What We Learned: WGC-HSBC


Each week, GolfChannel.com offers thoughts on 'what we learned' from the week. This week, our writers weigh in on a 14-year-old phenom getting an invite to the Masters, Sunday comebacks for Ian Poulter and Stacy Lewis, the Tiger Woods-Rory McIlroy 'friendly' that seemed to overshadow a big-time event, and Tom Lehman's impressive finish to his Champions Tour season.

I’d already marked 2012 as one of the greatest years in golf and that was well before I rolled out of bed Sunday morning.

Bubba’s hook shot from the pine needles, Rory’s summer surge and the European comeback at Medinah had been plenty for me.

But on Sunday we all got a little more. Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter dialed up a second straight 65 to win the WGC-HSBC Champions, officially moving into “Best Player Without A Major” territory. Stacy Lewis made up a seven-shot deficit to win the Mizuno Classic and all but locked up LPGA Rolex Player of the Year honors (she would be the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to do so). And a 14-year-old named Guan Tianling – winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand – will be chauffeured down Magnolia Lane next April. (Might Augusta National chairman Billy Payne allow him a one-time exemption to rollerblade down Magnolia Lane?)

The stories in golf continue to grow richer and more colorful. The game is becoming more global. And we’re all the better for it. – Damon Hack

The older I get, the less I feel I've accomplished. A 14-year-old qualifying for The Masters? The best I could do at that age was No. 3 singles on my high school tennis team. Enjoy it, kid. Next thing you know, you'll be 37, watching a 14-year-old win the Masters and thinking, 'I was never that good at that age.' – Mercer Baggs

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy participated in a two-man hit-and-giggle money-grab exhibition in China this past week. Just about all of the world’s other elite players competed in a bona fide World Golf Championship in China this past week. It’s a toss-up as to which one received more worldwide attention, but the needle may be pointing slightly in favor of the four-hour Nike advertisement. Look, there’s no secret that interest in golf is dictated by superstars and it’s even less of a secret that Woods and McIlroy are the game’s two biggest superstars right now. Nothing wrong with that, just like there’s nothing wrong with them going all Rod Tidwell in their spare time. You know: “Show me the money!” But there’s something patently wrong with a meaningless round between the two drawing greater interest than a WGC leaderboard that included major champions and Ryder Cup players galore. There is a stark contrast between these two events, but those who nonchalantly shrug it off will be doomed to repeat it. Now that Rory is reportedly joining Tiger as a Nike stablemate, there will undoubtedly be more of these casual confrontations in the future. We can watch, we can enjoy the banter, we can even crave these meetings, but when they start usurping actual big-time tournaments, the game may be in some trouble. And that’s the worst news here, because they already have. – Jason Sobel

Despite a new contract extension through 2015, full FedEx Cup status beginning in 2013 and a permanent home, the WGC-HSBC Champions may have the pedigree to be Asia’s premier golf event but it hasn’t proven to be a must-play just yet. This year the HSBC was the victim of golf’s growing success in the region, losing world Nos. 1 and 2 Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, respectively, to appearance-fee events the week before. The HSBC may have plenty of new street cred, but it remains to be seen if it will be enough to woo all of the game’s top players in the future. – Rex Hoggard

It appears that Ian Poulter may be more than just a match-play maven. The fiery Englishman claimed his second WGC title Sunday in China and over the past four months has shown that perhaps his name needs to be included when creating a short list of Europe’s elite players. Poulter was considered one of the world’s best in match play long before his dazzling performance at Medinah, but questions lingered about a perceived lack of success in stroke play – a format in which he had only two worldwide wins since 2006 entering this week. In rallying for the victory at Mission Hills, Poulter put an exclamation point on a late-season surge that began when he posted top-10 finishes at both the British Open and PGA Championship in advance of his Ryder Cup heroics. For the second straight week, he closed with a Sunday 65 in China – a round that netted him a fourth-place finish at the BMW Masters in Shanghai, and one that yielded a trophy seven days later in Shenzhen. 

While he has yet to break through for a win in a major or a stroke-play event in the U.S., Poulter now has two WGC titles to his credit and will be a name to watch in tournaments – regardless of format – as the calendar turns to 2013. – Will Gray

The LPGA's season-ending Rolex Awards program looks like it will finally be something American women can relish. With Stacy Lewis' victory Sunday in Japan, she has all but clinched the Rolex Player of the Year award. Barring a spectacular finish by South Korea's Inbee Park, an American will be honored in two weeks as the LPGA's best player for the first time in 18 years. Beth Daniel last won the honor in '94. American women will likely go into next year being spared constant reminders of the drought, thanks to Lewis. – Randall Mell

For Tom Lehman to play the kind of golf he played this weekend in winning the Charles Schwab Cup Championship and Charles Schwab Cup speaks to Lehman's still-formidable talent and his powers of concentration. With his longtime teacher Jim Flick extremely ill with pancreatic cancer, it can't have been easy for Lehman to concentrate on something as mundane as a golf tournament. But he knew Flick would have wanted him to close the deal, and that's exactly what he did. – Al Tays