From China to Japan, we blast into the week ahead ...
Woods, Mickelson headline WGC-HSBC Champions
The silly season will have to wait.
November opens with a serious bang as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson lead a muscle-bound field at the HSBC Champions at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.
With the event gaining a World Golf Championship designation for the first time, Woods immediately vaults to the ultra favorite’s position, not that he wouldn’t be favored anyway. It’s just that Woods plays WGC events better than he plays majors. Since the World Golf Championships started in 1999, Woods has won 17 of the 32 events he has played and has tied for fifth or better in 25 of them.
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The field in the $7 million event is all-star caliber with seven of the top 10 players on the Official World Ranking entered. It’s shaping up as the second strongest field outside the United States this year, trailing only the British Open in world ranking points offered. It’s another big boost for Asian golf, which saw Han Chang-won earn a spot in the Masters winning the inaugural Asian Amateur last week.
Stance: Sergio Garcia is the defending champion this week, but the stars may be aligning for a Woods vs. Mickelson duel. Mickelson won this event two seasons ago. Woods has finished runner-up both times he played it, finishing behind Y.E. Yang in ’06 and David Howell in ’05. The last time Woods and Mickelson played a stroke-play event together was at the Tour Championship, where Mickelson won the tournament and Woods the FedEx Cup.
Takeaway: Of the 39 WGC events previously staged, 27 of them have been played in the United States. That annoys certain international players, who also don’t like the fact that when WGC events are played overseas, so many Americans stay away. That’s the case again this week. The only players missing from the top 10 in the world rankings are all Americans (No. 3 Steve Stricker, No. 8 Kenny Perry and No. 10 Jim Furyk).
Bunker shot: Mickelson didn’t overwhelm at the Barclay’s Singapore Open last week, but he didn’t exactly stink it up tying for 14th. Mickelson’s driving is better under Butch Harmon’s eye, and his putting is showing great promise under new coach Dave Stockton’s eye. A Mickelson victory this week would add intrigue over the rest of the “offseason” and heighten anticipation that he’s ready to challenge Woods in the new year.
Shin in driver’s seat for POY run
History is there for the taking for Jiyai Shin.
She locked up LPGA Rolex Rookie of the Year honors last weekend with her sixth-place finish at the Hana Bank-Kolon Championship in her native South Korea. As defending champion at the Mizuno Classic in Japan this week, Shin is favored to win her fourth LPGA event of the season. Play begins Friday at Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club. Shin's bid to join Nancy Lopez (1978) as the only players to win LPGA Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors in the same season moves closer to reality with a successful defense. She would be the first South Korean to win the Player of the Year honor.
Shin already leads the LPGA in POY points (141) and official money ($1,664,395).
Stance: Lorena Ochoa is just 10 points shy of Shin in the POY race with 30 points available to this week’s winner. If Ochoa can cut into Shin’s lead, momentum shifts back Ochoa’s way in her effort to win a fourth consecutive POY title. The tour moves to Mexico next week and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. The season ends the following week at the LPGA Tour Championship in Houston.
Takeaway: Ai Miyazato will have a lot of support in her native Japan this week but there’s pressure that comes with it. Miyazato is fourth in POY points behind Shin, Ochoa and Cristie Kerr. She is trying to become the second Japanese player to win the award. Ayako Okamoto won it in 1987.
Bunker shot: If the Americans end their 0-for-16 streak in tour events this weekend, it will feel like an upset. It will take a strong road effort from a small American contingent in Japan. Just nine Americans are entered in the 78-player field. There isn’t an American in the top 30 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings playing the event. Brittany Lang is the highest ranked American there at No. 33.