HSBC Champions 2015
Round 4 - Russell Knox wins on WGC debutNovember 8, 2015
Russell Knox raised both arms in the air, closed his eyes and tilted his head toward the heavens as if he couldn't believe what he had just done.
Dating to when the World Golf Championship began in 1999, no one had ever won in his debut. Knox wasn't even eligible for the HSBC Champions until he got in 10 days ago as an alternate, and then it was a mad scramble in Malaysia to get a Chinese visa in time to play.
Walking out of the Sheshan International clubhouse on Sunday with a share of the 54-hole lead, Knox noticed a billboard with names and images of past winners at the HSBC Champions - Phil Mickelson and Martin Kaymer, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson.
''Everyone who wins this tournament is a superstar,'' Knox said. ''I knew this would be the hardest day in my life.''
For a 30-year-old from Scotland who had never won in 92 previous tries on the PGA Tour, Knox made it look like a breeze. He broke out of a five-way tie for the lead with two quick birdies to start the back nine and was flawless the rest of the way for a 4-under 68 and a two-shot victory over Kevin Kisner.
''I always thought I was going to win a big one for my first one,'' he said. ''But this is going to take a long time to sink in.''
He played alongside Johnson, whose power can be so intimidating that Knox didn't watch him hit a shot for 12 holes. In the group ahead was Jordan Spieth, on his way back to No. 1 in the world. The cheers were for Li Haotong, the 20-year-old from Shanghai who received rock-star treatment during a wild final round that ended with the best finish ever by a Chinese player on the PGA Tour.
''Incredible for me this week,'' Li said. ''This for me is very, very big.''
Imagine how it felt for Knox, whose unexpected trip to China ended with a most surprising victory.
Knox finished at 20-under 268 and earned $1.4 million, along with perks that include his first trip to the Masters in April.
''I got married on Saturday of the Masters,'' he said. ''What a great wedding anniversary we're going to have.''
It was the fourth runner-up this year for Kisner - the other three were in playoffs. He closed with a 70, though his birdie putt on the 18th hole was worth an additional $285,000, a small consolation.
''That's all right,'' Kisner said. ''I'll keep finishing second and I'll keep giving myself a shot, and I know I'll win one of them.''
His birdie was expensive for Danny Willett, who closed with a 62 and tied for third with Ross Fisher (68). If Kisner had not made birdie on the final hole, Willett would have overtaken Rory McIlroy in the Race to Dubai on the European Tour. Willett is playing next week in the BMW Masters in Shanghai - McIlroy is not - and even if he doesn't pass him, the Race to Dubai will come down to the final event.
McIlroy closed with a 50-foot birdie putt for a 66, ending a week in which his energy was low while recovering from food poisoning, and his putter was cold, as it has been since he returned in August from his ankle injury.
Spieth, who started the final round three shots behind, didn't feel comfortable with his swing and didn't make enough putts in his round of 70. Two birdies on the back nine at least allowed him to tie for seventh, and that was enough to move back to No. 1 in the world.
''Everyone is pushing each other a little bit, and when that No. 1 ranking slips away, it leaves some unrest in you and you really want to get back at it,'' Spieth said.
Johnson wound up four shots behind, and with more reason than anyone to feel as though a third WGC title got away. He was one shot behind Knox on the par-5 eighth hole when his wedge covered the flag and appeared that it would land a few feet behind the hole or a tap-in birdie. Instead, it struck the pin and caromed harshly off the green and into the creek. A birdie turned into a double bogey, and Johnson never recovered. He closed with a 71.
The hopes were with Li, and the crowd stood four-deep behind the range with cameras on him at all times. The attendance this week (34,790) set a record, topping 2009 when Mickelson and Tiger Woods played in the final round.
But those hopes ended quickly. Li hooked his opening tee shot and had to scramble to make bogey. He hooked his second tee shot into the hazard and made double bogey. He didn't make a par until the seventh hole, and only because he missed a 4-foot birdie putt.
But he kept fighting until the end, making two late birdies and saving par after a second shot into the water on the 18th, finishing tied for seventh.
