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Shanghai Surprise!

Well folks, as hard as it is to believe, the professional golf season is coming to its’ final chapter this week.  Oh sure, I realize that there are more events on the horizon between now and the 2012 launch in Hawaii, most notably the President’s Cup and a slew of fabricated, made-for-TV “silly season” contests…but, in my books at least, this week’s event is the last real one of the season.

By the way, for those of you who might be wondering why I didn’t post a column last week for the CIMB event in Asia, there were a few reasons.  First, and perhaps most relevant (at least to me), was the fact that my family and I moved last week…from London all the way back home to the Ottawa area. 

For those of you who have been through this ordeal at least once in your lives, you know exactly the kind of stress a situation like this creates…both physically and mentally as well as in terms of time management issues.  Something had to give…and in my case, one of the sacrifices I had to make was forgoing the infliction of my weekly column on you (with the blessings of the golf gods who run CanadianGolfer). 

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t feel that badly about giving the event a miss though.  While the tournament does mean something to the golfers who enter it (and well done on the win Bo!), the fact is that in the grand scheme of professional golf, it actually doesn’t mean that much.  It’s not an “officially sanctioned” event…purse winnings don’t contribute to “official” money list tallies…and there are no points to be earned or rungs to be climbed (or “clumb” as Bo would say) on the World Golf Rankings.

In other words, other than racking up a little extra spending money for Christmas, and perhaps building some confidence in a late-season flurry of brilliance, it’s really not a “must-attend”…or even a “should-attend” event.  It’s a nice excuse to travel to an exotic location, meet some new people, eat some different kinds of food, play some golf with the guys and maybe take home a bucket full of cash.  No pressure…no consequences.

The one thing I didn’t get to do during this layoff though, was re-cap how my daughter and I did with our picks the week before at the final official event of the North American PGA Tour; The Children’s Miracle Network Classic.  And so, with your permission, let’s do that now, shall we?

Results – The Children’s Miracle Network Classic

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)
Luke Donald

1

 $         846,000 Chris Couch

Cut

 $                    –
Tommy Gainey

Cut

 $                 – Zack Miller

Cut

 $                    –
Jeff Overton

T37

 $          20,210 Aron Price

Cut

 $                    –
Webb Simpson

T6

 $         147,110 Will Strickler

T37

 $              20,210
This Week’s Total  $      1,013,320 This Week’s Total  $              20,210
Season Total  $    21,585,148 Season Total  $         7,782,245

Bang up another win for the old man!  Luke Donald was as good as I was hoping he’d be, faced with the opportunity of making golf history at his fingertips.  He has now nailed the North American Money List title…and has built up a hefty €1,300,000 lead over Rory McIlroy in the Euro Tour’s “Race to Dubai” Order of Merit.  The big question now remaining is; with 7 Euro events remaining in the year, AND with Luke taking time off for the birth of his new baby, can he keep the lead and become the first man in history to capture both money titles in a single year?

My money is definitely on Luke…and the family man in me is rooting as hard as possible for him not to be penalized for doing the right thing and placing family ahead of personal glory.

And while we’re still talking about the Disney event, well done to Webb Simpson for his efforts too.  While I was reluctant to pick him, in light of the way he played (or didn‘t play, as the case may be) under the pressure at the Tour Championship, Simpson did himself proud when faced with the opportunity to hang onto the Money List title, and certainly exceeded my expectations…which was definitely a nice little bonus for me.

Derek’s Picks – THE WGC HSBC Champions

There are a whole bunch of players that I’d love to take this week in Shanghai.  Problem is that there are a whole bunch that aren’t even showing up for the event!

Leading the way is Donald, of course.  The world’s #1 couldn’t be in better form than he is right now and it’s unfortunate that he won’t be in China this week to put a bow on an already spectacular season.  Then again, the way he’s been running, it’s a little tempting to take him anyway, just on the off-chance that he chips one in from the delivery room (off the forceps, around the weigh scales and over the machine that goes “ping!”) and somehow places in the event without even entering it.

Another pick I was hoping to make was Sergio, the champion here in 2008…who will also be AWOL this week.  How great was it to see him finally win again two weeks ago?  And then follow it up with another win the very next week!!!  Damn, that’s great stuff!

I’ve been a big fan of Sergio for as long as I can remember watching him play…and it’s truly wonderful to see him not only back in contention again, but finishing things off on Sunday and winning.  More importantly, it’s great to see him with the competitive fire in his belly, a renewed love for playing the game and that big, infectious smile on his face again.  That was the Sergio we all fell in love with years ago…the guy grinning his way from hole to hole, playing miraculous hero shots and skipping down the fairway like a squirrel on diet pills.  And boy, have I missed him the past few years.  Who hasn’t, really?

Anyway, enough of whose not coming to China this week.  Let’s peer into the sheep entrails and see who is coming instead…and who I think has a shot of doing well.

