WGC-HSBC Champions | Five players to watch in China

Phil Mickelson
Getty Images
Phil Mickelson won the WGC-HSBC Champions in 2009 and is hoping to do so again this week in Shanghai.
By T.J. Auclair, Senior Interactive Producer
PGA.com

Series: Golf Buzz

Many of golf's biggest stars -- including Keegan Bradley, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy -- are in Shanghai this week for the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International GC.

The 78-player field boasts 36 PGA Tour winners who account for 157 wins overall. Ian Poulter is the defending champion.

The WGC-HSBC Champions is the fourth event of the 2014 season on the PGA Tour.

SCORES: Follow the WGC-HSBC Champions leaderboard on PGA.com

Here's a closer look at five players to watch this week.

5. Justin Rose.
Best finish in 2013:
Winner of the U.S. Open
Reason to watch: Few players were better than Rose in a 2013 season that included his first major championship win. Rose has become one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour (he missed the cut just twice in 17 starts last season) and always seems to be a contender, evidenced by his 13 top-25 finishes during the 2013 season. Rose sports one of the prettiest swings in golf and, as he's proven lately, it holds up well under pressure. After notching that first major, expect Rose to start adding loads of hardware to that trophy case.

4. Jordan Spieth.
Best finish in 2013:
Winner of the John Deere Classic
Reason to watch: Forget the fact that the 20-year-old was the runaway PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2013. Since missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August, Spieth has made five starts. Here are those results: playoff loss at Wyndham Championship; T19 at The Barclays; T4 at the Deutsche Bank Championship; T16 at the BMW Championship; and T2 at the Tour Championship. Spieth was also a member of the winning U.S. Presidents Cup team, playing as one of Fred Couples's two captain's picks. Spieth is becoming a force. And, in case he needed any added incentive (he doesn't), there was a funny picture making the rounds on Twitter -- via Spieth's Instagram account -- this week. Spieth's locker at Sheshan identified him as "Jonas" instead of "Jordan." Maybe he'll give the folks in Shanghai a reason to never forget his name again.

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3. Rory McIlroy.
Best finish in 2013:
Second at the Valero Texas Open
Reason to watch: Is there any player in the world more looking forward to a new season than McIlroy? Not a chance. The funny thing is, as bad as 2013 was for the two-time major winner, it still wasn't awful. He made the cut in 14 of 16 starts and finished in the top-10 on five of those occasions. The problem was... he wasn't Rory-like. So, he enters the new season (and the remainder of the 2013 European Tour season) feeling like he's got something to prove. I think we'll see McIlroy making it a point to enjoy himself and have a little more fun on the course in 2014 (and starting this week). With this week's event counting toward both the PGA and European Tours, McIlroy has a chance to kill two birds with one stone -- salvage an otherwise forgettable 2013 and jump out to a fantastic start for 2014.

2. Phil Mickelson.
Best finish in 2013:
Winner of the Waste Management Open and Open Championship
Reason to watch: Mickelson tied for 19th at last week's CIMB Classic, where he pretty much said it was the worst he can remember hitting the ball in a long time. In fact, he claims he hit only three shots on the center of the clubface. Is that Mickelson hyperbole? Probably. But it's also a testament to just how scary good Mickelson is. He had far from his best stuff and still grabbed a top 20. Then there's this week. In a Golf Channel interview, Mickelson said he's hitting the ball much better. What will Phil do next? I don't know -- maybe win the HSBC Champions for the second time in four years.

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1. Keegan Bradley.
Best finish in 2013:
Second at HP Byron Nelson Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
Reason to watch: Bradley is itching to get back out for another tournament. He built a healthy 36-hole lead in Malaysia a week ago, but stumbled in the third round with a disappointing 76. Still, he managed a tie for 10th. And, as noted last week, Bradley's probably a little more pumped than usual -- if that's possible -- seeing as his Boston Red Sox have a chance to win their third World Series since 2004 this week.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.