I knew how well Hideki Matsuyama was playing entering last week's World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions big-money event in China. He had won two weeks prior at the Japan Open, was second the next week at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur and again had a bit of a home-field advantage competing in Asia for the HSBC Champions. Alas, all that travel I thought would cool him off.
But Matsuyama absolutely deserved the title at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai. It was a star-studded leader board entering the final round, but Matsuyama blew away the field with a 66 to finish at 23 under and win by seven. He made 29 birdies on the week and did not make a bogey in his final 45 holes. His margin of victory was the largest in tournament history.
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One week after becoming the first Japanese player since Jumbo Ozaki in 1998 to reach the Top 10 in the world, the victory moved Matsuyama up to No. 6. Even though he's only 24, Matsuyama already might have to be in the conversation with Hall of Famers Isao Aoki and Ozaki to be considered the greatest Japanese male golfer ever, at least on the PGA Tour. Matsuyama's third PGA Tour-sanctioned victory tied him with Shigeki Maruyama for most by a Japanese player. Matsuyama is the first Asian player to win a WGC event. Wouldn't surprise me if a first major comes in 2017.
I want to quickly touch on American Matt Kuchar from last week. He's a multimillionaire, but a free car is a free car no matter how rich you are. Kuchar had an ace on No. 17 during the tournament, which usually means a new car at the event. But wet conditions forced Kuchar to tee off from a forward tee. Thus because the yardage was below 200 yards, he wasn't eligible, per insurance rules, to win a Cadillac. That's B.S.
I did have Matsuyama at -130 over Justin Thomas (even). I hit on Rory McIlroy at -200 for a Top 10. Thought either McIlroy or Dustin Johnson (T35) would win but also threw some long-shot money on German Martin Kaymer, a former winner of the tournament. But he was T40.
So now we start a three-week PGA Tour schedule of watered-down fields back in North America before a few silly-season events to close the calendar year. It's the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas this week. This event has had many names but has kept this exact one since 2014. Just six of the world's Top 36 players are entered. Team USA Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III makes his first start since being elected to the World Golf Fall of Fame.
The defending champion is Smylie Kaufman. He shot a final-round 10-under 61 last year, one shot off the course record and starting Sunday seven shots back of the lead, to finish at 16 under for his first Tour win. Kaufman played the final 11 holes in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies. He was the 10th first-time winner over the past 14 years in Vegas. Kevin Na, third-round leader Brett Stegmaier, Patton Kizzire, Cameron Tringale, Jason Bohn and Alex Cejka tied for second, a stroke back. Kaufman is a +7500 Bovada long shot to repeat. Only Jim Furyk has done that in the tournament.
Golf Odds: Shriners Hospitals for Children Open Favorites
Las Vegas resident Ryan Moore is the +1600 favorite. He won this tournament in 2012 at 24 under by a shot over Brendon de Jonge. Moore was then T9 the next year but has struggled in the event the past two years. He did play last week in China and was T23.
Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm are +2200. Koepka has been very hit or miss in three trips here with two missed cuts and a T4 (2014). He was T40 last week overseas. Rahm makes his tournament debut. The favorites are rounded out by Chris Kirk, Francesco Molinari, Kevin Na and Scott Piercy, all at +2800. Na won here in 2011.
Golf Odds: Shriners Hospitals for Children Open Picks
For a Top-10 finish, go with Moore (+175), Na (+275) and Jimmy Walker (+350). I like Graeme McDowell at +150 as the top player from Great Britain and Ireland, and Cejka at +800 as the top European. Head-to-head, go with Molinari (-130) over Billy Horschel (even), Moore (-125) over Koepka (-105), Kirk (-110) over Rahm (-120), and Piercy (-120) over Na (-110).
Since I liked Na for a Top 10, I must like Piercy even better since I'm taking him to beat Na head-to-head. And Piercy is my winner (he has three Tour victories in his career, last the 2015 Barbasol). He didn't play well last week in China but had back-to-back Top 10s the previous two events. He's also a Las Vegas resident with three Top 10s in this event, most recently a T7 in 2014. I actually wish one of the books would post Las Vegas guys vs. the field prop as I believe one of them wins it. Perhaps you can request it.
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