''He was really off with his game, but man, did he have heart,'' Spieth said. ''He didn't have his best stuff. If he did, he really could have done some damage today.''
Round 3 - Kevin Kisner retains slim advantageNovember 7, 2015
Kevin Kisner walked off the course in darkness Saturday with a one-shot lead at the HSBC Champions and a growing list of challengers.
That included Li Haotong of China, who had a 6-under 66 and was one shot behind with a gallery starting to believe the 20-year-old can deliver the biggest golf victory ever for the home nation. Dustin Johnson, who won the HSBC Champions the last time he was here two years ago, also was one shot back after a bogey-free 65.
The list also includes Masters and U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth, who missed four putts inside 10 feet and still rattled off a 63 to pull within three shots.
Kisner made his first bogey of the week and at one point fell two shots behind. He rallied with a pair of birdies late in his round for a 70. Still to be determined was whether he had the 54-hole lead.
Russell Knox of Scotland was one shot back and chose not to finish in the dark. He was to return Sunday morning to play the par-5 18th.
Regardless, Sunday was set up for any number of possibilities.
Kisner, who never saw Sheshan International until Thursday because of a sore back, was at 16-under 200 and in position again to collect his first victory. He lost in a playoff three times this year, including The Players Championship. His late rally was sparked by a chip-in from just off the 15th green.
''I was getting frustrated because I was hitting a lot of good shots,'' Kisner said. ''But I kept telling myself it was only Saturday. And then on 15, I chipped in and he (Knox) three-putted so there's a two-shot swing right there. It's going to be a dog fight tomorrow no matter what.
Johnson birdied his last three holes Friday, and then resumed his powerful display in soft conditions that featured a delay of nearly two hours because of rain.
Even so, the two names that generated the most attention were Li and Spieth.
Li has made a rapid ascent into professional golf, going from the PGA Tour China series last year to the Web.com Tour, and he looks comfortable among the elite. He said he prepared Friday night to face plenty of stress before so many friends and fans. He looked like he was having a blast, especially when he opened with four straight birdies.
The biggest cheer came on the 15th, when Li struck a 5-iron to 4 feet for birdie to get within one shot of the lead.
Liang Wenchong, who tied for eighth in the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, is the only other Chinese player to finish in the top 10 in a PGA Tour event. Even though Li is only one shot behind, he kept his goal modest. He wants to finish in the top 10.
Can he win?
Li laughed and said in English, ''I don't think so.''
Depending on what Knox does on the final hole, Li will either be in the final pairing with Johnson or the penultimate pairing with Spieth, two of the biggest stars in golf.
''Pretty cool,'' he said with a wide smile. ''Hopefully, they're nice guys.''
Spieth would not have imagined having such a good chance, even with his pedigree and the brand of golf he played this year. He is coming off a three-week break in which he didn't touch a club for two weeks, and he is working on a complicated move to make sure his club his more open.
''This will be the first and only time I would say this, but I was not expecting myself to be in this position come Sunday when the week started,'' Spieth said. ''I came in with very little confidence in my trust of what I'm trying to do in my swing. And it's something that I struggled with through the playoffs. It came together a little bit at East Lake, but that was all putting. But yeah, I'm extremely pleased just to be in contention.''
Patrick Reed overcame a double bogey to shoot 68 and joined Spieth at 13-under 203, along with Ross Fisher of England, who had a 65. Branden Grace of South Africa played the final three holes in 3 under and was among those at 12-under 204.
Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler each had a 68 and were eight shots behind.
Kisner twice put up a spirited effort in playoff losses this year against Fowler and Jim Furyk. He at least has the experience of facing some of the game's best, and he hopes to lean on that Sunday as he goes for his first PGA Tour victory.
''I want to keep putting myself there and my time will come,'' he said. ''Going against the best in the game ... you know those guys are world-class players and they're going to make birdies. And I've got to do the same.''
Round 2 - Kevin Kisner leads by twoNovember 6, 2015
Two par saves in the middle of his round and two birdies at the end put Kevin Kisner in a place he has never been.
And that has nothing to do with his first trip to China.
