Dragon Dance Heralds Dramatic Season Finale
One of the most unpredictable years in golf history reaches a critical point at WGC-HSBC Champions.
Five of the world's leading golfers today warmed up for the 2011 WGC-HSBC Champions by performing a traditional Chinese dragon dance on a rooftop overlooking The Bund, Shanghai's historic riverfront.
The stars "chased the pearl", guiding the dragon in a ritual signifying its pursuit of wisdom and excellence, a symbolic gesture that could just as easily represent their individual quests to emerge as the dominant player in an era of almost unparalleled parity at the highest level of the sport.
So far this year, all of the Major titles and WGC trophies have been claimed by players new to winning at that level. If that trend continues at the WGC-HSBC Champions this week it will be the first time since the World Golf Championship events were introduced in 1999 that all of the titles have been won by so-called newcomers winning at the top echelon of the sport.
"On one level the top players are simply focused on preparing to play the best they can in each event, but at this point of the season we all have one eye on trying to catch Luke at the top of the Race to Dubai. Winning the HSBC Champions this week would be a huge step towards achieving this goal," said 22-year-old Rory McIlroy, the winner of this year's US Open.
Adding even more spice to the week is the fact that the PGA Tour has delayed balloting among their golfers for their Player of the Year award, because a strong performance could prove decisive in who gets that prestigious award from their peers.
"It's yet another reason to want to produce a top-class performance here," said Keegan Bradley, who, despite being in his rookie season, is one of the candidates after becoming only the third player in history to win a Major at his first attempt when he lifted the PGA Championship trophy in August.
"To be honest, I don't think I needed any extra motivation. I've watched the HSBC Champions as a fan on TV since it began. It's such a great event; it's hard to believe I'm here in China to play in it. To impact on the voting for the PGA Tour Player of the Year, I think you'd have to win and that is a big ask; you've got the best players on the planet here, it's a world-class field," Bradley added.
"The only thing predictable about this year's HSBC Champions is that it will probably be unpredictable," said Giles Morgan, HSBC Group Head of Sponsorship.
"The one thing to remember is that the last era like this was in the late 1950s and that was when Arnold Palmer and Gary Player emerged as Major champions. In the future... and I think it's in the near future... a player will emerge from the pack. Given all the history we've packed into six HSBC Champions so far, I wouldn't be totally surprised if that player revealed himself this week."
Given the unpredictability of the season so far, voting for the PGA Tour Player of the Year is likely to become even more confusing by the end of the week. Australian Adam Scott is one player who could cloud the issue with a second WGC win of the year, following on from his triumph at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a second-place finish at the Masters, and five other top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour.
"I wouldn't mind throwing my hat into the ring. That would put 2011 right up there as one of the best years of my career, but this is a tough week. It's usually second to the Open Championship for the best field anywhere in the world outside the States," said the 31-year-old Australian.
Leading the players who could ensure that the season ends with all the big tournaments won by first-time winners is, surprisingly, world number two Lee Westwood. For all his achievements, which include being awarded an OBE this year, the Englishman is still waiting to claim a WGC title. Last year's WGC-HSBC Champions was the third time he has finished runner up, along with the 2000 WGC-American Express Championship and the 2008 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
"It's been one of my goals to peak in the biggest events, and top-ten finishes in the US Open and PGA Championship isn't a bad return on the year, but it would feel a lot better with a win here. I played some fantastic golf here last year and finished nine shots clear of the rest of a great field. Unfortunately there was one player who performed just a fraction better than me," Westwood said.
That player was Francesco Molinari, who completed a fantastic 12 months that included victory with brother Edoardo in the Omega Mission Hills World Cup and being part of Europe's Ryder Cup winning side by duelling Lee Westwood from start to finish in one of the finest displays of tournament golf Asia has ever seen.
"I played the best golf of my life; it was almost flawless, and yet I still only won by one shot from Lee: that's how well you have to play to win the HSBC Champions! It's not going to be any easier this week. It really has become one of the best tournaments in the world," Molinari declared.
One player who won't be challenging this week is world number one Luke Donald. The 33-year-old Englishman, who finished top of the PGA Tour's money list when he won the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic last month, had to withdraw at the last minute because his wife Diane was due to give birth to their second child.
"It's important for my wife and it's important for me to make sure that I'm around to support her. It's no coincidence that the birth of our first daughter inspired me to some really great golf. The HSBC is an extremely important event and I know what's at stake. I've got a great opportunity to make history, but the family out-trumps everything. I'm sure everyone understands," said Donald, who currently leads the European Tour's Race to Dubai.
The WGC-HSBC Champions, which brings together the winners of the highest-ranked tournaments from all over the world, will be held at the Sheshan International Golf Club from 3rd-6th November.
|back to news listing|