There isn’t another tournament that comes closer to spanning the spectrum of formalities of relative value than the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions. This week’s is just the 12th in its history, but it’s almost like it’s experienced its own version of climbing the corporate ladder.
From its inception in 2005 through 2008, it was a quad-sanctioned event on the European Tour, Asian Tour, Sunshine Tour and PGA Tour of Australia. It then joined the WGC club in 2009 where it’s remained, but it wasn’t an official tournament on the PGA TOUR until 2013. However, winners in 2010-2012 could count it as an official victory if they were a TOUR member at the time. Of the trio, only Ian Poulter (2012) qualified. It’s the caveat that explains why 2010 champ Francesco Molinari is still considered a non-winner on the PGA TOUR.
So, all things being equal and to keep it simple for the purposes of this space, the data below represents only the last three editions of the WGC-HSBC Champions, which are also the only that have contributed to the FedExCup. All were contested at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China, just as it will be again this week.
As noted in the Power Rankings, the weather forecast is projecting a challenge akin to what the field in 2014 faced, and scoring could rise even higher with sustained winds expected to range 15-20 mph on Friday and Saturday. The field of 78 won’t have to sweat a cut, but the elements are almost certain to influence what should matter versus what actually will.
What stands out about Bubba Watson’s title two years ago is that he maximized on his scoring opportunities, ranking T18 in greens hit but third in converting those chances into par breakers. It’s relevant to point out that he outlasted Tim Clark in a playoff, but that the lefty was there in the first place requires further digging.
Note that Watson was one of only two golfers who finished inside the top 10 on the final leaderboard and didn’t crack the top 10 in par-4 scoring, in which he slotted a relatively abysmal T38. The only reasonable angle at how a golfer can fail to score well on the par 4s and still prevail is if it’s a par 72 with four par 5s. That’s exactly how he achieved his objective, by pacing his field in par-5 scoring. Watson played the set in bogey-free 14-under with a walk-off, eagle hole-out from a greenside bunker in regulation.
Sheshan International has been a speed track for the game’s best for the majority of its history in any iteration of this tournament. This week, massive talents with equally impressive levels of quiet confidence might get derailed, but par-5 scoring almost always plays into the formula for success on par 72s no matter the weather. To wit, 21 of the 31 who have recorded a top-10 here since 2013 have ranked inside the top 10 in par-5 scoring for the week. Only 19 of the same sample size were inside their respective top 10s in par-4 scoring.
RECENT WINNERS COMPARISON
STAT Russell Knox (2015) Bubba Watson (2014) Dustin Johnson (2013) Driving Accuracy T5 T16 T13 Greens in Regulation T4 T18 1st Putting: Birdie-or-Better % 13th 3rd 2nd Scrambling T31 17th 23rd Par-3 Scoring T12 T6 T1 Par-4 Scoring T2 T38 T1 Par-5 Scoring T8 1st T7
Distribution Among Golfers Inside Top 10
STAT 2015 2014 2013 # Inside Top 10 on Final Leaderboard 10 11 10 Driving Accuracy 4 3 3 Greens in Regulation 7 5 4 Putting: Birdie-or-Better % 5 6 5 Scrambling 3 6 5 Par-3 Scoring 3 5 3 Par-4 Scoring 4 9 6 Par-5 Scoring 8 5 8
HORSES FOR COURSES
Selected golfers with multiple cuts made sorted by rank on the tournament's money list since 2013.
Rank Player Cuts Made/Starts Top 10s Best Finish Low Round Average 1 Dustin Johnson 2/2 2 Win 63 67.00 2 Bubba Watson 3/3 2 Win 67 69.33 10 Martin Kaymer 3/3 2 T6 62* 69.50 15 Rory McIlroy 2/2 1 T6 65 68.38
* - Course record (third round, 2013)
Sorted by best finish, selected golfers who are either finally finding form on the course or are still relatively new to the tournament but have enjoyed some success.
Player Cuts Made/Starts Best Finish Low Round Russell Knox 1/1 Win (2015) 65 Kevin Kisner 1/1 2nd (2015) 64 Ross Fisher 1/1 T3 (2015) 65 Danny Willett 1/1 T3 (2015) 62^ Branden Grace 2/2 T5 (2015) 63 Hao Tong Li 3/3 T7 (2015) 66 (x2) Patrick Reed 2/2 T7 (2015) 65 Matthew Fitzpatrick 1/1 T7 (2015) 67
^ - While it matched Martin Kaymer's course record, Danny Willett's 62 in 2015 isn't recognized as sharing the mark since lift, clean and place was in play.
OTHER SIGNS OF COMFORT
Sorted by most recent top 10s, selected golfers for whom it's been a few years since their last.
Player Cuts Made/Starts Top 10s Last Best Finish Rickie Fowler 3/3 1 2014 (T3) T3 Sergio Garcia 3/3 1 2013 (4th) 4th