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Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

No surprise to see Johnson dominate in Shanghai

World number one can boss his rivals

Dustin Johnson is in front in California
1 of 1

Starts 1.50am Wednesday night
Live on Sky Sports Golf from 3am

Palmer's top tip
Dustin Johnson 9-1

There are several high-profile absentees from the WGC-HSBC Champions – Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia have not made the trek to China – and the world number one can take full advantage.

Dustin Johnson is a remarkably big price this week given only four others from the top ten of the world rankings are lining up against him. And two of those – Jon Rahm and Jason Day – are making their debut at a venue which has already staged this event ten times.

Johnson has four years of course experience to draw upon, and most of that has been positive. Despite an inexplicable third-round 84 on his debut in 2012, he finished 39th, then he cruised to a three-shot triumph 12 months later. His 2015 return could easily have yielded another victory, but a ridiculously bad break on the eighth hole of the final round ended his challenge. DJ struck a perfect approach which clattered into the flagstick and bounced backwards into water, turning an almost certain birdie into a double-bogey.

Johnson finished fifth in 2015, four shots behind, then was dealing with FedEx Cup heartache when he arrived in Shanghai again last year. Having blown the Tour Championship from the front, allowing McIlroy to pip him for the FedEx Cup, Johnson was short on passion for competition. He opened with a pair of 74s and finished 35th. That effort should not detract from the fact this layout sets up wonderfully for him.

This year, the giant Carolinian has jetted to China in high spirits. Johnson took great satisfaction from top-scoring in the Presidents Cup in his final outing of last season, teasing Spieth in the press conference about the youngster's dismal singles record for the USA, and four 2017 victories has been a decent haul for DJ. Two of them were WGCs and he has a fantastic record in WGC combat.

Johnson should probably be nearer half the price he is this week for a sixth WGC title. Focus seems assured – he is eager to hang on to his number-one status for as long as possible – and jet-lag is the only negative against his name. The fighting-fit 33-year-old can overcome that handicap.

Next best
Ross Fisher 25-1

Johnson can lead the American raiders, while the pick of the Europeans could be Ross Fisher, who has produced some awesome golf in his last two tournaments. Fisher finished the Dunhill Links Championship in spectacular form, then carried that confidence to the Italian Open.

Fisher played his final 25 holes of the Dunhill in 17 under par, breaking the course record at St Andrews in the process, tearing up the famous Old Course in just 61 shots. A runner-up Dunhill finish was followed by the same position after a 20-under-par total in Italy, where he closed with a 63 to lose by a shot to Tyrrell Hatton.

Fisher is 37 under par for his last 97 holes, swinging better than ever, and he is a proven performer at Sheshan International. On his HSBC debut in 2007, the Ascot man lost a playoff to Phil Mickelson. And Fisher returned from a five-year HSBC absence to finish third in 2015. He tied for sixth last year and his last eight rounds at Sheshan have been in the 60s.

Fisher has excelled in other events in China – he lost a playoff for the 2014 BMW Masters – and he has a solid WGC record. He favours slow greens and there should be nothing for him to fear in the Sheshan dancefloors. The 36-year-old is clearly playing well enough to claim the most prestigious title of his career on Sunday.

Other selections
Haotong Li 125-1
Thorbjorn Olesen 100-1
Alexander Levy 125-1

Complete your staking plan by taking three-figure prices about a trio of lively outsiders. Haotong Li is the greatest player China has ever produced and the local hero could easily raise his game again in his homeland. He made his European Tour breakthrough in the 2016 China Open, having lost a playoff for the 2015 Shenzhen International.

Li's record in China is excellent at all levels – he is a bubbly character who feeds off the support of the galleries – and in his first two HSBC spins he closed with a final-round 67. On his third visit to Sheshan, he seriously contended, finishing seventh after a disappointing Sunday 72.

Since the Open, Li has been bursting with self-belief. He closed the biggest tournament of the year by going seven under par for his final 11 holes, claiming third spot behind Spieth and Matt Kuchar. Li has failed to find top gear since those Birkdale heroics, but a pair of weekend 69s in the CIMB Classic last time out suggest a bold HSBC title tilt could be coming.

Thorbjorn Olesen has been relatively quiet since finishing tenth in the last WGC (Bridgestone Invitational), but the Dane closed with a 66 in the Italian Open and is well capable of challenging for a fifth European Tour title on a course which suits. He has Sheshan form of 6-19.

