November 4, 2015 - 9:13am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Rickie Fowler
USA Today Sports Images
Can Rickie Fowler possibly improve on the monster season he had in 2014-15?

Just four weeks into the 2015-16 PGA Tour season and the first World Golf Championships event is already upon us with this week's HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

The field is absolutely loaded with big names and there's extra incentive for the U.S.-born players to have a solid showing, as it's the final event of the calendar year that offers all-important Ryder Cup points.

Bubba Watson returns as the tournament's defending champion, but -- surprise -- he's not one of our favorites this week.

Here's a look at the five players you'll want to keep an eye on in China with a bonus "dark-horse" pick.

RELATED: WGC-HSBC Champions tee times | This week's pro golf schedule

5. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2015-16 season:
T26 Open
Reason to watch: This is McIlroy's second start of the season and he'll be playing hurt after an early-week bout with food poisoning. Because of that, you might be reluctant to call him a favorite this week. That's your prerogative. As far as I'm concerned, I say fear the sick golfer. We've seen it before -- guys playing under the weather shooting lights out, likely because they're preoccupied with getting their ailing body through the round instead of worrying about the shots. And, of course, the less shots you take, the quicker you play. You don't need a doctor to tell you that.

4. Adam Scott
Best finish in 2015-16 season:
Second at CIMB Classic
Reason to watch: The Aussie enters this week after a fine showing in Malaysia where he finished second in the CIMB Classic. Beautiful start to the season for the former Masters champ. You can always rely on Scott to be in the mix, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I expect to see him win more. In his last three starts at the HSBC Champions, Scott has finished no worse than T12. That, combined with the confidence gained from last week's high finish, lead me to believe he'll be a serious factor this week.

3. Jordan Spieth
Best finish in 2015-16 season:
Reason to watch: This will be Spieth's first PGA Tour start since winning the Tour Championship to cap off an incredible dream of a 2014-15 season. Expectations for Spieth are through the roof after a season in which he counted the first two majors of the year among his five victories. That's going to be hard (dear we say "impossible") to top. One thing is for sure, Spieth can't wait to get going after some well-earned rest.

2. Dustin Johnson
Best finish in 2015-16 season:
Reason to watch: Always one of the best, most consistent players throughout the course of a season, Johnson won this tournament in 2013, which was also the last time he played it. Every year it seems he's knocking on the door of a massive season, threatening to knock off that first major win. Though this week isn't a major, it is a big event and a huge opportunity for Johnson to get the mojo going in the right direction.

1. Rickie Fowler
Best finish in 2015-16 season:
T25 at Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
Reason to watch: Fowler finished T3 here at the HSBC a year ago and, while it may not have been as otherworldly as Spieth and Jason Day, he's also coming off an incredible PGA Tour season. That, coupled with last year's high finish at this venue, lead me to believe Fowler will be a big factor this time around as well.

DARK HORSE: Matthew Fitzpatrick
Reason to watch: This European Tour rookie notched his first victory at the British Masters in early October. That allowed him to reach this grand stage in a World Golf Championships event. Let's see if Fitzpatrick -- who left Northwestern early to pursue his professional career -- makes the most of the opportunity.

Here's how my five to watch fared last week at the CIMB Classic:

5. Sergio Garcia -- T24
4. Gary Woodland -- T56
3. Ryan Moore -- T10
2. Patrick Reed -- T10
1. Henrik Stenson -- T47
DARK HORSE: Anirban Lahiri -- T21 

5 to watch at the WGC-HSBC Champions
Wil Bateman
Wil Bateman via Instagram
Wil Bateman took the long route on this short putt, but it paid off.
You might not be familiar with Wil Bateman yet, but you need to start paying more attention. First off, the 22-year-old Canadian captured the Hyundai-BBVA 89 Chile Open last month and is now 10th on the PGATour Latinoamerica money list.
And then there's this: While practicing for this week's Argentine Open, the San Diego State product sank what has to be one of the greatest gimme putts ever. To me, it ranks right up there with this insane three-footer that we showed you last year.
As you can see in the Instagram video posted below, Bateman is mere inches from the cup. But the green has a huge mound in it, so instead of taking the easy tap-in he racks his ball 20 or 30 feet up the slope, then stands by coolly as it rolls up, pauses and then motors right back down into the cup.
We can't guarantee that Bateman will win this week in Argentina. But we're pretty sure of one thing – he won't have much trouble reading the greens.
Check it out:

Never thought a one footer would be this tough.

