In addition, there are doubts about several PGA Tour players, who haven’t played for several weeks. Sean O’Hair for instance would be a top candidate on his best form, but hasn’t played since the Presidents Cup. Those that have been busy, such as Pat Perez or emerging British player Martin Laird, certainly can’t be written off but have little or no experience in Asia. Bearing in mind that this course has always produced top-class leaderboards; Mickelson and Garcia have won the last two, nine of the 22 players to make the top five were Major winners; I suspect the realistic shortlist can be reduced to no more than 15 or 20.
Like most matchplay form, there’s little to be gained from reading too much into last week’s events in Spain. Some leading in-form stars, such as LEE WESTWOOD, RORY MCILROY and MARTIN KAYMER, all failed to make the weekend latter stages, but that might actually work to their advantage. That event was a real marathon, played on a long, gruelling course, and the quartet of semi-finalists will have their work cut out contending so soon afterwards. Ross Fisher and Anthony Kim certainly have young enough legs to cope, but with the long flight, different time zone, climate and greens, will still do well to adapt fast enough. Robert Allenby was voicing his concern about the schedule as early as Friday, and must be avoided at all cost.
In contrast, I’m expecting another big week from that trio of Race to Dubai principals. Westwood reached a play-off on his last visit to Sheshan in 2007, and represents massive each-way value at 20/1 on the basis of all recent strokeplay form. How can a man who has finished no worse than ninth on eight of his last nine starts, usually in elite company, be 5/1 to make the top five? The explanation of course lies in Woods’ presence.
One could easily make a similar each-way case for Phil Mickelson or Padraig Harrington, but neither did anything to get particularly excited about last week in Singapore. On balance, Westwood looks much more reliable. As for defending champion Garcia, he wouldn’t interest me even at double the 25/1 on offer. He is in vastly inferior form to 12 months ago, and last week’s effort was typical. When the pressure was on, he couldn’t hole a putt, but when faced with a meaningless final match, he turned on the style.
McIlroy may have surrendered Race to Dubai favouritism to Westwood, but he is far from out of it and a strong finish to the season is expected. Ignore his last effort in Portugal as Rory barely holed anything in that putting contest. He still ranked first for greens in regulation that week, and on the basis of his previous form; second in the Dunhill, seventh at Crans, third in the USPGA; 28/1 is superb each-way value.
Nor can any of the other Race to Dubai contenders be written off by any means. Fisher, though up against it after last week’s exertions, was runner-up in this two years ago when carrying this column’s cash at 100/1. Oliver Wilson was runner-up last year. As for Paul Casey, if only he wasn’t still carrying the rib injury that looks like destroying a superb season, he would certainly have been a pick as this course is perfect. However, there were precious few signs of an immediate return to form last week, and one can’t help but conclude that he would still be resting if it wasn’t for lingering money list hopes.