And Alexander Levy, more solid than ever technically since switching to Pete Cowen as coach in March, could also have a say in matters. The Frenchman can boast China Open form figures of 1-3-28-1, he was a playoff loser in the 2014 BMW Masters in Shanghai, and he was fourth in the 2016 Shenzhen International.

Levy's best finish at Sheshan is 14th spot on his debut in 2014. Bright recent form indicates he could easily improve on that this week. The 27-year-old has carded 70 or better in his last 12 rounds, finishing seventh in the Dunhill, and he appears to be over the mental hangover which resulted from an agonising European Open playoff defeat at the end of July.

Others to note
Hideki Matsuyama
The Japanese ace produced a masterclass to triumph by seven shots when in the form of his life 12 months ago. A successful title defence is obviously possible, but he has been largely unimpressive since the USPGA, aside from a third-round 63 in the CIMB Classic.

Henrik Stenson
The world number nine tied for second place behind Matsuyama last year. The Swede has won only once since last year's Open and often struggles for full fitness.

Brooks Koepka
The US Open champion is a Sheshan dangerman, but he finished 40th in his only previous visit.

Patrick Reed
The Ryder Cup star suffered a poor weekend in the CJ Cup, his victory drought extending to almost 14 months after a tie for 11th place. Something similar likely in China.

Daniel Berger
The brash youngster followed up a strong Presidents Cup debut (two points from three matches), with a poor CJ Cup (54th of 78 runners). Live HSBC threat, though, with Sheshan form of 11-2.

Peter Uihlein
The former world number one amateur won on the Tour last month and has a decent record in Asia. He finished tenth in the CIMB Classic last time out despite closing round one with a triple-bogey. Could run well at a fancy price.

Staking plan
D Johnson
4pts 9-1 Betfred
R Fisher
2pts each-way 25-1 bet365
H Li
0.5pt each-way 125-1 Sky Bet
T Olesen
0.5pt each-way 100-1 Boyles
A Levy
0.5pt each-way 125-1 Betfred


Course Sheshan International Golf Club, Shanghai, China

Prize money €8.3m (€1.5m to the winner)

Length 7,261 yards Par 72 Field 78

Course records – 72 holes 264 Dustin Johnson (2013) 18 holes 62 Martin Kaymer (2013), Danny Willett (2015)

Course winners taking part Phil Mickelson (twice), Francesco Molinari, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama

When to bet By 1.50am Wednesday night

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 3am Wednesday night

Time difference China is seven hours ahead of the UK and Ireland

Last week – Andalucia Masters 1 S Garcia (5-1), 2 J Luiten (25-1), 3 D Brooks (350-1), 4 J Donaldson (70-1), 5 W Ormsby (150-1), T6 A Hansen (200-1), S Jamieson (175-1); CJ Cup 1 J Thomas (8-1), 2 M Leishman (22-1), 3 C Smith (45-1), 4 W Kim (175-1), T5 P Perez (30-1), J Lovemark (100-1), B Harman (110-1), L List (80-1), S Brown (150-1), A Lahiri (40-1)

Course overview Sheshan International staged the inaugural HSBC Champions in 2005, then every year until 2012, when the Olazabal Course at Mission Hills took a brief turn. Sheshan International returned as host venue in 2013 when Dustin Johnson set a new scoring record. Sheshan's fairways are tree-lined and water comes into play on 11 holes. The undulating greens have plenty of false fronts which make approach shots difficult to judge. The rough was thickened up for 2014, reducing the winning score from 24 under par (2013) to 11 under, but Russell Knox carded a 20-under-par total two years ago and Hideki Matsuyama ran riot last year. The 288-yard 16th hole is a late eagle opportunity. There are four par-fives (the second, eighth, 14th and 18th). The eighth measures 603 yards and is no pushover, while the 18th is a 538-yarder which has water down the entire right side, as well as over the back of the green. All the par-threes are at least 200 yards

Story of last year Matsuyama turned the event into a procession, the buzzing Japanese star producing four excellent rounds and cruising to a seven-shot triumph, with Daniel Berger and Henrik Stenson chasing forlornly

Weather forecast Clear and calm throughout, so birdies should be plentiful

Type of player suited to challenge Mickelson (twice), Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Matsuyama are on the recent roll of honour at Sheshan, highlighting that big-hitters can take control at this layout. Victory for short-hitting Knox in 2015 appears the exception to the rule

Key attribute Power

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Focus seems assured – Johnson is eager to hang on to his number-one status for as long as possible – and jet-lag is the only negative against his name
E.W. Terms
Sky bet