HSBC CHAMPIONS TROPHY
As a shock, last year?s winner Yong-eun Yang registered very high on the Richter scale. Not least because all the other evidence from Sheshan International Golf Club is that the top-class players were expected to dominate. In the tournament?s inaugaral year bang-in-form David Howell saw off Tiger Woods, with classy overseas players in each of the first seven places. And the three places behind Yang were filled with former Major winners.
The Shanghai course is expected to play tougher this year, with the rough more penal, the greens firmer and faster. Such conditions usually accentuate the quality gap and produce world class leaderboards. Despite Tiger?s absence a stellar field is headed by six Major winners. Those already settled away from home and fully acclimatised may also hold an advantage over the Volvo Masters contingent, so my main three selections all played in Singapore.
Angel Cabrera continued his superb autumn form to land that lucrative event but surely can?t be expected to win for the third week in succession. Cabrera is just edged out of favouritism by ERNIE ELS and VIJAY SINGH. Ernie let us down badly in Singapore, but did have a plausible excuse. Having contracted a bad dose of food poisoning on Wednesday, I think its fair to forgive him two lacklustre rounds. Expect a swift comeback on a course that should play to his strengths.
Having won the low-grade Korean Open on his penultimate start, Vijay only failed to force a play-off in Singapore by a single shot. With a quality long game emphasised this week, Singh looks certain to be in the thick of things once again on a course where he was 5th behind Howell in 2005.
Sheshan should also play to the strengths of LEE WESTWOOD, who looks well capable of landing his third victory of the year. He played superbly once again from tee to green at the weekend, where 5th place was about the worst he could have achieved. Remove a disastrous triple-bogey on Saturday plus a poor finish once beaten on Sunday, and Lee would have laid down a stiff challenge to Cabrera.
Most of the other major contenders don?t really appeal for a variety of reasons. Phil Mickelson maintained the habits of a lifetime by again failing to deliver outside the US last week. Retief Goosen hasn?t made a top-20 anywhere since April. Sergio Garcia completely lost his rag on Sunday after another dire putting performance. Padraig Harrington is certainly playing well enough to win here, but could be forgiven for winding down after Sunday and has to acclimatise fast.
Pick of those who played Valderrama for me is NICK DOUGHERTY, who has played some of his best golf in Asia. He managed an excellent 3rd in the inaugural running behind Howell and Woods, and has certainly come on leaps and bounds in the intervening two years. Winning the prestigious Dunhill Links recently may turn out to be exactly the confidence boost required for Nick to step up a level. His confident win from the front at St Andrews may have finally buried the final day demons that had plagued him over the past year.
Another young Englishman, ROSS FISHER, is worth a speculative crack at 100/1. Fisher nearly won the China Open in one of his earliest professional outings, and has proven on several occasions that he can perform well outside Europe. In fact he seems to thrive on the more testing courses like this one, and has looked well capable of winning his second title of 2007 in recent weeks.