Cape Town – Defending champion Justin Rose will look to become the first player to retain a WGC-HSBC Champions trophy when he tees it up at Sheshan International Golf Club this week.
The world No 3, who came roaring back in last year’s final round to erase an eight-shot deficit, would follow Tiger Woods as the only other player to successfully defend a WGC tournament if he is able to overcome the star-studded field assembled in Shanghai.
The 38-year-old, who briefly topped the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career last month, has had a season to remember on the European Tour.
“It’s always a funny time of year, really, because the new season has started but you’re also coming to what feels like the end of the year. You’re trying to get off to a great start for your 2019 campaign on the PGA Tour and trying to finish strong on the 2018 European Tour Race to Dubai, but you are also looking forward to a break at the same time,” said Rose.
The Englishman went on to win the Turkish Open off the back of his WGC victory last year, and has continued that form into 2018 recording five top ten finishes, including a tied second at the Open Championship, before going on to play an integral role in Team Europe’s stunning Ryder Cup victory at Le Golf National in September and hosting the British Masters earlier this month.
Nine of his Ryder Cup team-mates join him in the field this week including Open Champion and current Race to Dubai leader Francesco Molinari. The Italian became the first European – and just the fourth player ever – to win five matches out of five in France, and is a former winner of this event in 2010.
Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy has five top ten finishes in his six appearances at Sheshan International and with three tournaments remaining on his schedule for the 2018 season, the 29-year-old knows big results are required to keep him in contention for a fourth Race to Dubai title.
“I’m in a much better place this year than I was this time last year in terms of injury, and I’ve played very consistent golf. Maybe haven’t quite had the wins I’ve wanted but I have three tournaments this year to try to add to that, so I’m excited for this week and the next few weeks,” said McIlroy.
“I feel like I need one win, maybe two out of the next three, to have any sort of a chance. So you know, I’m playing with Francesco the first couple of days, so it’s good to keep an eye on him, I guess.”
Meanwhile, new world No 1 Brooks Koepka is eyeing a long spell on top of the world as he prepares for the European Tour’s final World Golf Championships event of the season.
The American’s victory at last week’s CJ Cup moved him to the summit of the Official World Golf Ranking at a time when the battle to be golf’s top dog has never been more competitive.
Rose and Dustin Johnson have both held top spot in recent weeks and both of those players could replace Koepka should results go their way this week, however the 28-year-old has no intention of giving his position up, and is aiming for yet another milestone as he seeks a first WGC win to go with his three Major Championships.
“To build that momentum and kind of build on what I’ve done this year was key, and hopefully it rolls over into this week and then have a few weeks off to kind of figure out what I need to work on and what needs to get better, and go from there,” said Koepka.