10. Jon Rahm
2018 was not the best season for the 23-year-old Spanish prodigy, who has not finished inside the top 3 of an event since America’s tax day, but nobody denies that his best golf lies in front of him.
When we last saw Rahm, he was scoring a team co-low one point for the winning European team at the Ryder Cup, but that point came in Sunday singles against a Tiger Woods who had not lost in singles since the 90s; extremely impressive for a man making his Ryder Cup debut.
Will knocking off a golf legend catalyze a career year for one of the world’s best talents? It very well could. At third on Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee, third in birdie average, and 11th in greens in regulation on Tour last season, Shenshan is set up to engender a tremendous season debut for Rahm.
World Rank: 8th
Field Rank: 6th
Last Six: 11, 24, 43, MC, 4, 17
9. Tommy Fleetwood
The reigning European Tour’s Race to Dubai Champion currently sits at No. 2 in the standings coming into the closing stretch, and is coming in hot after four-straight top 11 starts, and that is not even mentioning his 4-1-0 week for the winning European squad at the Ryder Cup. His four appearances at Shenshan have all finished relatively the same, with a best of T18 and a worst of T30.
He is expected to take another step forward in the new PGA Tour season (although he is still working on a stellar 2018), and a top-10 in China feels likely.
At 5th in birdie average, 6th in scoring average, and 7th in strokes gained: total during the 2018 PGA Tour season, he is a good bet anywhere, but can he put together four great rounds? He has a proclivity of sneaking in a stinker within an otherwise strong week; it happened again recently at the British Masters, where a T9 finish included chasing a round one 67 with a Friday 77.
World Rank: 12th
Field Rank: 8th
Last Six: 9, 2, 11, 8, 24, 20
8. Francesco Molinari
If someone had paid absolutely no attention to professional golf over the past 12 months, the biggest surprise to that person among the top 10 in the OWGR might be Molinari, who currently sits at No. 6.
He has not started any of his past seven seasons inside the World’s Top 20, but 2018 was a career year for the 35-year-old from Italy, who won three times worldwide – most notably finishing atop the leaderboard at The Open Championship, compiling one of the best weekends in major championship history despite having to spend 50% of it dealing with the Tiger Woods Circus.
Looking at this one event in a vacuum, however, Molinari is one of the toughest players to place. He is coming off that sensational season, and he won the HSBC Champions back in 2010, but a T6 in 2016 is his only top-10 in five attempts since, and his recent form has been poor, with his last two finishes being a T21 out of 30 players at the Tour Championship, and a T56 two weeks ago at the European Tour’s British Masters, where he tied anonymous golfers Hayden Porteous and Aaron Rai.
Despite those last two duds, we like Molinari to shine at Sheshan, as his tee-to-green game is just too good to dismiss.
World Rank: 6th
Field Rank: 5th
Last Six: 56, 21, 8, MC, 6, 39
7. Jason Day
A strong bounce-back season (two victories) in 2018 did not end the way Day would have preferred, as the 30-year-old Aussie did not factor at all into the FedExCup Playoffs, but he showed signs of life last weekend in South Korea, riding a 65-67 weekend to a T5 finish at the CJ Cup.
The HSBC Champions historically rewards great iron players, which was the weak link in Day’s profile last season (he lost strokes approaching the green and finished 113th in Greens in Regulation), but if there is anyone on Tour who can get away with that, it is Day, who is long while also owning the best short game in the big leagues.
He was T11 at this event last year, posting his best rounds on Thursday (69) and Sunday (68).
World Rank: 10th
Field Rank: 7th
Last Six: 5, 8, 24, MC, 20, 19
6. Hideki Matsuyama
No player has dominated Shenshan International the way Hideki has when he took the 2016-17 championship, as the Japanese superstar won by an astonishing seven strokes over Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger.
His defense (T50) was poor, however, and he did not take the step forward in his career that he was expected to in 2018, posting no victories and just four top 10s one year after a three-win, three runner-up season.
Fortunately, he is showing plenty of signs of coming back to life as of late; since his final round 66 at the PGA Championship, Matsuyama has six straight finishes inside the top 18, including a T4 at the season-ending Tour Championship.
If the 26-year-old is closer to his 2017 self than his 2018 self, as it appears he is, the HSBC Champions could again become a one-man show. The tee-to-green wizard is less than a week removed from a 6-under 66 Saturday in South Korea where he hit all 18 greens in regulation.
World Rank: 22nd
Field Rank: 14th
Last Six: 18, 4, 15, 4, 15, 11
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