Kisner put together another bogey-free performance Friday in the HSBC Champions for a 6-under 66 and a two-shot lead over Russell Knox going into the weekend of the World Golf Championship. He was at 14-under 130, the lowest 36-hole score of his career, and he was the 36-hole leader for the first time in his career.
It was more than Kisner expected at Sheshan International, mainly because he didn't have any expectations.
A sore back kept the 31-year-old American from seeing the golf course until he teed it up in the opening round on Thursday. He was so lost that walking off the eighth green, he wasn't sure how to get to the next hole. None of that seemed to matter.
''It's just golf, man,'' Kisner said. ''Doesn't matter if it was here or wherever. Still get the ball in the hole as fast as you can.''
That proved far more difficult Friday than in the opening round, mainly because the still, soft conditions gave way to a strong wind that never relented. Kisner twice saved par, with a 20-foot putt on the par-3 fourth and a 15-foot putt on the par-4 15th hole.
Only 16 players shot in the 60s on Friday, compared with 41 in the opening round.
Knox started his round with a 40-foot birdie putt that set the tone for the day. He wound up with the low round of the day at 7-under 65, leaving him two shots behind Kisner and with his own tale about being a little unprepared for his first World Golf Championship.
Knox only found out last week in Malaysia that he was in the HSBC Champions when J.B. Holmes withdrew. That was the good news. The problem was getting a visa for China, so wife Andrea came to rescue - twice. First, she filled out all his forms while he played the CIMB Classic and arranged for the meeting with the Chinese consulate in Kuala Lumpur on Monday. Then, she filled in as a caddie for his practice round at Sheshan because Knox's caddie took an extra day to arrange for his visa.
''My wife was a superstar,'' Knox said.
One job apparently was easier than the other.
''We got a stand bag from the pro here and played the quickest practice round ever, and she complained heavily for the last nine holes,'' he said with a laugh. ''But it was nice to run around quickly, so I did get to see the course. My caddie did not, so I told him what we were going to do.''
The top two players on the leaderboard going into the weekend have never won on the PGA Tour, and both know so much can change over the next two days. Even so, Kisner's solid play has created a little bit of separation.
Branden Grace of South Africa, who opened with a 63, added three birdies through 10 holes until he forced the issue trying to get further ahead and wound up playing the final eight holes in 2 over. He had to settle for a 71 and was four shots behind.
The buzz came from Li Haotong of China, who spent the afternoon chasing the lead and thrilling the hometown gallery. A bogey on the final hole gave him a 69, and he joined Patrick Reed (70) at 9-under 135.
Li played the PGA Tour China series last year and had a chance midway through the Web.com Tour season to earn a PGA Tour card until fading. Playing at home in a World Golf Championship, he enjoyed the moment - especially seeing his name on the leaderboard.
''Almost every hole,'' Li said with a big smile. ''Very cool. Very fun.''
It wasn't a lot of fun for some of the biggest names.
Jordan Spieth missed a few good opportunities at the turn, and then ran off three straight bogeys and wondered if he would make another par. He salvaged his day with birdies on the final two par 5s for a 72, though he was 10 shots behind.
''When I get into the breeze, I hit some shots that I was very shocked with today,'' he said. ''But I lost a lot of focus there, too. I felt like I was very lazy in my routine, very lazy in picking targets. And it bit me with three unforced errors in a row on the back nine there. But I am pleased with the way that we did rebound, because it looked like I could have just bogeyed in.''
Rory McIlroy winced on the range as he felt cramps in his stomach from food poisoning earlier in the week. He wasted a decent start by playing the last six holes in 2 over for a 72 and joined Spieth at 4-under 140. Dustin Johnson looked like he would throw away his round with three straight bogeys around the turn, only to steady himself and finish with three straight birdies for a 71. He was six behind.
Kisner is coming off a breakthrough season on the PGA Tour without winning, though he sure had his chances. Jim Furyk beat him with a birdie on the second extra hole at the RBC Heritage. Kisner went blow-for-blow with Rickie Fowler in The Players Championship until Fowler beat him a birdie on the fourth playoff hole. Kisner also got into a four-man playoff at The Greenbrier Classic that Danny Lee ended up winning.
