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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Players in China

I've been watching the WGC-HSBC Champions, which is co-sponsored by the PGA, European, Asian, and Japan Tours (a very unusual situation on the men's tours), and have been looking to see which players are potential dominators over the next few months. [UPDATE: I forgot that the Australasian and Sunshine Tours are co-sponsors as well.] We've now seen several of them play in various conditions around the world, so I think it's a good time to assess their play so far.

a view of the Bund and Huangpu River in downtown Shanghai

The Sheshan International Course in Shanghai, China is very soft and should be very scoreable -- historically, it's one of the easier courses the guys play but it doesn't favor any specific player. Both long hitters and short knockers play well there, so I think it's a good course for this competition as well as a good indicator of where the players' games are.

Bear in mind that Graeme McDowell is leading at -6 after 16 holes, currently 2 shots ahead of Chris Kirk, and 3 shots ahead of Kevin Na, Rickie Fowler, Lee Westwood, and Bill Haas. (The leaderboard is shifting constantly, but these players have remained consistently in the mix throughout the round.) I'll come back to these players in a moment.

Some players are making their first appearance of the new season... and it shows. Adam Scott appears to be a bit rusty in his first event back, at just -1 after 16 holes. Likewise, this is only Henrik Stenson's second event since the Ryder Cup (he played the Volvo Match Play) and is only -1 after 9 holes. Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia are both struggling a bit after some good play over the past few weeks; both may be a bit tired, and Sergio had a near miss at the CIMB Classic last week. (Ryan Moore, last week's winner, is also struggling so far.)

Billy Horschel is in his third event of the season and is still struggling, although I give him a pass since he became a dad and the FedExCup champ all in one week. I think I'd be tired too... but given his streaky nature, it doesn't bode well for him over the next months.

Now about our leaders...
  • McDowell has played well despite the recent birth of his child, so you've got to like his chances going into 2015. His putter is as hot as it's been in a few years.
  • Kirk is coming off a T4 at the McGladrey and seems determined to prove he should have been on the Ryder Cup team by continuing his good play from the FedExCup playoffs.
  • Both Fowler and Na have been playing very consistent for several months now. I won't be surprised if either wins this week because both are really due.
  • Haas is coming off a T22 at McGladrey, continuing some comparable play during the Playoffs.
  • And Westwood finished the first round at -2 (T3). This is his third PGA Tour event since the Ryder Cup, and he finished T12 and T13 in his first two.
When players are doing well on both sides of the world, I think they have a better chance of putting up scores. So I think McDowell, Kirk, Fowler, Na, and Westwood will bear watching for the next few months. (Haas has only one round outside the USA recently, so I think he still has something to prove.)

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