers know that I usually wait until the Masters to slot the most valuable pieces for the majors and FedExCup Playoffs. It affords about half the season to just enjoy playing the game week in and week out. It also allows the flow of the season to come to me since so much can change in any given week. Thinking back to 2017-18 alone, Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker and Daniel Berger were notables who either missed events or tried to play through injuries. If you were beholden to any at the wrong time, hopefully it was a lesson learned.
Yet, as we convene in the last weekend of October, I'm compelled to advise you to pencil Dustin Johnson in for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Yes, Phil Mickelson will be chasing the career grand slam on his 49th birthday and on a course that hosts the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for which he is the all-time earnings leader, but DJ is No. 2 on the same money list in half as many appearances in the PGA TOUR event. Certainly, two-man gamers will want that quinella, but this angle explains why the U.S. Open slots as Johnson's top spot of 11 in his Future Possibilities.
Other than that quirk to adapt to this particular season, veteran gamers are keen at saving haymakers like Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and WGC-HSBC defending champion Justin Rose early on. It's a strategy that I endorse strongly for them specifically.
Beginning this week, leave room to pivot to reliable international talent and treat each as a wild card when he appears. From Tommy Fleetwood or Rafa Cabrera Bello to Tyrrell Hatton or Matthew Fitzpatrick, each should attract healthy ownership percentages now and in future WGCs.
Paul Casey and Ian Poulter present as occupants of the lane in between. A top 20 for either at Sheshan International is the baseline, but either could contend if not pop the champagne.
Surging Cameron Smith and Eddie Pepperell fill in the blank for two-man gamers, and neither will be missed.
RANK PANELIST PICK COMMENT 92nd
Ian Poulter He played in the final group last week before slipping to T10. The oldest player in the field has three top-10 finishes in six previous trips so he's more than familiar with what it takes to contend in Shanghai. 112th
Tommy Fleetwood Despite my league title last season, somehow I didn't burn the Brit. Obviously, it wasn't a mistake, but I should have been penalized based on failure to collect his style points. Not this time. It's time to go with the flow. 219th
Kyle Stanley Quietly put together a strong finish to the season with two top-15 finishes during the FedExCup Playoffs. Finished T5 last year at Sheshan Golf Club. Believe he's a solid under-the-radar selection.
Francesco Molinari Three top-10s in six starts, and that was before he became a major champion.
On the Mark
Tony Finau The budding superstar has achieved nearly everything in his young PGA TOUR career. No cut and a short field in Shanghai improve his already short odds to win a "big one" and grow that resume further. 521st
Francesco Molinari The Champion Golfer of the Year won this event in 2010; he’s a much better player today.
Rafa Cabrera Bello In form and with a chip on his shoulder after missing the Ryder Cup. Feels like time he could make a statement against stacked field.
NOTE: Select golfers committed to the tournament are listed alphabetically. Future tournaments are sorted chronologically and reflect previous success on the courses on which the tournaments will be held in 2018-19. The numerical values in parentheses represent the order of relative confidence of where to use each golfer if multiple sites are listed (e.g. 1 for strongest, 2 for next-strongest and so on). To present weighted confidence in real time, numerical values will not change all season no matter how many tournament remain listed for each golfer. All are pending golfer commitment.
