We had a solid week of picks at the CIMB Classic, with Justin Thomas leading the way to back-to-back wins in Malaysia, and our other top picks performing well. There should be a lot of form carrying over into this field, and players who don't have to travel far to China should have a slight edge over the others.
This week, we head to Shanghai for the WGC-HSBC Champions. The field is headlined by Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, and Sergio Garcia. It's important to note that for the 2nd consecutive week, we have a no-cut event, so target the birdie makers. We have some decent course history to draw upon, since the event has been played at this course – Sheshan International – six of the past seven years. I'm leaning heavily on course horses this week.
The course is a tree-lined par-72 track that measures just over 7,200 yards, so it isn't the longest course players see. There's water in play throughout the course, so the big numbers can definitely pop up. Although everything should point towards accuracy (as last year's leaderboard did), we've seen bombers like Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson win here. There are four par-5s that are pretty tame, which is likely why those bombers had success. For example, when Bubba Watson won this event at -11, he was -14 for those par-5 holes. The fairways and tees are seashore paspallum grass, which should be comfortable for those players who primarily play in Asia, while the greens are Bentgrass.
Several other things to note about the course: Scrambling, and especially putting, seems to be very important. Players can find some trouble off the tee, and there is water in play on eleven holes at Sheshan International. I'll definitely be targeting some of the better putters in this field. Also, if you look at the previous winners of this event, the common thread is pedigree: Russell Knox, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer, Francesco Molinari, and Phil Mickelson. In a no-cut event especially, a stars-and-scrubs roster construction is definitely the way to go.
What stats are we looking towards this week?
Birdie or Better % (BoB%):
There are really not many weeks where we aren't going to target birdie or better percentage, because that's what fantasy golf scoring is all about. Guys like Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Thomas Pieters, and Rafa Cabrera-Bello come to mind in this week's field when targeting birdie makers who will benefit from the no-cut format. It's possible to have a player finish top-10 in fantasy points while not finishing anywhere close to the top-10 in the actual event.
Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee (SG:OTT):
You can really target driving distance alone, but I also wanted to target some accuracy metrics, as well. Last year, players hit 80% of the greens from the fairway, while only hitting 50% from the rough. Certain bombers can overcome those stats because they hit it far enough that they'll have wedges in their hands anyways. However, SG:OTT stats actually point towards the bombers anyways, while allowing certain shorter hitters to pop, too. In 2016, the top-10 in SG:OTT were: Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, J.B. Holmes, Ryan Palmer, Jason Kokrak, Andrew Landry, and Boo Weekley. That's 7-8 bombers, and a couple tacticians.
Par 5 Scoring (P5):
I expect the winning score this week to be around -15, with the bulk of that scoring coming from the par-5s. When Bubba Watson won here, he finished -11 for the tournament but was -14 on the par-5s. Even a shorter hitter like Russell Knox was -8 on the par-5s last year, so scoring there is crucial to success this week. Although I always target bombers who have great par-5 averages (Rory, DJ, Brooks, JT), I'm also looking at elite wedge players.
Strokes Gained Around the Green (SG:ATG):
I think all short game metrics, including putting, are super important this week. While putting is very volatile, I would definitely look at players who perform better on Bentgrass greens. I'm also going to target players who are elite scramblers. The SG:ATG metric covers all of these aspects of the short game. There were a ton of missed greens last year at this event, and I expect the same this year. A few names show up when cross-referencing those two lists: Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, and Charl Schwartzel.
1. RORY MCILROY [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #3
He's been experimenting with TaylorMade equipment, and from what I've been reading, he's absolutely mashing their drivers. Although he hasn't won at Sheshan yet, he's finished 11th, 6th, 4th, 5th, and 4th in his five appearances. When we're looking at par-5 scorers, bombers, and scramblers, few check those boxes as well as Rory.
2. DUSTIN JOHNSON [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #2
As usual, the issue with DJ is motivation. He was just named player of the year, won the Ryder Cup, has had some time off, and well…do we think his game is sharp? Personally, I don't, and I would lean towards drafting Rory ahead of Dustin, but you really can argue either way. However, DJ ranks 1st in my statistical model this week, by a wide margin, and he's a former winner at this venue in 2013.
3. ADAM SCOTT [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #6
Besides Paul Casey, Scott comes into Sheshan in the best form of the field, including a sneaky top-10 last week. Although his course history is pretty poor, I love Scott this week. Scott ranked 1st last year in strokes gained, 9th in birdie or better %, and 13th in driving distance. He's exactly the type of player I'm targeting this week.
4. HIDEKI MATSUYAMA [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #13
Finally cracked the top-10 in the world rankings, which was much overdue. Hideki contended last weekend after winning in Japan the previous week, so he's very comfortable playing in this part of the world. With him, it's all about the putter because he is near the top of every relevant ball-striking stat there is.
5. JUSTIN THOMAS [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #35
I still think Thomas is going to be overlooked and under-appreciated this week. He's now priced near the top of a stacked field with tons of elite options, people don't love to roster players coming off a win, and Thomas (the defending champion) was still just 13% owned in most contests. Put that all together with his mediocre 27th place finish a year ago and I think you'll get a lower-owned JT than expected. He is a birdie maker and crushes par-5s, so there's really no reason to fade him here.