Race to Dubai: Five reasons to watch the WGC-HSBC Champions

This week, the world’s leading golfers are in China for the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament, which tees off in Shanghai on 27 October. Michael Stoneman gives five reasons why you should check out this prestigious event

1. It’s a key tournament in the Race to Dubai

As the final event in the European Tour’s regular season, the WGC-HSBC Champions is the last chance for players to make it into the top 70 in the Race to Dubai rankings, earning them a spot in the field for The Final Series, which begins with the Turkish Airlines Open next week and culminates with the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai from 17-20 November.

With more than 1.3 million points on offer to the winner, the WGC-HSBC Champions could also prove to be pivotal in determining the overall winner of the Race to Dubai, with the leading players in the standings all set to tee it up in Shanghai. Current leader Danny Willett finished tied third in China last year and a similarly high finish this week would help solidify his lead over a chasing pack that includes former Race to Dubai winners Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy.

2. It has one of the strongest fields of the year

It’s not just the leading players in the Race to Dubai standings who will be playing in China this week, with the 2016 edition of the WGC-HSBC Champions boasting its strongest field ever. Eight of the world’s top ten players will be in action at the Sheshan International Golf Club, with the field also featuring all four of this year’s major winners in Willett (Masters), Stenson (The Open), Dustin Johnson (US Open) and Jimmy Walker (US PGA). In total, 43 of the top 50 players in the world will be teeing it up, including nine of the USA’s victorious Ryder Cup team.

3. It’s fast becoming known as Asia’s ‘major’ championship

With such a strong field, it’s easy to see why the WGC-HSBC Champions has established itself as one of the leading golf tournaments in the world. And while the three other WGC events have almost exclusively been held in the USA, China’s HSBC Champions tournament – which has been staged each year since 2005 and was granted WGC status in 2009 – gives Asian golf fans the chance to see the sort of star-packed leaderboards that are usually only reserved for the majors.

As this year’s defending champion, Russell Knox, explains: “You can see with entries of such impressive strength and depth exactly why this tournament is called Asia’s major by so many of the players on Tour.”

4. It nearly always produces drama

While Knox’s two-stroke victory last year appeared fairly comfortable, the Scot had only made it into the field as the seventh reserve and spent the previous weekend scrambling to arrange a Chinese visa just to allow him to travel to Shanghai. It proved to be a fairy-tale finish for the then world no. 85, however, as he secured his first victory on either the European or PGA Tours and became the first man to win a WGC event on his debut appearance.

The previous year, two-time US Masters winner Bubba Watson dramatically chipped in for eagle on the 18th hole of the final round to tie with Tim Clark before going on to beat the South African in a play-off, while Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia were also taken to extra holes as they secured victories in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

In 2013, Dustin Johnson put on a master-class on his way to the title as he set a new tournament scoring record at 24-under, while the 2011 edition saw Germany’s Martin Kaymer create history by coming from a record five shots behind in the final round to claim the trophy.

5. It’s played at a spectacular course

The Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai has been home to WGC-HSBC Champions ten times since the inaugural tournament in 2005, and has consistently won praise from players for its immaculate condition, challenging design and excellent facilities. Tiger Woods once described it as “the crowning jewel of all of Asian golf”.

The 7,266-yard layout opened in 2004 as the Shanghai region’s first golf club, with the Nelson & Haworth design set amid 1,000-year-old gingko trees, man-made waterways and a natural quarry.

As David Howell, who won the inaugural HSBC Champions in 2005, explains: “The course has grown in reputation in tandem with the tournament. It is one of the best courses we play in terms of every aspect from its world-class condition to its fair but challenging set up. It is always immaculately prepared and the finishing stretch has provided so much drama over the years.”