Rory McIlroy – It almost seems a bit traitorous to me to pick McIlroy to win this week, given how hard I’m pulling for Donald to secure the Race to Dubai and make golf history…but that’s the way I’m going to lead off my picks folks. 

Last week while Sergio was winning in Spain (again) and Bo was lifting a trophy in Malaysia, Rory was duking it out for his own piece of hardware down the road at the Shanghai Masters.  And win it he did, knocking off a rejuvenated Anthony Kim in an exciting sudden death playoff.

Rory has had a topsy-turvy year…mostly topsy, if I’m interpreting those words correctly.  He went from the lowest of lows, when he suffered a nuclear meltdown Sunday afternoon at Augusta…to the highest of highs in the very next major, when he won the US Open in a wire-to-wire cake walk.  Since then, he hasn’t necessarily contended in everything he’s entered, but he’s definitely got enough mojo and cock in his walk to make him a threat any time he tees it up.

With a chance to gain some ground on Donald this week, I’m thinking Rory poses a serious danger to the rest of the field at Sheshan.  Oh yes, it’s also worth mentioning that Rory has finished no worse than 5th in his last two appearances at this event.

Lee Westwood – Once upon a time, back in the early days of 2011, there was a World #1 who wasn’t named Luke or Martin or Tiger.

He was called Lee Westwood.  Remember him? 

He wasn’t up there for long, unfortunately, but let’s not forget that it was Lee who finally overcame the incredibly goofy scoring system they use to calculate the world golf rankings and finally wrestled the “king of the mountain” title away from Woods, who really hasn’t done anything (other than rippers and waffle waitresses) for the past two years.

Lee’s appearances on this side of the Atlantic have been a lot more infrequent than we would probably all like…but when he does show up, he generally shows up to play.  And the bigger the prize, and more difficult the field, the better he seems to do.  Top 10’s at the WGC Bridgestone and PGA Championship capped off his North American campaign…and added to the lustre of his earlier performance at the US Open. 

Worldwide, he’s registered ten top 10 finishes in his last 14 starts…including a fifth last week at the Shanghai Masters.  And in the past few years at this event, he has finished second, in 2010 (by a stroke), T8 in 2009 and lost in a 3-man playoff in 2007.  Add it all up and I’m thinking this should absolutely make him worth a flutter this week when he returns to Shanghai.

Paul Casey – This one might seem to be more than a little out on a limb…but hear me out first before you reach for the straightjacket, lithium and restraining order, wouldja?

If you take the time to look through the archives of past WGC HSBC Champions tournaments you’ll notice 2 things.  First, the tourney records are very difficult to find before 2009, when it became a WGC event.  In fact, in a LOT of archives, I noticed that the 2007 results are missing entirely…being incorrectly replaced with 2006 instead.

The other thing you’ll notice is that Paul Casey’s name shows up near the top of the leaderboard in this event a hell of a lot.  T6 last year, 11th in 2008, 9th in 2007, and 6th again back in 2006.

If ever there were a case of horses for courses (or to put the Chinese penchant for wonky seafood angle on things, “seahorses for courses”), then I’m thinking maybe Casey might just have a pretty good shot this week.  It will be one of his last chances to play his way back out of a pretty bland year…and I think he’ll be motivated enough and be walking around the course with enough happy thoughts about past performances in China to do just that.

K.J. Choi – It seems a little wrong to pick potential winners in an Asian event, without taking one Asian, doesn’t it?  So I’m not going to.  I realize that a Korean isn’t exactly a “home town” boy in China, but he’s close enough for Jazz in this case.

Based on some loose calculations on my part, about 23% of the field this week is comprised of players who compete almost exclusively on the Asian Tour.  I only recognize a handful of the names and should probably be ashamed to admit that I couldn’t identify any of them in a police line-up if my life depended on it.

The Asian star that I am going with this week I could spot from a mile away and is familiar to us all.  And, “local star status” notwithstanding, is very deserving of a spot on the roster; K.J. Choi.

K.J. is hot off a 7th place finish at the Shanghai Masters, putting a nice additional capper on a very successful year.  In fact, he’s on a heater right now, finishing top 10 in his last 5 events…including a third at the Tour Championship and a Top 10 at the BMW, during the height of the FedEx Cup Playoffs against some of the strongest fields of the year.

I think being back home in the Orient and having a chance to shine in front of Asian tour peers and friends spells good fortune for K.J. this week.  Let’s hope the golf gods agree.

And now that I’ve shared my uneducated guesswork, let’s head down into the bowels of the new rec room and see what my daughter managed to conjure up with her first dart tosses in the new house;

D&D’s Picks – Daughter & Dartboard

  •         Aaron Baddeley
  •         Thomas Bjorn
  •         Jbe’ Kruger
  •         Scott Stallings

And that’s all for this week folks.  As always, thanks VERY much for reading and playing along…and enjoy the tourney! 

I’ll be back, one more time, next week with a re-cap of our efforts and a few final thoughts to wrap up the season.

Cheers,

Derek

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