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Rose is the man to beat

Last updated: 30th October 2012

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Justin Rose has his eye on the ball right now

Justin Rose has his eye on the ball right now

Martin Kaymer is going to have to whisk up all of his old magic to successfully defend his tile in the eighth WGC-HSBC Champions at China's Mission Hills Golf Club this week.

For while Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, the World Nos 1 and 2, are not in the field, almost everyone else who is anyone in golf will be teeing off on Thursday at the 7,320-yard, par 72-hole Jose Maria Olazabal Course, the toughest and longest of the 12 signature courses at this celebrated southern Chinese club outside Shenzhen, which the Guinness Book of Records rates as the World's largest golf club.

This has virtually been assured by the fact that the WGC-HSBC Champions is restricted to Tournament winners from all of those professional circuits around the world that make up the International Federation of PGA Tours.

The best of all five continents will be looking to snatch away a title so handsomely earned by Kaymer last year when Germany's most talented golfer since Bernhard Langer closed with a sizzling 63 that included nine birdies and put him three shots clear of the chasing pack after he had started the day five shots off the pace.

Yes, that was certainly something to say "Wow!" about - and it gave the 2010 US PGA champion his second victory of the 2011 season, his first having come in February at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, and seemed to suggest that there would be more of this to come in 2012.

So far, however, this hasn't been the case.

Kaymer opted to make a swing change following this victory in China and his transition this year has considerably slowed-up his progress, and while there have been some recent moments of sparkling encouragement that might spur him on at Mission Hills, victory in 2012 has, until now, simply been a bridge too far.

His performance in the singles at the Ryder Cup where he famously held his nerve to secure the vital point that ensured that Europe would retain the trophy, will certainly have boosted his confidence and given him immense pleasure, but in truth, he achieved what he did there with a tie and not a win so an elusive victory in 2012 is still going begging.

Kaymer is not without hope heading into Thursday's tee-off, though, and is looking to build on the confidence he took out of his 11th place finish in Shanghai last week against the world-class field that contested the $2 million first prize that was up for grabs at BMW Masters, now the richest tournament on the European Tour.

And his memories of his Champions triumph last year could help some more.

"I had a great back nine on the Sunday (last year).Only 29 shots," he said this week. "So I have nice memories. Obviously it is a different golf course (this time), but the way I'm playing at the moment, I think I should have a chance."

In the meantime, this week's hottest favourites include a good few of last month's Ryder Cup antagonists.

From the winning European team they include England's World Nos 3, 4 and 5 Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, and Justin Rose as well Italy's Francisco Molinari, a former winner of this event, Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts and last week's BMW winner, Peter Hanson of Sweden.

The €888,560 Hanson picked up in Shanghai has rocketed him into second place in the Race to Dubai standings and put him well within in range of catching its current leader Rory McIlroy, so there is a strong possibility that the new target so suddenly thrust into his sights could generate the kind of drive he will need to help him shrug away the anti-climatic downer that so often follows important tour victories and put him in the running for a brilliant back-to-back double.

"I am moving closer to Rory in The Race to Dubai," Hanson said this week," and the fact he will not be at Mission Hills gives me a chance to close the gap even more.

"Hopefully I can keep this form going and be up there again on Sunday because I will need to keep playing like I did last week to have a chance of catching him given how well he is playing this year."

Clearly the Europeans are not the only one's vying for this highly coveted international title

Out of the USA Ryder Cup team come big bombers Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson along with Jason Dufner and Phil Mickelson, the only two-time winner (2007 and 2009) in the field this week and along with Kaymer and Molinari (2010), one of only three former winners contesting this year's title.

Mickelson hasn't played any competition golf since what he will probably have rated as his most successful Ryder Cup, but even though his two previous wins in the HSBC Champions was at Shenzhan International and not at Mission Hills, those previous triumphs do seem to indicate that he is exceptionally comfortable playing in China and, if not too rusty, could spell trouble for the other favourites.

To my mind, the hottest of them all might be the exceptionally consistent Rose who can lay claim to 12 top 10s this year that include a win in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and a tie for sixth in the BMW last week.

Although an unofficial, made-for-TV-publicity event, Rose's win over McIlroy, Woods and a handful of other highly-ranked stars in Turkey some two or three weeks ago is yet another factor underlining his strong form right now, and what could even further assist his cause this week is the fact that, together with Ian Poulter, Rose helped England finish third in the 2007 World Cup on this very same course.

In other words, it won't be totally new to him as it will be for so many of his rivals.

But perhaps most important of all, the South African-born, Florida-based Englishman's swing has never been better and right now it is no surprise that he leads the PGA Tour in greens hit in regulation - a factor that could be crucial on this heavily bunkered course - there are 151 of them - with unforgiving fairways that feature a good few uneven, up-hill and down-dale areas that are not so easy to play from.

And it's smaller than average greens will only help accentuate the importance of accurate iron play.

These factors, of course, could also benefit the normally solid Donald who is coming into this week's event after finishing in a tie for third in the FedEx Cup and with a solo third in Shanghai last week.

Nicolas Colsaerts, the big-hitting Belgium whose lone point on the first morning of the Ryder Cup was to prove so vital and Molinari, who beat Tiger Woods in the final singles game to give Europe their fourth win in five starts, are two other Europeans who can't be counted out of contention this week.

And I would say the same about the in-form Americans Johnson, Mickelson, Dufner and Nick Watney, last week's winner on the US PGA's Fall Tour.

Australia's Adam Scott and South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen are perhaps the most lethal-looking Southern Hemisphere contenders this week, but in my humble opinion the man to beat come Sunday will be Rose and the men most likely to surprise him will be Americans Johnson and Mickelson, who might not be as rusty as you would expect him to be.



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