Byeong Hun An … Waste Management (2); Honda (3); Memorial (1)
Keegan Bradley … Mayakoba (3); Farmers (2); Memorial (5); Travelers (4)
Rafa Cabrera Bello … WGC-HSBC (3); WGC-Mexico (5); PLAYERS (1); Wyndham (4)
Patrick Cantlay … Shriners (1; defending); Genesis (4); Valspar (2); Memorial (3)
Paul Casey … WGC-HSBC (5); WGC-Mexico (6); Honda (10); Valspar (7; defending); WGC-Match Play (8); Masters (2); Wells Fargo (9); Travelers (1); TOUR Championship (3)
Jason Day … Sentry (8); Farmers (2; defending); Pebble Beach (1); Arnold Palmer (5); PLAYERS (7); WGC-Match Play (11); Masters (4); Wells Fargo (6 defending); PGA Championship (3); U.S. Open (10); Open Championship (9)
Tony Finau … Safeway (4); Shriners (3); Farmers (1); Valero (5); Memorial (2)
Emiliano Grillo … Mayakoba (1); Arnold Palmer (2); Charles Schwab (3)
Branden Grace … WGC-HSBC (2); Heritage (1); Valero (3); Byron Nelson (5); U.S. Open (4)
Adam Hadwin … CareerBuilder (1); Waste Management (4); Genesis (3); Valspar (2); John Deere (5)
Brian Harman … RSM (6); Sony (2); CareerBuilder (3); Arnold Palmer (7); Charles Schwab (1); Travelers (5); John Deere (4)
Charley Hoffman … Genesis (5); Arnold Palmer (2); Masters (4); Heritage (7); Valero (3); Charles Schwab (6); Travelers (1)
Billy Horschel … RSM (5); Honda (4); Arnold Palmer (7); Valero (2); New Orleans (3; defending); Wyndham (6); TOUR Championship (1)
Dustin Johnson … WGC-HSBC (9); Sentry (4; defending); Pebble Beach (2); Genesis (3); WGC-Mexico (5); Masters (8); PGA Championship (11); Memorial (10); U.S. Open (1); WGC-St. Jude (6); TOUR Championship (7)
Russell Knox … WGC-HSBC (4); Mayakoba (1); Sony (3); Heritage (2)
Brooks Koepka … WGC-HSBC (5); Shriners (4); WGC-Match Play (3); Masters (7); PGA Championship (2; defending); Charles Schwab (6); U.S. Open (1; two-time defending); Open Championship (8)
Hideki Matsuyama … WGC-HSBC (12); Sentry (3); Waste Management (1); Genesis (10); Arnold Palmer (11); PLAYERS (9); Masters (4); PGA Championship (13); Memorial (8); U.S. Open (14); Wyndham (7); TOUR Championship (5)
Rory McIlroy … WGC-HSBC (7); Arnold Palmer (2; defending); Masters (4); Wells Fargo (3); Memorial (5); Travelers (8); Open Championship (1); TOUR Championship (6)
Francesco Molinari … CareerBuilder (5); Arnold Palmer (2); PLAYERS (3); Wells Fargo (6); PGA Championship (4); Open Championship (1; defending)
Kevin Na … Genesis (2); Valspar (6); Charles Schwab (3); Wyndham (5)
Pat Perez … Mayakoba (4); Sentry (1); Farmers (2); Pebble Beach (5)
Jon Rahm … Sentry (2); CareerBuilder (3; defending); Farmers (6); Waste Management (4); Masters (5); Charles Schwab (1); TOUR Championship (7)
Patrick Reed … Sentry (2); Pebble Beach (6); Valspar (1); Masters (5; defending); PGA Championship (4); U.S. Open (3); Travelers (7)
Justin Rose … WGC-HSBC (5; defending); Farmers (6); Genesis (9); Arnold Palmer (3); Masters (1); PLAYERS (10); Charles Schwab (7; defending); Memorial (4); Open Championship (8); TOUR Championship (2)
Xander Schauffele … Genesis (6); PLAYERS (5); U.S. Open (3); Open Championship (4); TOUR Championship (1)
Adam Scott … Genesis (4); Honda (1); Arnold Palmer (10); PLAYERS (2); Masters (6); Byron Nelson (11); PGA Championship (8); U.S. Open (9); Open Championship (7); TOUR Championship (3)
Cameron Smith … Wyndham (3)
Brandt Snedeker … Sentry (4); Farmers (3); Waste Management (8); Pebble Beach (2); Masters (10); Heritage (6); Charles Schwab (7); U.S. Open (5); Travelers (9); Wyndham (1; defending)