A video posted by wil (@wilcb8) on

Wil Bateman makes one of the coolest gimme putts ever
Rory McIlroy
USA Today Sports Images
A club sandwich laid Rory McIlroy low, but he kept his spirits up on Twitter.
Did you take a close look T.J. Auclair's report about the Drum Ceremony preceding this week's HSBC Champions in Shanghai? Defending champion Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson donned some traditional Chinese garb, hopped up on a large stage and whaled away on some pretty huge drums in what has become this tournament's annual tradition.
Missing from the fun, however, was Rory McIlroy. 
McIlroy made the trip to Shanghai in good shape, but then got what appears to be a case of food poisoning from a club sandwich. Even in distress, however, he kept his sense of humor, as you can see in the tweet posted below:
McIlroy is paired with Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson in the first two rounds. Hopefully, he'll be feeling well enough to play his best.
Rory McIlroy deals with stomach illness with good humor
November 3, 2015 - 1:46pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Just like the skateboard, surfboard, golf cart and Segway before it, if you use a GolfBoard other than the way it's meant to be used, there are painful consequences.

Perhaps you've seen the new rage on golf courses lately, the alternative to golf carts -- GolfBoards.

Shaped like a skateboard/surfboard/Segway hybrid, the GolfBoard is motorized and it turns depending on which way the person "riding" it leans.

Well, just like the skateboard, surfboard, golf cart and Segway before it, if you use a GolfBoard other than the way it's meant to be used, there are painful consequences...

Like this guy for instance, on a video that was posted to YouTube by user Calvin Lennberg on Monday:


Luckily, it looks like the man made it away relatively unscathed.

That wasn't the case for PGA Tour winner Jesper Parnevik on a Segway a while back if you remember:


Haha, of all injuries I'v had, this is the most ridiculous!! Broke a rib and had to withdraw from all events this month.

A video posted by Jesper Parnevik (@jesperparnevik) on

Here's more on the GolfBoard:


Man wipes out messing around on GolfBoard
November 3, 2015 - 8:41am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
WGC-HSBC Champions
@europeantour on Twitter
This video coming in from Shanghai before the start of the WGC-HSBC Champions features Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler dressed in traditional Chinese garb while hammering away at the drums.

Sometimes you've got to do weird things to make the sponsors happy.

Case in point: This video coming in from Shanghai before the start of the WGC-HSBC Champions that features Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler dressed in traditional Chinese garb while hammering away at the drums:


Stick to the day job, boys.

More fun photos here:



Check this out from Spieth, Fowler, Watson and Stenson
Niall Horan with Rory McIlroy
USA Today Sports Images
Niall Horan caddied for Rory McIlroy during the Par 3 Contest at the Masters last spring.
The superstar boy band One Direction is scheduled to take a year off after its current tour ends, and the group's resident golf fanatic is planning to use some of that downtime to recharge his game.
In fact, Niall Horan got a little jump on his vacation by hitting the driving range to whack a few golf balls. Horan – who famously served as Rory McIlroy's caddie during the Par 3 Contest at the Masters last spring – shared a moody shot of his session at a practice range on Instagram. Sorry to say, we're not exactly sure where that facility is.
In any case, Horan will really get serious about his golf game when the band's break officially begins.
"By the end of next year … I'd like to be a low single figure in golf and in better shape, working out," he told RTE Ten in Ireland the other day.
Horan's game – or at least his putting stroke – is also featured in the band's new video for its song, "Perfect."
Here's his Instagram shot, with the "Perfect" video right below it.
One Direction singer Niall Horan hits golf balls on break from band