The people of Japan were treated to quite the tournament last week, as they saw golf legend Tiger Woods win the Zozo Championship. Even better, Japanese native Hideki Matsuyama was in contention all week. It was a thrilling narrative for the crowd, as Woods was able to capture his 82nd career Tour victory. This total is second only to golf icon Sam Snead. Woods began the tournament with three straight bogeys but rallied to finish at 19-under and take home the trophy. Any time Tiger Woods wins it brings added excitement to the game. The next leg of the Asian swing will be tough to compare to the one we just witnessed.
The PGA Tour will now head to Shanghai, China for the WGC-HSBC Champions Tournament. This is the first of four World Golf Championships this season. Similar to the last two events on the Asian swing, it will be a no-cut event featuring 78 PGA Tour players and six Chinese players. Atop the betting board we see Rory McIlroy as the heavy favorite (+600). Following McIlroy is Hideki Matsuyama (+1200), defending champion Xander Schaufelle (+1600), and Justin Rose (+1800). This is a very stacked field, and we will look for some value down the board.
Played at Shanhai International Golf Club (West), this is an annual event with lots of course history. The course will play as a par 72 and is 7,261 yards long. Featuring bentgrass greens for the third straight event, golfers should feel comfortable here. Similar to last week, the course features tree-lined fairways with medium-sized widths. However, this course played extremely difficult last year due to the many hazards in play. There are plenty of bunkers and water hazards scattered throughout the course. Ball-striking will be crucial this week, as well as long iron proximity. Three of the four par 5s are over 550 yards, and all four of the par 3s measure over 200 yards.
- Strokes Gained: Ball Striking
- Par-5 scoring
- Bogey Avoidance
- Strokes gained: approach (>200 yards)
- Performance on bentgrass greens
Best Bets to Win
Sungjae Im (+3500 on DraftKings Sportsbook)
Avoiding the heavy favorites this week to find value immediately points to a young phenom who has yet to win on Tour. Sungjae is a remarkable talent who is coming off a T3 finish at the Zozo Championship last week. Even more impressive, Im finished the tournament shooting rounds of 64, 67, and 65 (14-under!). He once again sets up well at this course as he crushes par 5s and is an accurate driver.
In my custom model, Im ranks sixth in par 5 scoring. There are four par 5s this week that measure over 550 yards, so scoring well on these is a must. Ranking 33rd in strokes gained: off-the-tee, he has an excellent balance of driving distance and accuracy. 14th in bogey avoidance, Im should be able to make pars if the course plays difficult. Now with both a second and a third place finish in his last five events, this could be the week Im makes his big breakthrough.
Ian Poulter (+5500 on DraftKings Sportsbook)
Getting Ian Poulter at 55/1 is a nice number for several reasons. He has plenty of experience at this course for one, as he played here three times in the last five years and has finished has high as sixth. Poulter is also in excellent form of late, as he has two straight top-20 finishes.
What gets me hopeful for Poulter’s chances this week is the way he finished the Zozo Championship. Shooting rounds of 64 and 66 on the weekend catapulted Poulter up to 13th place last week. If he can carry this form into next week he will certainly have a chance.
While not long off the tee, Poulter is a supremely accurate ball-striker. He sneakily ranks 12th in par 5 scoring in this field and is very elite with his long irons. Consistently one of the best putters on Tour, Poulter just needs to stay hot on the greens and use his “bulldog” mentality to his advantage this week.