It’s a tremendous field this week at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions event, perhaps the best group we will see the rest of 2012. Seven of the Top 10 in the world are playing on the Mission Hills Golf Course in Guangdong, China. However, golf fans and bettors will notice two big names who aren’t here: Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
I’m not really sure why they aren’t competing (actually Rory is watching girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play). Both played last week, with Tiger finishing T4 at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and McIlroy finishing second to Peter Hanson at the European Tour’s BMW Masters in China. Tiger and Rory faced off Monday in a one-on-one exhibition match, no doubt fueled by seven-figure checks, also in China. McIlroy shot a 5-under 67 to beat Woods by one stroke in the 18-hole match. It was the first time they had played head-to-head without other competitors.
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McIlroy is attempting to join Luke Donald as the only players to win the money list title on the PGA and European Tours, the latter called the Race to Dubai. McIlroy already won the American version and leads Hanson by around $1 million on the European Tour list. Hanson would overtake McIlroy with a victory again this week. The Swede has now won twice in his last three European Tour appearances and is the fifth multiple winner of 2012 on that Tour. The Race to Dubai winner receives The Harry Vardon Trophy, a $1 million bonus and a seven-year European Tour exemption. McIlroy has finished second in that Race to Dubai in both 2009 and last year. There are four events remaining after the HSBC Champions (McIlroy will play in Singapore next week).
This will be the first time playing competitively for some members of the American Ryder Cup team – Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley -- and the irony is that this tournament is played on the Olazabal course, so named after European Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who designed it. Hanson, incidentally, said he has been extra motivated of late because Olazabal only played Hanson once before the singles at the Ryder Cup. Hanson was pulled out of the Saturday afternoon fourballs just 15 minutes before he was due to tee off. He and Olazabal have since buried the hatchet. Nine of Hanson’s European Ryder Cup teammates played last week and several are again in this one.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer is the defending champion of this event. He had a whopping nine birdies on his final 12 holes on Sunday for a 9-under 63 and a three-shot victory. It was the largest comeback (five shots) in the final round of any WGC event, and his 63 was the lowest final round by a winner since the WGC series began in 1999. This is the first time this event has taken place at Mission Hills as it was held the previous seven years at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.
Mission Hills has hosted the World Cup in 1995, 2007, 2008 and 2009. The Olazabal course is one of 12 tracks in the Mission Hills complex, qualifying it at the world's largest golf complex according to the PGA Tour. At 7,320 yards, the par-72 is the longest of the 12. It features fives par 3s and five par 5s, three of each on its front nine.
Golf Odds: WGC-HSBC Champions Favorites
Donald is the 10/1 favorite at Bovada. He didn’t play this tournament a year ago as his wife was about to give birth. Donald last played this tournament in 2010, finishing T3. He was also third at the BMW Masters a week ago.
Justin Rose is next at 12/1. The Englishman was T6 last week at the BMW Masters, his 12th Top-10 finish in the world this year. Rose closed his PGA Tour season with a runner-up at the Tour Championship. He has played this event once, finishing T7 last year.
Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood round out the Top-5 favorites at 16/1. Johnson closed his PGA Tour season with Top 10s in all four FedEx Cup events, the only player to do so. This will be his first trip to this tournament. Poulter was crazy good in the Ryder Cup, going 4-0 and finished a solid 13th last week. Poulter seems to like playing in Asia as two of his European Tour wins have come there. He has played this tournament every year, but he has yet to have a Top-10 finish. Westwood was good in the first three events of the FedEx Cup but finished dead last in the Tour Championship. He was T14 last week. Westwood has played this tournament five times and has been runner-up twice.
Golf Odds: WGC-HSBC Champions Picks
Mickelson is the only two-time winner of this tournament, in 2009 and ’07 (in the latter, beating Westwood and Ross Fisher in a playoff). He hasn’t played a tournament since the Tour Championship and is 18/1.
On the Top-10 props, go “yes” on Donald (-130), Westwood (+125), Rose (+115) and Johnson (+135). “No” on Mickelson (-200), Bradley (-350) and CIMB Classic winner Nick Watney (-275).
My pick to win is Louis Oosthuizen at 25/1 (also +165 to finish in Top 10). He finished T6 last week, his fifth Top-6 finish in his past nine worldwide starts. Oosthuizen has two European Tour wins this year, including in Asia back in April (Maybank Malaysian Open). He was T7 at this tournament in 2011.
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