''See if I can get it done in regulation this time,'' he said.
Round 1 - Branden Grace tops leaderboardNovember 5, 2015
Rory McIlroy finally climbed out of bed 10 pounds lighter from a bout of food poisoning and made six birdies for a 68. Jordan Spieth returned from his longest break without touching his golf clubs. He also had six birdies in a round of 68. Both felt good about their start Thursday in the HSBC Champions.
It just wasn't enough to be anywhere near the lead.
Branden Grace of South Africa, a month removed from his sterling performance in the Presidents Cup, made birdie on half of his holes at soft, vulnerable Sheshan International for a 9-under 63. It was the lowest opening round in the 11-year history of this World Golf Championship.
And all that got him was a one-shot lead.
''Today was phenomenal out there,'' Grace said. ''Barely had a breath of wind out there and the golf course is playing probably as easy as it could be playing. There's some low scores out there. The guys are playing some great golf, and when you play on greens like this, it helps. You just have to get the ball on the right line and it goes in. It was fun.''
He made it sound simple, and the numbers backed him up.
The 78-man field produced 344 birdies and nine eagles, and it was a collective 189-under par.
Kevin Kisner made his debut in China by playing bogey-free for a 64. He was joined by Steven Bowditch of Australia and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark, who opened with five birdies in six holes and was 7 under through 10 holes. It was enough to make Olesen wonder how low he could go, though that ended when he made a sloppy bogey on the par-5 14th and he had to settle for a 64.
Dustin Johnson, who won the HSBC Champions the last time he was here two years ago, drilled a 3-wood over the water and onto the green at the par-5 second hole and made eagle that helped send him to a 65 along with Patrick Reed and Danny Willett, who is No. 2 in the Race to Dubai in his bid to track down McIlroy.
At least McIlroy is playing.
He spent most of the previous two days in bed trying to cope with food poisoning. His stomach was so sore and his body so stiff that he arrived earlier than usual to get loose on the range, and he wasn't sure what to expect when he teed it up at Sheshan for the first time in two years.
''Probably a little better than I was expecting out there, to be honest,'' McIlroy said. ''I had not been out of bed for basically 48 hours, so I was really stiff. But whenever I got out there, I felt pretty good. Thankfully, it was a decent start, and now going to try to just get into the tournament.''
Spieth wasn't sure what to expect, either.
He didn't see his golf clubs for two weeks after returning home from South Korea at the Presidents Cup, the end of a season that brought a Masters and U.S. Open, the FedEx Cup and PGA Tour player of the year. Spieth showed some uncertainty with an extra waggle in his pre-shot routine as he tries to keep the club from getting shut.
For the most part, it worked out fine. The one big miss was his tee shot on the par-3 17th, so weak and to the right that it didn't even clear the hazard. Spieth recovered by going to the drop zone, hitting over the gorge to 5 feet and escaping with bogey. He also hit driver to 20 feet for a two-putt birdie on the reachable 16th, and two late birdies in his round brought him to 68.
''I hit some shots that looked like we were just continuing the end of the season,'' Spieth said. ''And I hit some that looked like I took some time off. It was a bit of both. All in all, I was very pleased. Obviously, I thought 4 under would be further up the leaderboard than it is, but there's a lot of guys playing solid golf right now.''
Spieth played with Watson, who hardly played at all since the Presidents Cup and said nothing felt comfortable. He celebrated his 37th birthday by opening with eight straight pars, picking up four birdies and keeping bogeys off his card.
Players were allowed to lift, clean and place their balls in the short grass, which added to the low scores. That led to a two-shot penalty for Adam Scott, however, who chipped to tap-in range on the par-3 sixth, only to look back and realize he might have been in the rough. That's a two-shot penalty, except that Scott was given the wrong ruling by being told to replay the shot. After a 30-minute discussion, officials found a decision based on equity that kept his score to a double bogey. It didn't help much. He shot 75.
At this rate, Johnson figures something around 20 under will win. Grace wasn't willing to guess on a winning score. For all those birdies, he still was barely in front.
''Long way to go,'' Grace said.