PGA, European tours meet in China

Some players on the PGA Tour are trying to get a quick start in the season-long chase for the FedEx Cup in the early events on the 2015-16 schedule.

Over on the European Tour, the leaders in the Race to Dubai are jockeying for position down the stretch in the Final Series, which started last week with the Turkish Airlines Open.

You will see plenty of players in both categories this week in the WGC-HSBC Champions, which is sanctioned by both major tours.

The tournament at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China, almost shapes up like a big event in the middle of the season with top-ranked Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, defending champion Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott of Australia, Martin Kaymer of Germany and Dustin Johnson in the field.

“I have had a great year, and I can’t think of a better way to round it off than winning the WGC-HSBC Champions,” said Fowler, who captured the Players Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship on the PGA Tour, plus the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in the Euro Tour this year.

“I came pretty close last year, finishing third, and I am really looking forward to playing the Sheshan course again. I really enjoy traveling and especially to China, where the fans create a really special atmosphere, and I have enjoyed my time in Shanghai in the past and look forward to visiting again this year.”

As terrific a year as he has had, Fowler got off a bit of a slow start. He waited until February to get going and had some catching up to do in the FedEx Cup standings, in which he eventually finished fourth.

He altered his strategy for the new season, playing two weeks ago in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, where he tied for 25th as the highest-ranked player in the field at fifth in the world.

“Well, I felt like I started a little bit behind the 8-ball last year with not playing many events until the start of the real calendar year, and so with China being really the only one that I had planned on with it being a World Golf Championship, I wanted to try and fit at least one more in,” said Fowler, who also is expected to play again next month in Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

“I think the main goal (this season) is to win (my first) major and to continue winning. … Last year was the least I’ve played throughout the year, so I’m still kind of tweaking my schedule year to year. I’ll probably play a little bit more this year going into the ’16 season, but yeah, the time management side is big. You don’t want to play too much, but you don’t want to play too little.”

Stenson, who is playing in the HSBC Champions for the sixth time, learned that lesson in 2013, after he became the only player to win the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai in the same year.

The big Swede said he was so worn out that he couldn’t even enjoy Christmas. Although he has had his moments since, he still has not been able to get back to the level that took him to No. 2 in the World Golf Rankings.

“I am starting to feel really good about my game and am definitely ready to win again,” said Stenson, whose last victory came in the 2014 DP World Tour Championship-Dubai, winning the Euro Tour finale for the second straight time last November. “The last few times at the WGC-HSBC Champions I’ve finished in the middle of the pack, so I am definitely looking to get on the leaderboard again this year.

“I haven’t played too much golf this summer and am feeling as fresh as I have felt ahead of this part of the season. HSBC puts on a fantastic event, and having attended the very first one in 2005, it is pretty cool to see how far both the tournament and Chinese golf has come in the last decade.”

Stenson, who started the Final Series at No. 16 in the Race to Dubai standings, has some work to do to catch McIlroy, who is trying to win it for the third time in the past four years.

There are several other sub-plots this week, none bigger than McIlroy starting his bid to regain the No. 1 world ranking after being overshadowed by Spieth, Fowler and Jason Day of Australia this year.

With so many of the main characters in China, it is almost a preview of what figures to be another fascinating year in 2016.

–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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