The final WGC event of 2010 takes on greater significance than usual, as the scene of an extraordinary battle to head the world rankings. Any one of Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods, Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson could be number one on Sunday night. Recent history bodes well for one of them, as the last three champions at Sheshan International were ranked in the top-three at the time, although as explained below, all the ‘big-four’ have questions to answer.
78 players line-up in Shanghai, 50 of whom start the week at 100/1 or more. These outsiders can gain encouragement from Y E Yang’s shock win in 2006, when the previously unknown Korean thwarted Tiger Woods. Although in fairness, the passing of time showed that wasn’t quite the fluke it seemed back then.
COURSE AND KEY STATS
Sheshan International is a par-72, short by modern standards and therefore open to very low scoring. There are numerous water hazards and the rough is growing every year, but with calm weather forecast throughout, a tally in the high teens under par will be the minimum required. The toughest test lies in sharply undulating greens, measuring at 12.5 on the stimp-meter, which emphasise the importance of pinpoint iron play and high-class scrambling.
Along with scrambling and as always greens in regulation, driving distance and par-five performance are the key stats. However, this is more than just a bombers’ paradise, even if they enjoy an advantage on the par-fives and in terms of playing their second shot with a shorter iron. Due to the speed and complexity of the greens, this is ultimately a ‘second shot course’, which explains the high-class leaderboards we usually see here.
If Casey hadn’t seen a brilliant 2009 campaign ended prematurely by a troublesome rib injury, he could well have been involved in this week’s battle for the number one spot. As it stands, he’s still in the top-ten and beginning to recapture his best form. Perhaps a sense of injustice at missing out on the Ryder Cup helped motivate excellent fourth and second place finishes in the last two Fedex Cup events. If we overlook a withdrawal after three rounds last time when returning from that injury, he’s never missed the top-11 at Sheshan.
2pts ew NICK WATNEY @ 25/1 (GENERAL)
With such a strong emphasis on power and four par-fives, Sheshan looks ideal for Watney, and fifth on last year’s debut confirmed that. He’s probably improved since and really deserves a title as reward for a consistent campaign. If his last two efforts in the States, finishing fourth and sixth, are anything to go by, it could well arrive this week.
2pts ew RORY MCILROY @ 25/1 (GENERAL)
On the bare form of his last two performances, 53rd in the Dunhill Links and 12th in a Challenge Tour event, 25/1 about McIlroy seems ridiculous. However, I’m always prepared to forgive inconsistency in youngsters and see no reason to over-react about a player who’s been placed in the last two majors, and on last year’s course debut. Rory has the superb long game skills to run up a series of high finishes at Sheshan, just as Woods and Mickelson have.
After looking on the verge of superstardom during the Florida Swing, Camilo’s season petered out rather disappointingly. At least there have been recent signs of improvement with three top-15s on his last five starts in the USPGA and Fedex Cup series. He remains a class act, and ideally suited to this type of championship layout, where his high-ball flight is such an asset.
1pt ew BILL HAAS @ 80/1 (GENERAL)
80/1 is simply too big to ignore about a player in such good form as Haas. His last two performances in the States were a win at the Viking Classic and second place at the McGladrey Classic, and 28th last week was no disaster after a slow start. Furthermore, he ticks the right stats boxes as a big-hitter who ranks third for par-five performance amongst these.