Prize Fund: $$8,500,000
Winner’s Share: $1,400,000
Course: Sheshan International Golf Course (Par 72, 7,266 yards)
The final WGC of 2014 will take over the PGA and European Tours this week (although the Sandersons Farms Championship will be running alongside on the PGA) as 78 players from both sides of the atlantic try and muster up one of the big trophies golf has to offer.
Now, on paper, this is a massive tournament. It’s a WGC. It’s a world wide extravaganza. BUT for us, it does lack that mega sort of sex appeal that the other WGC’s and majors have. (Upon reading that sentence back, we must apologise because let’s be honest does any golf tournament have sex appeal? In fact don’t answer that…) It may be unfair to say, but even when you look at the field, however much it’s filled with quality for this late in the calendar year, you still can’t help but be under-whelmed by the whole proceedings. To be fair maybe some of it is to do with the fact the odds are absolutely horrendous. We know its a small field, but you still cannot deny the amount of top players here. There’s some laughable prices for certain players, especially ones that haven’t hit a ball in a couple of months…
But anyway, we’ve all got to take time out and look at this objectively, because ultimately we all want two things from the 4 days golf – a great entertaining tournament and to win some money.
Looking at the tournament as a whole, it has often been won by quite high scores considering it’s importance (maybe another reason for our underwhelmed feeling) and it has always been held on the Sheshan International Golf Course since 2005, barring Ian Poulter’s victory in 2012 when it was held at Mission Hills. In fact, the combined winners score is a remarkable -138, which is an average of -17. That is low. Although we are being told that it will play harder this year because of faster greens and more trees…
The par 72 measures in at 7,266 yards which is what we would call ‘one of those.’ Not particularly long, but certainly not short either. Even when you look at the past champions, you can’t really gage what sort of player suits this track – 2013 Dustin Johnson (who is obviously not defending his title due to misdemeanours. Prat), 2011 Martin Kaymer, 2010 Francesco Molinari, 2009 + 2007 Phil Mickelson, 2008 Sergio Garcia, 2006 Y.E. Yang and 2005 David Howell.
A complete mixed bag of players there, but one thing they ALL have in common from their victories is putting. They all putted out their skins, which on birdie-fest courses may come as little surprise, but still it something we have to consider when making our final picks. However, here is where confusion may set in. You look at DJ’s performance last year – he won by hitting it ridiculously long and was able to consistently attack greens, therefore his GIR stats were a joke. And then he was in the top 10 for putting every day. Awesome golf. Kaymer was inside the top 20 or so for distance and GIR every day whilst he also putted incredibly. BUT Molinari was not long and not particularly accurate with his irons, yet he was inside top 8 for driving accuracy all 4 days and insanely hot with the putter. Basically it’s a hard one to judge!
It would be foolish to discount par 5 specialists, as there are 3 reachable long holes, whilst one is over 600 yards. But we must also look at shorter players because all 4 par 3s measure over 200 yards. On the PGA Tour stats you can easily have a look at the GIR from 175-200 and 200+. Sadly the European Tour doesn’t give us in-depth stats like their Atlantic cousins.
The fairways are of average width and will encourage players to find the centre, especially when you consider there are 4 cuts, meaning the 2nd and potentially 3rd cut are easily manageable, but also because when you look at the greens, you should be wanting a perfect position to attack. There is quite a lot of slope on many of them and it is difficult to judge pace, hence the importance on putting. We are expecting the stimpmeter to read around 11’6″.
There are an abundance of water hazards dotted around the whole course, which will always make for a laugh, so to be fair, we should have a good few days of early morning (or night) golf. As we said the odds are not great, so we can only apologise for what we have had to do this week…
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Charl Schwartzel (40/1 Coral)
Now, on first glance for us to pick Charl Schwartzel when we have banged on about putting may seem slightly bizarre. We have all seen him struggle with the putter in recent times, frustratingly missing tiddlers whilst miraculously holing long ones. Trust us, we have been at the forefront of the pain as well. But last week at the CIMB Classic he was top of the putting stats for the week. When you see something like that from a player who is usually so consistent tee to green, you cannot help but be interested in him for a tournament like this.
Admittedly, he wasn’t actually that great tee to green in his T19 finish, but he will rarely have 2 weeks on the trot where his irons aren’t in full flow. In Perth he was driving it long and straight as he finished T15, whilst also finding himself in the top 20 for putting on all 4 days. That is a winning combination for this track and we do feel in the market, that 35s is reasonable value for a player of this calibre.
We all know about his Masters win back in 2011, but barring that victory, he hasn’t won any other top tournament, all be it he’s come mightily close – we recall most recently the 2012 US Open where that putting did indeed let him down. He really does have every chance on a track that should suit and where he has had good form in the past. A final round 65 propelled him up the 2011 leaderboard into a tie for 4th, whilst in 2008 he finished T6.
Last season he was 41st for GIR 200+, 7th for par 3 birdie or better and 3rd for par 5 birdie or better – all adds to his appeal.
The South African really does have every chance this week with how he’s been putting, let’s just hope he can do it all 4 days.
Jimmy Walker (33/1 Various)
This guy is someone we believe is perfect for this course. Admittedly he struggled last year but considering the amount of events he did win, he couldn’t win them all. Since that purple patch, things have been consistent but no wins have come. He has 3 top 10’s in his last 7 starts, one of which was a 4th in his first start of the year at the Shriners (he was top 20 for both putting and GIR). We also can’t forget his confident showing at the Ryder Cup, an experience that will have given him confidence despite the loss.
We’ve highlighted you need to go low and this guy is one of the best in the business. Was 1st in total birdies in 2014, 4th rounds in the 60’s. The key to Walker when he wins is his putting. He holes everything. So top 20 putting in his last event, T13 in one putt %. A few holes out there will need precision from 200yards+ too. Only McIlroy and Scott were better than Walker in that category last year…
Chris Kirk (55/1 Coral)
Despite not challenging last week, Chris Kirk was in China and playing golf. He’s accustomed to conditions over there and a big trend in recent times is playing the week before a big event. Phil Mickelson knows all about that. So if we discount his performance on the European Tour, his recent form reads 4th, 4th, 36th and 1st. Of course those latter performances were in the play-offs but he’s proven he’s continued that form with the 4th 2 weeks ago.
Ranked 5th in total birdies, 8th rounds in the 60’s, 41st 200+ last year. Also ranked 7th in putting at the McGladrey – he’s in the perfect shape to get plenty of birdies.
Thorbjørn Olesen (80/1 Stan James)
His win a couple of weeks ago in Australia just reminded everyone what this guy is all about. One of the best talents in the game. Despite a couple of strong top 10’s in recent majors, his quality is yet to really shine on the biggest stage. Well with a win under his belt, he couldn’t be striking it better. Followed his win with a consistent performance in China, where he was top 20 for GIR and putts per GIR. For a guy who’s buzzing off a recent win, this is cracking value.
Jonas Blixt (125/1 Stan James)
Has been really consistent the past couple of weeks, something that is a rarity in the Swede’s game. Was T12 putting on his way to a top 10 at the CIMB. Clearly has the game for a big event, 2 top 4’s in his last 5 majors says everything. 125/1 for a guy who’s a proven winner and striking the ball well. We’ll have a bit of that.
Jason Dufner (90/1 Stan James)
A quick bet thrown in at the end. Yes he’s been injured but he feels good with his game and importantly, is putting well (5th last week). The past couple of weeks have been easing him back into things but he’s looked better than that. He’s openly said the injury was much needed to give him a rest and break from the game. Dufner is recharged and well prepared for a big week in China.