The European Tour Fantasy Race is heading east – Far East – this week for the final World Golf Championship instalment of 2011 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. With a restricted field consisting of ‘champions’ from around the globe, there is still a healthy complement of European stalwarts heading out to the Sheshan International Golf Club in search of glory.
With a field as exotic as the locale, our players to watch this week are some of the biggest names in golf, and we start off with a certain Rory McIlroy, winner of the US Open by eight shots who also picked up an unofficial victory last week in China. Alongside these trophies he has had ten top tens in 16 starts on the The European Tour, including five top threes (not counting the win). He has also enjoyed some Asian success, finishing third at the Maybank Malaysian Open earlier this year, and coupled with the fact he finished fifth here last year and fourth in 2009 you have a very real contender for this week’s championship.
Continuing with our theme, we have another huge name in the sport. Lee Westwood really needs no introduction, but as a refresher, he has won 22 times on The European Tour since 1994. The most recent of these successes came earlier this year at the Ballantine’s Championship where he birdied three of the last five holes, including the last, to edge out the ever green Spaniard Miguel Ángel Jiménez by a solitary shot. He also won the week previous to his Korean success at the Asian Tour’s Indonesian Open – proof of his global championship winning credentials, and evidence that he can play well and win in the different, and often challenging, climatic conditions of Asia. He also only just missed out on winning here a year ago, finishing a shot behind Francesco Molinari and nine shots clear of third place. He has also never finished worse than 12th at this event with an eighth (2009), second (2007) and 12th (2005).
Here’s another 2011 form horse and now proven Major Championship thoroughbred – Charl Schwartzel – who took the final four holes at Augusta by the scruff of the neck in April of this year and dominated them en route to a closing quartet of birdies and his first Green Jacket. Since then he has shown solid form, excellent in fact by most people’s standards, but this South African is no longer ‘most people’ and will be looking for more this week. He started off the year superbly, and expectedly, with a win in his homeland at the Joburg Open and in total this year, aside from his victories, he has seven other top tens in 16 events, putting him third in The Race to Dubai. An excellent year for sure, and a big week here would edge him a little closer to the top of The Race to Dubai. Having finished sixth here in 2008 and 16th last year he clearly has the game to do just that this week.
The next big name we expect to challenge this week is Ian Poulter, who has had a quiet season of late, but is expecting great things from himself this week – according to what he’s been saying on Twitter. But is that any great surprise? This is one Englishman who has never been short of confidence, and when he gets on a roll and into the mix he knows how to get the job done. Never was this more evident than his victory in May at the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Spain. He looked down and out with a few holes to go against a rampaging Nicolas Colsaerts, but managed to claw his way back and win in extra holes. He then went on to beat his fellow countrymen Luke Donald in the final, in the middle of a run that has since seen Donald climb to the summit of the game. Put this down alongside Poulter’s 11 wins in as many years on the Tour – two of which have been in Asia - and he clearly has the game to not only compete, but win here in China this week.
Finally, we have a player mentioned previously when describing his loss to Ian Poulter in the semi-finals of the Volvo World Match Play earlier this year, it is Belgium’s finest – Nicolas Colsaerts. Since re-establishing himself on The European Tour in 2010 he has really started to show the form expected of someone with such an illustrious amateur record. Not only has he picked up his first win on The European Tour this season, but it was here in China at the Volvo China Open in April. He has also had four other top tens, a similar number of top 20s, and a debut in the Vivendi Seve Trophy to boot. It has clearly been a fine season, even though he lost two months out with an injury that came after he fell off a scooter riding round Sandwich on the eve of the Open Championship. Since then his form has been solid, but a return to the country of his first win could conjure up some magical memories and see him find the kind of long straight hitting that would make him a formidable challenger for this title.
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