Every performer understands the challenge of taking the stage immediately after the previous performer killed. It's daunting. Add the not-so-insignificant fact that the most recent standing ovation was for Tiger Woods winning for the 82nd time on the PGA TOUR at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP and, well, so it goes. Someone has to do it.
Whoever prevails at this week's World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions will go into the record books beside Jack Nicklaus, so that's not too shabby. It was Nicklaus who won the 1965 Masters in the week after Sam Snead connected for win No. 82 at the Greater Greensboro Open.
There are two main differences 54 years later. Snead competed in the Masters, whereas Woods is taking the week off, and Snead missed the cut at Augusta National, but there is no cut at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.
Scroll past the projected contenders for what the field of 78 faces in the host course and what should define the winner of the Old Tom Morris Cup, 550 FedExCup points and $1.845 million.
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 20 Charles Howell III 19 Keegan Bradley 18 Corey Conners 17 Henrik Stenson 16 Byeong Hun An 15 Bernd Wiesberger 14 Matt Wallace 13 Tommy Fleetwood 12 Sungjae Im 11 Patrick Reed 10 Ian Poulter 9 Tyrrell Hatton 8 Paul Casey 7 Adam Scott 6 Tony Finau 5 Billy Horschel 4 Justin Rose 3 Xander Schauffele 2 Hideki Matsuyama 1 Rory McIlroy
Tuesday's Fantasy Insider will include Jordan Spieth, Francesco Molinari, Danny Willett and Matthew Fitzpatrick among the notables.
Just like at Jeju Island's NINE BRIDGES, the most recent among a handful of courses on the PGA TOUR set up for the worst-case scenario of gusty winds, the greens at Sheshan International are slow by PGA TOUR standards. So, when the flags are limp, as they are forecast to be for most of this week, the winner likely will reach at least 20-under on the stock par 72.
In three of the last six editions (since only Sheshan International has hosted the WGC-HSBC Champions during the wraparound era), three winners finished 20-under or lower. The other three settled for 11 under (2014) and 14-under twice (2017, 2018). Rain isn't expected and the daytime highs will eclipse 70 degrees, so this will be a green-light special.
This isn't to suggest that Sheshan International is a pushover.
No matter the wind, the par 5s always are challenging. In 2016, in what were similarly benign conditions as expected this week, the par 5s ranked fifth-hardest among all courses at 4.83. Last year when the par 5s were hardest of the season in averaging 4.85, Xander Schauffele ranked T2 in par-5 scoring (4.44) en route to victory. Tony Finau paced the field with an average of 4.25 on the set. Not surprisingly, Adam Scott's field-leading 4.31 in the breezes at NINE BRIDGES was one of only two par-5 leaders with a higher average among all tournaments. (Ollie Schniederjans and Jordan Spieth shared the honor with the same average at the Valero Texas Open.)
Also in 2016, winds kicked up only in the second round, but it was in that round when champion Hideki Matsuyama carded his lowest score of the week (65) en route to a seven-shot runaway title at 23-under 265. It's all the evidence this field needs to know for a course that rewards good shots as much as it penalizes the not-so-good. Hitting GIR is the primary objective. Course experience also is key given the strength of the field and the learning curve of the undulations on the greens.
The only change at Sheshan occurred at the par-4 fifth hole. Extended by just three yards, the course now tips at 7,264 yards.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
TUESDAY*: Power Rankings (Bermuda), Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesdays.