One World Golf Championship Not Like the Others

By: Tony Dear

The dizzying number of tournaments and tours available for today's top professionals to enter and seek membership of, be it temporary, special, affiliated, medical, honorary or otherwise, can sometimes make it hard for all but the most steadfast and alert of golf fans to know what on Earth is being played for each week . . . besides the millions of dollars, of course.

This prize for this week's extravaganza is actually a World Golf Championship trophy, a fact most will probably be aware of thanks to sponsor HSBC's substantial marketing effort. But the question mark over the event's validity and that of its WGC siblings - and the status they afford the winners - floats stubbornly over their tournament logos.

When considering the standing of the WGCs, it's really rather easy to play devil's advocate. Grievances over where they are played - 33 of the 41 individual tournaments that have been played since 1999 have been played in the U.S. - have rightly been aired for several years (although awarding WGC-hood to this event in China and the Tournament of Hope in South Africa next year is certainly a step in the right direction). And shouldn't a world championship have as large a field of top-class golfers as daylight allows rather than limited fields (78 this week, 64 at the Matchplay, 69 at Doral, 80 at Firestone) with no cut and guaranteed money for last place - a recipe that seems more in keeping with a corporate junket than a genuine champion-identifying contest?

And if you must insist on smaller fields, would it not be more appropriate to fill them with the best golfers available rather than bizarrely heterogeneous mixes of players some of whom aren't even in the top 1,000 in the world rankings? China's Wu Ashun is currently ranked No. 1,025 while countryman Hao Yuan was last ranked in August at No. 1,378, although, to be fair, he did climb as high as 1,320 in late 2010.

Seriously, a world championship with a couple of players not ranked among the game's top 1,000 golfers? (Isn't it also a little strange that of the eight full members of the International Federation of Professional Golf Tours that formed in 1996, only two - European and Asian - list the tournament on their regular schedules?)

Seeking to include a handful of young talents from the host country and other up-and-coming golf nations is laudable, but that's what tournaments like last week's Shanghai Masters and CIMB Asia Pacific Classic are for, surely. The Shanghai event wasn't sanctioned by any of the world's pro tours, offered the largest first-place prize in the sport - $2 million, and gave 10 spots in the 30-man field to Chinese golfers, the highest of which finished tied for 16th. In Malaysia, five players from Southeast Asia joined the 36 PGA Tour regulars.

But it isn't just at the bottom end of the HSBC field where problems are apparent. Significant gaps exist at the top with just four players from among the world's top-10 teeing it up at the Robin Nelson/Neil Haworth-designed Sheshan GC, an hour west of the world's most populous city. Only 11 of the top 20 are here, and 19 of the top 30.

Most of the absentees are from the U.S. - 11 Americans who qualified for the tournament withdrew, the lure of $7 million in prize money (none of it official, although you can still spend it) and the chance to win over 70 world ranking points not enough to was lure them across the Pacific.

For a winner, you obviously have to look at the in-form players - PGA Tour money winner Luke Donald (who has opened up a 3.12-point lead over Lee Westwood at the top of the world rankings) and runner-up Webb Simpson; back-to-back European Tour winner Sergio Garcia; Rory McIlroy who won the Shanghai Masters; and Bo Van Pelt who got his second career victory in Kuala Lumpur.

Trouble is, only the last two of that quintet will be playing this week, as Donald is at home in Chicago where his wife is expecting the couple's second child, and Simpson and Garcia didn't fancy coming to China. Two-time winner Phil Mickelson is another who gave up his place, which was a little surprising given his success at Sheshan and the fact he will play in Singapore next week before heading to Australia for the Presidents Cup. The prospect of an extended road trip to Southeast Asia and Australia clearly didn't appeal to him or, indeed, some of his teammates - Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson and Steve Stricker (still nursing a neck injury, but he didn't play the HSBC in 2009 or 2010 either).

The 16 Americans who did make the trip will create some interest for fans on this side of the pond, but most of the attention will surely focus on McIlroy and his attempt to get 842,000 closer to Donald in the European Tour's Race to Dubai, which still has six tournaments remaining on the schedule. The Englishman currently leads the Ulsterman by 1,312,823 on the money list so McIlroy, whose recent management switch from Andrew Chandler's ISM to Conor Ridge's Horizon Sports obviously isn't affecting his golf, will be desperate for a second successive win in Shanghai. Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer and Anders Hansen - Nos. 3-6 in the Race to Dubai - are also here and can make significant inroads into Donald's lead as well.

The field for the seventh HSBC Champions event isn't what it might be, and some will need convincing it is worthy of its designation as a "World Golf Championship." But with the Race to Dubai heating up, and 12 Presidents Cup players (seven International, five U.S.) on the tee sheet, there should be enough going on to entertain even the most skeptical observer.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it extremely difficult for him to focus on Politics, his chosen major. After leaving Liverpool, he worked as a golf instructor at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a 'player.' He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own web site at