The 2015-2016 PGA Tour season switches into high gear this week as the most of the sport’s elite converge on
After three “warm-up” events that featured predominantly second tier stars, many of golf’s top players make their season debuts this week, creating a field that includes 11 of the Top 15 players in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR). The eleven includes the Masters and U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth, Players’ champion Rickie Fowler and former world number one, Rory McIlroy.
But who are the players you should be targeting as you set your line-up for your fantasy game this weekend? Here’s a look at the favorites, some players you don’t want to sleep on and some guys you might want to avoid when making your selections later today.
Bubba Watson, USA (OWGR = 4) Hard to go wrong with the defending champion, who’s proven he likes this course, previewing his win last year with an eighth place finish in 2013. The only potential stumbling block could be his lack of recent activity, having not played in a stroke-play event since his T5 at the Tour Championship. Still, as he proves at Augusta every year, when Bubba feels comfortable at a venue, good things usually happen.
Rickie Fowler, USA (OWGR = 5) The reigning Players champion finished 3rd here last year, had a pair of top fives during the PGA Tour playoffs and is a threat to win each and every week. Determined to make the big three a big four, Fowler is a player to watch this week, as a fast start to the season is no doubt in his plans. Shook of the rust with a Top 25 performance at Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, so should be good to go.
Dustin Johnson, USA (OWGR = 8) Johnson is one of two players in the field who can say he won the last time he played this event. The 2013 champion missed the event last year due to his suspension/self-imposed exile from the game. Theseems to fit his eye and when on form, he’s as good as anyone. Didn’t look too sharp at the UBS Hong Kong Open, where he missed the cut, but at least some of the rust should be gone.
Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland (OWGR = 3) Coming off, what for him was a disappointing season, the former world number one will be looking for a big bounce back in 2015-2016. Has a good history in China with top six finishes in this event in 2013 and 2011. Was in contention at the Turkish Airlines Open last week before fading to a tie for sixth in the final round. There are some who feel he has slipped a bit in the last 12 months and this will be a good test.
Ian Poulter, England (OWGR = 53) This pick definitely falls under the category of horses for courses. To say Poulter’s record in this event is stellar would be an understatement. With three Top 6 finishes in the past three years including a runner-up cash in 2013 and a win in 2012, it’s apparent the Chinese air agrees with the Englishman. One of the busiest players in the field, Poulter has been getting better each week and finished T16 at the Turkish Airlines Open on Sunday.
Martin Kaymer, Germany (OWGR = 23) Another player with an impressive record at the HSBC, Kaymer has finished in the top 9 the last four times he’s played in China, including a T6 last year and a win in 2011. A little bit inconsistent over the past couple of years, mixing Top five finishes with missed cuts, but a return to a place he feels comfortable should be just the tonic he needs to get his season off to a fast start.
Adam Scott, Australia (OWGR = 12) The former world number one has a good record at
Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa (OWGR = 13) The 2010 Open Champion is coming off an outstanding season that saw him finish second at both the U.S. and British Opens. Another player coming off a bit of a layoff from tournament golf having not played since the Tour Championship, the South African can fall back on his solid record at the HSBC that has seen him finish inside the Top 16 each of the last four years. His game is so good, he’s a player overdue for a victory.
Kevin Na, USA (OWGR = 19) How can you not pick arguably the hottest player in the world? After three consecutive Top three finishes to start the 2015-2016 season, doesn’t a Kevin Na victory in the near future seem inevitable? Now at a career high 19th in the Official World Golf Rankings, the 32-year old American comes back to China after a solid T20 in this event last year. But I think he might be running just a little better heading into this year’s event.
Jordan Spieth, USA (OWGR = 2) The last time we saw Mr. Spieth in a stroke play event, he was lifting not one, but two trophies – the Tour Championship Trophy and the FedEx Cup. Hasn’t played a stroke play round since that day, but even with the layoff and no real success at the HSBC (T17 in 2014), we know the PGA Tour player of the year will find a way to contend. So discount him at your own peril.
Hideki Matsuyama, Japan (OWGR = 15) One of the most consistent players in the world, the Japanese superstar has 19 Top 25 finishes in 2015 including nine Top 10’s. But the fact he has a single US win might make him a bit of a sleeper this week. Fifth place at last week’s even in Malaysia shows he’s in top form. If you want to cash a big ticket on someone, he could be your guy.
Justin Thomas, USA (OWGR = 30) It might seem unusual to place last week’s PGA Tour winner in the sleeper category, but in this field that’s exactly what Justin Thomas might be. Confidence has to be sky high after his win at the CIMB Classic and 22-year old will be looking to follow that up with a statement against the best in the world.
Scott Piercy, USA (OWGR = 43) The three-time PGA Tour winner has been on a solid run lately with five consecutive Top 30 finishes including a pair of Top 10’s – T3 at the BMW Championship and T7 last week at the CIMB Classic. Has played well in China before, finishing second in this event in 2012, albeit at a different venue. Strikes you as a player who could get to the next level.
Thorbjorn Olesen, Norway (OWGR = 79) A player with a recent win on the European Tour (2015 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship) and a strong record at this event (T6 in 2014, 11th in 2012). The Norwegian is one of those players who seems to play a little above his pay grade at the big events.
Shane Lowry, Northern Ireland (OWGR = 17) The defending champion of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Lowry is rounding into form, picking up a pair of European Tour Top 10’s at the British Masters (T2) and at last week’s Turkish Airlines Open (T8). Just needs consistency to get to the next tier and that appears to be developing.
Patrick Reed, USA (OWGR = 18) It’s inevitable that Patrick Reed will win a big event in the near future. There’s too much talent and self-belief there to think anything else. This could be the week. Had a solid T22 in his first visit to this event in 2014 and is coming in off Top 10’s at the Hong Kong Open and the CIMB Classic, so his form appears to be trending in the right direction.
Henrik Stenson, Sweden (OWGR = 7) We are not sure what’s more worrying. Stenson’s scheduled knee surgery on December 9th or his uninspired T47th at the birdie-fest known as the CIMB Classic. With a T24 in 2014 as his only Top 25 in this event in the past fours seasons, the Swede might be a guy to leave out of your starting line-up this week.