Ride the Hot Hand with Brooks Koepka at the WGC-HSBC Champions
DFS preview and picks for the WGC-HSBC Champions
Course: Sheshan Golf Club (Shanghai, China)
Yardage: 7,261 - Par 72
Purse : $ 10 M
Field: 78 Players
Recent WGC-HSBC Champions
Brooks Koepka went out and dominated the CJ Cup the way Americans wished he would have done last month at the Ryder Cup. Koepka was able to survive two early bogeys and a charge from Gary Woodland by shooting a 64 with a 29 on the finishing nine. Koepka dismantled Nine Bridges with his booming drives, a clean approach game and a putter that got hotter as the pressure mounted. The one time Koepka faltered on the back nine, after missing the 16th green, he promptly chipped it in from about 70 feet away for birdie. The win means that Koepka will surpass his good friend Dustin Johnson as the new number one golfer in the world, making him the third different player to hold the ranking since early September. He may not show up every single week, but when he does, it’s nearly impossible to keep him off of a lead. The one knock on him to this point was that he only seems to show up in majors. Perhaps this is the year that Brooks Koepka puts a stranglehold on the world rankings by winning more than just majors. Or maybe the number one ranking will simply keep switching amongst the hottest of a half-dozen or so players. The latter is more realistic, but either way, Brooks Koepka will be in that conversation for a long time.
The Asian swing makes its final stop in Shanghai, China for the WGC-HSBC Champions. The fourth and final WGC event on the 2018 calendar, or the first WGC event for the 2018-19 golf calendar, this event is a bit different from the other WGC events in terms of who is qualified to play. As usual, if you’re Top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking or have won a major or a WGC event, you get an invite. Additionally, there are money list leaders that are invited from a variety of Tours that include the Asian Tour, the Japanese Tour, the Australasian Tour and the Sunshine Tour. There are also six of China’s top players who will be in field.
Let’s talk about the players in the field that we’ll be focusing on this week. The top three players in the world—Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose—will headline this week’s field. A good handful of big names will enter the WGC field in Jon Rahm, Francesco Molinari, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Jason Day, Tommy Fleetwood, Tony Finau, Paul Casey and Hideki Matsuyama. The majority of the Top 50 world ranked players will also tee it up this week with Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Patrick Cantlay, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Xander Schauffele, Kyle Stanley, Branden Grace, Brandt Snedeker, Ian Poulter, Cameron Smith, Thorbjorn Olesen, Kevin Na, Emiliano Grillo, Adam Hadwin, Brian Harman, Tyrrell Hatton, Charley Hoffman, Billy Horschel, Keegan Bradley, Alex Noren, Eddie Pepperell, Adam Scott, Byeong Hun-An, Satoshi Kodaira and Kiradech Aphibarnrat. So most of the Top 50 will be in attendance, making this a very strong field. Enjoy this week while you can, because we won’t see a field with this many top players until at least the Farmers Insurance Open in January, unless you count Tiger Wood’s Hero Challenge, which only has an 18-man field.
The field will gather at Sheshan Golf Club in Shanghai, China for the 14th edition of the tournament. Sheshan Golf Club was the first golf course built in the Shanghai region. Built in 2004, the course winds its way through 1,000 year old Gingko trees, manmade waterways and a natural quarry. Elevation changes highlight the challenge of playing here. With elevation change comes a lot of guesswork on club selection, meaning you must be very confident in your ball striking and ability to judge playing distance. When hitting a drive or approach from a much higher elevation than your target, any slight miss is magnified because of the amount of time the ball is in the air. Because of that I am valuing strokes gained: off-the-tee and strokes gained: approach for my picks this week. Sheshan is known to have some very deep rough, so you want players with a good scrambling game to keep them in contention if the driver is a little off. Sheshan has four scoreable Par 5s and three Par 3s measuring over 190 yards, so length off the tee can certainly be an advantage here (driving distance). Winning and contending scores here hover around the 20-under range, with Dustin Johnson setting the tournament record at -24 in his 2013 win. In tournaments with annually low scores, you’ll need to roster players who can make birdies (per round).
WGC-HSBC Champions DFS Picks
Brooks Koepka ($11,000) Although, he’s fresh off his win at the CJ Cup, I think Koepka is really out to prove something this year, which will keep him focused this week. With three majors in the last two years, it may seem that Koepka doesn’t have anything to prove in the golf world. But stories about Koepka going unrecognized continue to surface and it seems like the world number one golfer is sick of living in the shadows of his good friend Dustin Johnson. Koepka’s length should help him a lot at Sheshan this week as well, and his game seems to be back in top form again. A non-major win should be no reason for Koepka to be over-celebratory this week, and I think he’ll be focused on beating a much stronger, almost major-like field. In addition to that, Koepka will have to play well enough to keep his number one ranking in the world. Johnson and Justin Rose (no. two and three in the world) are both in the field this week, so Koepka will have to step up if he wants that number one ranking for more than one week.
Jon Rahm ($9,300) Speaking of having something to prove, you can make the case that Rahm has had a disappointing 2018. After winning the CareerBuilder Challenge last January, which was basically a Web.Com field, Rahm has been winless over the last nine months and was somewhat inconsistent. He reminded everyone in America what he could do after beating Tiger Woods in a crucial Ryder Cup match last month in France. Rahm should be built well for this course. He’s one of the longest hitters on Tour and is built for these 20-under Texas shootout style tournaments. Rahm was both third in strokes gained: off-the-tee and third in birdies last season, only behind Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson, who won a combined five tournaments during the 2017-18 PGA Tour season.
Cameron Smith ($8,200) The 25-year old Aussie is playing some good golf lately and hoping to make the next step this season. Smith finished T22 at the CIMB and T7 at the CJ Cup last week. At the CJ Cup, Smith ranked as the second-best scrambler, but was 72nd in putting on holes where he hit the green in regulation. He also poured in two eagles last week, showing he could really attack Sheshan’s Par 5s. Smith is playing some very good golf early in the season and can make it a great start with a better putting effort this week.
Emiliano Grillo ($7,500) Grillo is the Argentinian version of Cameron Smith. He’s young and super talented, but still has some work to do to fill out his full potential. He showed that potential two weeks ago at the CIMB, where he made 26 birdies and just five bogeys on his way to a T2 finish. Grillo has few weaknesses in his game, and should be able to rack up the birdies this week in Shanghai. Grillo and Smith have some work to do in order to catch up to the other stars in their age group that include Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.
Julian Suri ($7,000) Julian Suri is somewhat of a sleeper that I like this week. We don’t get to see a lot Suri since he plays most of his professional golf overseas, but he’s a free-swinging long-bomber with a great iron game. Suri is the rare American who decided to go and play on the European Tour rather than trying to gain PGA Tour status through the American channels. This may be the year where he breaks through and gains enough non-member FedEx Cup points to join the PGA Tour full-time. At just 7K, there may not be a player with more upside in this price range than Suri. If you’re looking for validation of his talent, he finished T28 and T19 in the Open and PGA Championship last year, respectively.
Brian Harman ($6,700) Ho Hum, Brian Harman gets underpriced as always. Harman had a Jekyll and Hyde week at the CJ Cup with two solid rounds and two very poor ones. Harman at $6,700 is a steal, as he always has a realistic chance to make his way into the Top 10. He finished eighth at the HSBC Champions last season even with a final round 74. If he had finished a little bit better we may have been talking about the reigning champion. What Harman gives up in distance off-the-tee, he makes up in accuracy, and he should be able to work that formula into success for the second year in a row.
Note: With the Tournament in China remember to get your lineups locked in by 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
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