Keegan Bradley leads the WGC-HSBC Champions after an opening 7-under 65. A victory would be his third on the PGA Tour this season and could lead to being named 2011 player of the year. But does anyone need a win more than Bradley? GolfChannel.com writers give their players for whom this is the biggest week.
By RANDALL MELL
Keegan Bradley could cause some mayhem in PGA Tour Player of the Year voting with his fast start at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
The Tour might receive a lot of messy ballots with one name (Luke Donald) scratched out and another (Bradley) added if Bradley goes on to win this weekend. He may even cause a felony or two with players trying to dig their ballots out of corner mail boxes.
I thought Donald locked up the award with his clutch finish at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at Disney World two weeks ago, but Bradley’s got me re-evaluating. If he wins, it’s another clutch performance, a really impressive response to a really impressive statement by Donald at Disney.
If Bradley wins, he separates himself from all the other player-of-the-year candidates as not only the lone guy with three PGA Tour victories in 2011, but also as the only realistic candidate with a major championship title this season. If Bradley wins this week, he’s beating some big names. He's beating Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Graeme McDowell, Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan and more.
Yeah, I don’t like the fact that Bradley has missed 10 cuts this year, but winning more than anyone else, winning a major, that trumps the failures. Bradley’s still got to finish this weekend off, no easy task, but if he does, he’s my PGA Tour player of the year. Donald? He’s my world player of the year.
By REX HOGGARD
Rory McIlroy needs a big week in Shanghai and not just because he’s under the gun to hold up his end of the “Wozzilroy” super tandem. Nor does the Ulsterman need to prove he’s moved on following his split with uber-manager Chubby Chandler or that he’s fully recovered from the wrist injury he sustained during the PGA Championship.
His overtime victory last week at the Shanghai Masters cleaned up concerns on all those fronts. Unfortunately for McIlroy, none of the record $2 million he hauled in last week counts toward his European Tour cash total this season.
Which is why McIlroy needs a solid showing at the WGC-HSBC Champions. He trails Luke Donald by 1.3 million euro in the Race to Dubai. A victory at this week’s $7 million stop would allow him to close that gap by almost a million euro with only five events remaining before the December finale in Dubai.
Keegan Bradley, your front-runner through 18 holes in China, could influence the voting for PGA Tour Player of the Year by putting the “W” in WGC, but given the popular undercurrent in Donald’s favor for POY that doesn’t seem likely.
McIlroy, however, can make up serious ground on Donald with a victory, and make the Race to Dubai worth watching.
By JASON SOBEL
There are plenty of players in this week’s HSBC Champions field who would benefit from a victory, but none more than Bobby Gates – even after his disappointing opening-round 75.
Just the fact that Gates is competing in the tournament is a story in itself. As a member of the Nationwide Tour last year, he won the New Zealand Open, which is co-sanctioned by both the developmental circuit and the Australasian Tour. That victory got him into a few of the late-season Aussie triple crown events, including the Australian PGA Championship, where he finished in a share of sixth place, which helped him vault into fourth place on that tour’s money list.
Gates’ presence inside the top 5 gained him entry into the WGC; however, not much else has gone his way lately. Thanks to a final-hole three-putt at the PGA Tour season finale, the rookie dropped from 124th on the money list to 126th.
That’s where things get weird.
Because the HSBC is unofficial money, Gates can’t improve his standing in China and will need to play Q-School in a few weeks – unless he wins. For players who are already PGA Tour members, an HSBC victory comes with a three-year exemption, which means he could skip Q-School and proceed directly to Kapalua for the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the beginning of next year.
So if you’re scoring at home, his schedule will read either Disney-WGC-Q-School or Disney-WGC-Kapalua. If that sounds more than a little awkward, don’t convince yourself otherwise. It is.