Blasting into the week ahead with a focus on the battle for No. 1 in the men’s and women’s games.
Strong field, compelling storyline.
Eight of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking are among the 78 players teeing it up.
Of course, the major storyline is the world rankings with Lee Westwood playing for the first time as No. 1 and Tiger Woods teeing it up at No. 2. The top four players in the world rankings are all here – Martin Kaymer is No. 3 and Phil Mickelson No. 4 – and they’ve all got a chance to walk away with the No. 1 ranking. This marks the first time since 1997 that four or more players have headed into an event with a chance to walk away with the No. 1 ranking.
Mickelson is back as the defending champion. He was the only player in the field last year with four rounds in the 60s. This will mark the 13th consecutive time this year he’ll play with a chance to be No. 1, a stat he’s got to be tired of hearing. He’s actually gone backward the better his chances have become to be No. 1. He’s slipped from No. 2 in the world to No. 4 this fall and has one top-10 finish in his last eight starts.
Bunker shot: About the big storyline surrounding this week’s event, Mickelson said: “Everyone wants to be No. 1 in the world, but the only way to get there is to win tournaments, and the HSBC is a big tournament, a great opportunity to advance.” Yes and no, Lefty. The HSBC is a great opportunity to advance but winning isn’t essential in getting to No. 1 in the world. Westwood’s proven that. He ascended to the top showing the ability to consistently contend but not the ability to consistently close and win. He’s won just once this year, but he’s racked up three second-place finishes. In the last seven years, he’s won just five times around the world but accumulated 18 second- or third-place finishes. A Westwood victory this week would be an emphatic message about the legitimacy of his claim as the No. 1 player in the world.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Tiger Woods. Contender – Lee Westwood. Dark horse – Arjun Atwal.
Course: Sheshan International Golf Club, Shanghai, China. Par 72, 7,143 yards.
Purse: $7 million (winner’s share, $1.2 million).
TV times: Golf Channel – Wednesday-Thursday, midnight-4 a.m. (ET); Friday-Saturday, 11 p.m.-3 a.m. (ET). Replays Thursday, 8 a.m.-noon/noon-3:30 p.m. (ET); Friday, 8 a.m.-noon/noon-4 p.m. (ET); Saturday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-noon/noon-4 p.m. (ET).
Last year: Phil Mickelson held off a late-charging Ernie Els, finishing a shot ahead of Els, who closed with a 63.
Just three events remain in the LPGA season and so much is still up for grabs.
Yani Tseng leads the Rolex Player of the Year race by two points over Ai Miyazato with Cristie Kerr only 10 points back. With first-place worth 30 points in each of the last three events, this race is wide open. Kerr’s trying to become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to win the award.
Tseng is in this week’s field. So is Jiyai Shin, the No. 1 player in the world, and Miyazato, who’s held the top ranking the same number of weeks this year as Shin (11). Kerr’s taking the week off but will tee it up in the season’s final two events, next week’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational and the LPGA Tour Championship in the first week of December.
Bunker shot: Na Yeon Choi, also known as NYC and “The Big Apple,” is charging hard with a chance to sweep all the major LPGA honors this year. She’ll be looking for back-to-back LPGA titles this week. While so much focus at the top of the game has been on Miyazato, Shin and Kerr, Choi could end the year with the No. 1 ranking and the Rolex Player of the Year Award. She could also take home the Vare Trophy and the LPGA money title. They’re all realistically within reach. After winning the LPGA Hana Bank Championship last week, Choi’s second title of the year, she’s at the top of the LPGA money list ($1,742,088). She also leads the tour in scoring average (69.88), is fourth in Rolex Player of the Year points (only 12 points off the lead), and just moved up to No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. In 20 LPGA starts this year, Choi’s recorded 12 top-10 finishes with four second-place finishes to go with her two titles.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Jiyai Shin. Contender – Na Yeon Choi. Dark horse – Inbee Park.
Course: Kintetsu Kashikojima, Shima-shi, Mie, Japan. Par 72, 6,506 yards.
Purse: $1.2 million (winner’s share, $180,000).
TV times: No TV.
Last year: Bo Bae Song won, finishing three shots ahead of Lorena Ochoa and Hee Young Park.
Charles Schwab Cup Championship
Bernhard Langer is out front in the race to win the season-long Charles Schwab Cup race, but Fred Couples has a chance with the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship being played at Harding Park Golf Club in San Francisco for the first time.
With double points at stake, Couples can win the $1 million annuity that goes to the season-long points champion if he wins this week and Langer finishes worse than a two-way tie for fourth place. Couples should have some good vibes on this course. It’s where he led the Americans to victory against the Internationals at the Presidents Cup as captain last year.
Bunker shot: Bernhard Langer’s Champions Tour leading five victories (two of them majors) make him the favorite to win the Jack Nicklaus Trophy as Player of the Year for the third consecutive time, but Couples can give his peers an alternate choice in the year-end vote. If Couples wins, it will also be his fifth title of the year. Plus, Couples is on the verge of setting the Champions Tour record for scoring. He takes a 67.89 scoring average to Harding Park. Hale Irwin’s mark of 68.59 has stood since 1998.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Bernhard Langer. Contender – Fred Couples. Dark horse – Tommy Armour III.
Course: Harding Park Golf Club, San Francisco, Calif. Par 71, 7,135 yards.
Purse: $2.5 million (winner’s share, $440,000).
TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday-Sunday, 4:30-7 p.m. (ET).
Last year: John Cook finished five shots ahead of Russ Cochran at Sonoma Golf Club in Sonoma, Calif.