By Tom LaMarre
The third and final week of the PGA Tour’s swing through Asia probably can’t match the excitement generated last Sunday when Tiger Woods claimed his record-tying 82nd PGA Tour victory, but the WGC-HSBC Champions has become a tournament the top golfers love to play despite the long trip.
Another one of the Tour’s great champions, Phil Mickelson, is the only two-time winner of the tournament that is played at Sheshan International Golf Club www.sheshangolf.com/en/ in Shanghai, China, and Lefty is back to go for three this week.
“It is fantastic to see how this event has grown over the years into one of the most prestigious events in the world,” said Mickelson, who won the tournament in 2007 and 2009. “ … I feel very proud to have been able to play a small part in growing the game in China and, with every visit, I take the time to admire and appreciate the obvious development in terms of golfers and golfing opportunities.
“I congratulate both the CGA and HSBC for ensuring the grassroots structure was in place to support and capitalize on all the benefits of hosting a World Golf Championships. I hope to play some inspiring golf next week as I try to claim my third title at Sheshan.”
Defending champion Xander Schauffele (pictured), an American whose Chinese-speaking mother accompanied him to Shanghai when he won the title last year, has continued to build his resume since beating Tony Finau in a playoff to claim his second PGA Tour victory.
The 26-year-old Schauffele went on to win the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, tied for second in the Masters, tied for third in the U.S. Open, and is ninth in the World Golf Rankings.
“Winning my first World Golf Championships at the HSBC Champions last year in front of my family was amazing,” said Schauffele, who finished second behind Rory McIlroy in the 2018-19 FedEx Cup standings.
“Coming through such a world-class field definitely gave me the confidence to know that I can deliver in the big pressure moments so I am really looking forward to attempting my first successful title defense in Shanghai. It was an unbelievable field last year, but I think this year sounds like it is going to be even stronger.”
Also in the field are the second-ranked McIlroy, eight-ranked Justin Rose of England, No. 11 Francesco Molinari of Italy, No. 12 Paul Casey of England, No. 14 Finau, No. 16 Adam Scott of Australia, No. 17 Patrick Reed, No. 19 Shane Lowry of Ireland, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter of England, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Sergio Garcia of Spain, Keegan Bradley, Danny Willett of England Kevin Na, Sungjae Im of South Korea and Lucas Glover.
The field would be even stronger but top-ranked Brooks Koepka was forced to withdraw because he aggravated a left knee injury earlier this month.
In addition to Mickleson and Schauffele, former HSBC champions playing this week include Rose, Molinari, Matsuyama, Watson, Garcia and Poulter.
The elite, 78-player field includes 15 major champions, all trying to win what has become known as “Asia’s Major.”
- Xander Schuaffele, United States – The defending champion claimed his first WGC title by beating Tony Finau with a birdie on the first playoff hole. Schauffele went on to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions and post six top-10 results to finish second in the FedEx Cups standings. He tied for 10th last week in the Zozo Championship in Japan.
- Rory McIlory, Northern Ireland – The defending FedEx Cup champion opened his PGA Tour season by finishing with 65-63-67 to tie for third in the Zozo Championship. McIlroy won the 2014 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the 2015 WGC-Match Play, and finished fourth three times in eight appearances in the WGC-HSBC Champions.
- Justin Rose, England – The 2017 WGC-HSBC Champions winner finished two shots ahead of Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson. Rose also claimed a second WGC title in 2012 Cadillac Championship. He won 2019 Farmers Insurance Open for his 10th PGA Tour victory and is making his first start in the new season.
- Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – Chased Tiger Woods all the way to the finish last week at home in the Zozo Championship before finished three strokes back in solo second. Matsuyama rolled to a seven-stroke victory over Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger in the 2016 WGC-HSBC Champions. He also won the 2017 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
- Francesco Molinari, Italy – Held on for a one-stroke victory over Lee Westwood in 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions and has four other top-10 finishes in the WGC events, the latest third in the 2019 WGC-Dell Match Play. Molinari, who captured the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational, tied for 23rd in only start of the new season in the Safeway Open.
- Kevin Na, United States – With victories in each of the last three years on the PGA Tour and four in all, Na is looking for his first WGC title. He tied for ninth in the 2015 WGC-Mexico Championship and reached the quarterfinals of the 2019.WGC-Match Play. Na won the Shriners this month and is fourth in the early FedEx Cup standings.
- Shane Lowry, Ireland – The Open champion claimed his only WGC title when he beat Bubba Watson by two strokes in the 2015 Bridgestone Invitational for his first PGA Tour victory. Lowry, who tied for 13th in the Zozo Championship last week, has played in the WGC-HSBC Champions on five occasions and his best result was a tie for 23rd in 2016.
- Kevin Kisner, United States – One of Kisner’s three PGA Tour titles came earlier this year in the WGC-Dell Techonolgies Match Play, where he beat Matt Kuchar in the final, 3 and 2. He also came close when he finished second to Russell Knox in the 2015 HSBC Champions and when he lost to Bubba Watson in the final of the 2018 WGC-Match Play.
- Ian Poulter, England – His second WGC title came when he beat Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Jason Dufner and Scott Piercy by two shots in 2012 HSBC Champions. Two years earlier, Poulter defeated Paul Casey, 4 and 2, in the final of the WGC-Match Play. Tied tied for 16th in CJ Cup and tied for 13th in Zozo Championship the last two weeks.
- Bubba Watson, United States – The two-time Masters champion also has won two WGC titles, the first when he beat Tim Clark with a birdie on the first playoff hole in the 2014 HSBC Champions. Bubba also won the 2018 WGC-Dell Match Play with a 7 and 6 rout of Kevin Kisner. He also has recorded four runner-up finishes in the WGC events.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH – Phil Mickelson, United States; Adam Scott, Australia; Sergio Garcia, Spain; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Tony Finau, United States; Henrik Stenson, Sweden; Paul Casey, England; Patrick Reed, United States; Corey Conners, Canada; Sungjae Im, South Korea.
- Kurt Kitayama, United States – The former UNLV star won 2018 Afr-Asia Bank Mauritime Open and 2019 Oman Open on the Euro Tour and is 12th in Race to Dubai.
- Haotong Li, China – Has six victories as a pro, including two on the European Tour and three on the PGA Tour China. Is 23rd in the Euro Tour’s Race to Dubai this season.
- Jazz Janewattananond, Thailand – Has eight pro victories at age 23, including the Singapore Open and the Kolon Korea Open this year to lead Asian Tour Order of Merit.
- Andrew Putnam, United States – Winner of 2018 Barracuda Championship has tied for 18th in Shriners and tied for 20th in CJ Cup this season. Also T-4 in the 2018 HSBC.
- Zander Lombard, South Africa – The 24-year-old captured the 2018-19 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit after claiming his first professional victory in the Vodacom Origins.
For first-round tee times visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html