A WGC event combined with the PGA TOUR already being in Asia suggests we have a stellar field for this week's HSBC Champions in China.
The good news for gamers is that, after no course form last week and little in supply at the CJ CUP, we have a bank of previous results to assess at Sheshan International GC.
It's been an official PGA TOUR event since 2013 and, adding in European Tour tournaments played there, it's been used every year since 2005 apart from the 2012 edition, won by Ian Poulter, that was contested at Mission Hills.
Looking at past winners, it's a decorated list. We've seen Phil Mickelson win at Sheshan twice, while Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Hideki Matsuyama, Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Martin Kaymer and Rose have all lifted the trophy there,
Both return this year, as does Open champion Shane Lowry.
Sheshan International Golf Club
Designed by Robin Nelson and Neil Haworth, Sheshan is a tree-lined track with bentgrass greens. There are plenty of water hazards (the wet stuff is in play on 11 holes) with the 16th and 17th played over a water-filled quarry. On the card, it's a par 72 measuring 7,261 yards with a closing par 5 of just 538.
Past winners, winning scores and stats
2018 Xander Schauffele (DD: NA, DA: 77, GIR: 20, Scr: 1, PA: 4, AA: 12)
2017 Justin Rose (DD: NA, DA: 29, GIR: 3, Scr: 42, PA: 7, AA: 8)
2016 Hideki Matsuyama -23 (DD: NA, DA: 43, GIR: 10, Scr: 9, PA: 1, AA: 8)
2015 Russell Knox -20 (DD: 54, DA: 5, GIR: 9, Scr: 31, PA: 6, AA: 1)
2014 Bubba Watson -11 (DD: 1, DA: 16, GIR: 18, Scr: 17, PA: 18, AA: 4)
2013 Dustin Johnson -24 (DD: NA, DA: 13, GIR: 1, Scr: 23, PA: 1, AA: 1)
2012 Ian Poulter -21 (played at Mission Hills)
2011 Martin Kaymer -20 (DD: 19, DA: 29, GIR: 10, Scr: 3, PA: 4, AA: 2)
2010 Francesco Molinari -19 (DD: NA, DA: 7, GIR: 23, Scr: 2, PA: 2, AA: 1)
2009 Phil Mickelson -17 (DD: 5, DA: 71, GIR: 20, Scr: 1, PA: 15, AA: 5)
Notes: Eight of the ten tournament winners were veterans of either the Ryder or Presidents Cup, suggesting classy types are required (even the exception - Russell Knox - has twice come mighty close to the Ryder Cup). Five of them hailed from Europe but big-hitting Americans have certainly flourished in this event too.
Rory McIlroy (2018): "I feel like it's a good golf course for me. Traditional par 72, four par 5s, a couple of drivable par 4s, so with my lengthy feel like I can take advantage of that."
Francesco Molinari (2018): "I like the greens here, which is good for me. I know some courses, I seem to struggle every year on the greens. Here, I've putted well in the past and I seem to read the lines well in the past, so that gives me confidence. I think this is a course where you need to, you know, hit it straight, as well. You can't just hit it all over the course."
Justin Rose (2018): "I think the par 5s are key this week. No. 2, for example, and No. 18 is also a pretty narrow tee shot. No. 8 is a very intimidating tee shot. So if you can be brave off the tee on the par 5s, I feel like there's quite a bit of an advantage to be had. I think that's why guys like Dustin and Brooks and myself, we've played well on this golf course before because we drive the ball pretty well generally."
Notes: Winner Xander Schauffele played the Par 5s (-6) better than anyone else last year. Third-placed Rose was ranked T2 in that category. Matsuyama also topped the Par 5 stats when winning in 2016.
After the chaos in Japan, it looks much more settled in China. It's sunshine mixed with cloud, and temps in the high 70s all week. Winds look fairly light too although they could pick up a little (11mph) for Sunday's closer.
The Leading Contenders
It's an eighth visit to Sheshan for Rory and he's finished in the top six in five of them and outside the top 11 just once (T54 last year). He's yet to have a top three however. T3 was the position he occupied in last week's ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP and he actually went two shots lower than winner Tiger Woods over the final 54 holes. A decent start here and McIlroy could be hard to stop.
Third at the CJ CUP, second in his home ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, it would certainly be a neat sequence if Matsuyama could could complete the PGA TOUR's three-week Asian Swing with a '1'. His course form is a little curious. He scored a dominant seven-shot victory here in 2016 but his next best result in five other appearances is last year's tied 30th. Ranked 1st for Putting Average in Japan last week.
T46 on debut in 2017 and then took the title 12 months ago with 14-under after winning an all-American play-off with Tony Finau. Since finishing runner-up at the TOUR Championship (an event he'd won in 2017), Schauffele has played just twice but that includes T10 in Japan last week where he produced some solid numbers. No surprises if he's in the thick of contention again.
Another former winner, Rose took the silverware in 2017 after holding off DJ, Koepka and Stenson by two. Added third place when defending last year and has four top sevens in five appearances so the Englishman is definitely filed under 'course horse'. Current form solid enough but he hasn't finished higher than T8 in eight starts since the U.S. Open although that run includes four top 15s.
Has made 12 starts at Sheshan and a WD after 54 holes in 2009 is his only non-top 25. Five times he's been in the top ten. A winner on the European Tour in Germany last month, he shot all four rounds in the 60s for T17 in Japan last week, ranking third for GIR.
The Swede told us how bad his game was ahead of the Houston Open and whether that was self-fulfilling or just brutal honesty he missed the cut. A run of 17-3-27-20 prior to that suggested he was coming into his usual good form at this part of the year but it remains to be seen. Gamers have a course form vs current form dilemma now as he's finished runner-up in this event for the last two years and was T11 in 2016.
The Englishman was T5 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the end of September but has lacked sparkle on the Asian Swing with T22 in Japan and T20 in Korea. He's had five starts at Sheshan and, after a solid run of 18-24-30-20, finally cracked the top ten last year when T7. Impressive GIR numbers but needs the putter to heat up.
After back-to-back top tens in Scotland and Las Vegas (T10 Alfred Dunhill Links and T9 at the Shriners), Finau had a rare off week in Japan, finishing way down in T59. If we give him a pass there, he has to be in the crosshairs having finished T11 and runner-up in two starts in this event. He'll certainly enjoy the more open spaces after the narrow corridors in Japan and ranks third in Par 5 Scoring on the European Tour this season.
A runner-up at the Sanderson Farms, Im slightly fluffed his lines on home soil when T39 in the CJ CUP (he'd won on the Korean Tour the previous week) but he bounced back with 64-67-65 over the last three rounds to take tied third at the ZOZO (strong short-game figures). It's his debut at Sheshan which adds a little uncertainty.
The globetrotting American is lining up here for the sixth straight year. T22 on debut, he's been boom or bust since, with 7-60-50-7. Reed, a European Tour member, played three times there in September, finding his feet as the trip went on (36-15-4) and overcame a poor start to take T17 in the ZOZO. Can go low at Sheshan (has fired a 66 or lower in each of the last four editions).