By Tim Hartin
The world’s best golfers continue their international fall schedule on Thursday, as a field of 78 prepare to battle in China for the prestigious title of the 2012 World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions. The tournament’s reputation has steadily developed since its inaugural playing in 2005 and has become even more notable since earning the World Golf Championship tag in 2009.
As with every World Golf Championships event, the HSBC Champions entertains an exclusive field. This year’s edition features seven of the top 10 players from the Official World Golf Ranking. A pair of current major champions (Ernie Els, Bubba Watson), two 2012 World Golf Championships winners (Keegan Bradley, Justin Rose) and 16 Ryder Cup members practically make the field a who’s who of 2012, with World No. 1 and No. 2 being the most notable players absent.
One player who meets a pair of the previous descriptors is Martin Kaymer, who also serves as this week’s defending champion. Last year, Kaymer carded a final-round of 9-under 63 to win his first World Golf Championships event. However, the German won’t be able to draw good vibes from the golf course he won on one year ago. After each of its first seven years were contested at Sheshan International Golf Club, the 2012 HSBC Champions takes place on the Olazabal Course at China’s Mission Hills .
Aside from being part of the famed Mission Hills, golf fans may recognize the course from its hosting of multiple World Cup tournaments, most recently being 2009. The Olazabal Course is the longest of the 12 courses that Mission Hills boasts. At 7,301 yards, the par-72 will surely cater to the long hitters, but also requires an element of accuracy with its 151 bunkers and greens averaging 5,700 square feet. Rolling fairways, doglegs, five par 3s and five par 5s add to the unique characteristics of the Olazabal Course, ensuring yet another entertaining week of golf on the world stage.
The par-5 15th hole is the course’s longest at 580 yards and serves as the signature hole. Featuring a bunker-surrounded green and bunker-lined fairways, sand entraps the eye but water also stands as a costly hazard. Long hitters can get home in two, but have to carry the water, which is described as a reservoir, nearly the entire distance.
Francesco Molinari may have the best previous experience on the Olazabal Course, having won the 2009 World Cup with his brother Edoardo. The Italian duo finished 29-under-par for the event, playing two rounds of better ball and two rounds of alternate shot. Molinari is also a past HSBC Champions winner, as he took the title in 2010.
The tournament’s only two-time winner is Phil Mickelson (2007, 2009), who returns to the HSBC Champions after skipping last year’s playing. Mickelson is teeing it up for the first time since the Ryder Cup and is seeking the fourth World Golf Championships title of his career.
While the field contains 15 Americans, the global game is truly on display once again this week as 23 total countries are represented. Many players are coming off strong performances last week in either the CIMB Classic or the BMW Masters, including respective winners Nick Watney and Peter Hanson.
Robert Garrigus, Carl Pettersson, Jbe’ Kruger and Gaganjeet Bhullar also recorded top-10 finishes at the CIMB Classic and look to carry momentum into China this week. Meanwhile, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Shane Lowry, George Coetzee, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose each bring top-10 finishes from the BMW Masters into this week.