Defending champion Justin Rose will look to achieve something only Tiger Woods has managed before in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
Woods is the only player to retain a World Golf Championship title but Rose can match that feat at Sheshan International, where he amazingly overturned an eight-shot deficit in the final round 12 months ago.
That victory sparked a remarkable run of form by the Olympic champion which yielded a total of four wins, 14 top-10 finishes and a solitary missed cut in 25 events, not to mention the FedEx Cup title and a two-week spell as world number one.
“It’s been a special year and a special month,” said Rose, who also helped Europe regain the Ryder Cup before hosting the British Masters at Walton Heath and could regain top spot in the rankings from Brooks Koepka on Sunday.
“Going to number one, the Ryder Cup, the FedEx all happened pretty much off the back of one another. British Masters was a huge honour to host that. It’s been a really exciting couple of months to be honest with you.
“My manager Mark Steinberg walked nine holes with me at this tournament last year during the pro-am and I said, ‘Listen, I think it’s really time to go on a bit of a run here and let’s put some great golf together’. I felt very hungry and motivated to just try and find another level, really.
“We kind of look back now and that nine holes was kind of poignant, just the discussions that we had out there. So this tournament absolutely did kick-start some great golf for me that’s lasted the best part of the year.”
Former world number one Rory McIlroy is fifth in the current standings and fourth in the Race to Dubai as he seeks to top the European Tour’s money list for the fourth time.
However, McIlroy is almost two million points behind Open champion Francesco Molinari and admits it will take something special to catch his record-breaking Ryder Cup team-mate.
“I feel like I need one win, maybe two out of the next three, to have any sort of a chance,” said McIlroy, who will also contest the Nedbank Challenge ahead of the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“If I can go to Dubai with a mathematical chance of winning, you never know what can happen. I’m still open to it, but I know it’s a long shot.
“I’ve played well here in the past. I haven’t quite got the win, but I’ve consistently finished quite high and I feel like it’s a good golf course for me.”
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Brooks Kopeka is set to become the new world number one on Monday following a four-shot victory at the CJ Cup at Jeju Island in South Korea.
The three-time major winner held a four-stroke advantage ahead of England’s Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy going into the final round on Sunday, but Koepka had a shaky start as he registered two bogeys and three birdies in his opening six holes.
However, the 28-year-old rolled in five more gains on the back nine before sealing victory with an eagle at the par-five 18th to finish on 21 under. Fellow American Gary Woodland finished second at 17 under.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Koepka after completing a final round of eight-under par 64.
“I don’t think I ever thought in my wildest dreams I’d be the best golfer in the world,” he added.
“It’s amazing to go world number one with a win. I always wanted to earn my way to number one.”
Koepka will overhaul Ryder Cup team-mate Dustin Johnson when the new world rankings are released on Monday.
The week before Brooks Koepka clinched the first of his three major titles in June 2017, Pete Cowen followed him for all four rounds of the St. Jude Classic in Memphis.
Koepka cut a frustrating figure all weekend, walking around the course with his shoulders down and looking like a beaten man before the tournament was even over. He signed off with a miserable final round three-over par to finish in a tie for 37th, nine shots behind the overall winner.
Two days later at Erin Hills, Cowen sat down with the American and said his attitude needed to change if he was to ever go on and fulfill his potential in the sport.
“I gave him a huge b******ing,” said Cowen, who has been working with the Florida native since 2013. “I followed him around that week and his body language was terrible. He was saying ‘I’ll never win’. It was all a bit ‘poor me’.
“I said to him ‘you need a champions’ attitude. It’s a challenge to you, change your attitude.”
That Sunday, an imposing Koepka barely broke a sweat en route to clinching his first major at the US Open. In fact, his 72-hole total of 16-under par tied the tournament record for lowest total under par.
Two more majors have followed in the last 16 months and now Koepka is ranked number two in the world and continuing to cement his status as the leading light in the current crop of young stars excelling in the game.
Indeed, with his recent successes at majors and on the PGA Tour, could Koepka be the late bolter in this generation to end up with the most majors?
“Brooks wants to put a massive gap between him and the rest of the field, like Tiger Woods did all those years ago,” Cowen said speaking at the one-month countdown to the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
“The desire is still there. You think after three majors that the desire might disappear, but not with people like that, for him it gets stronger.
“His sparring partner Dustin Johnson is now left behind. Dustin was the heavyweight champion of the world, winning his major back in 2016 and then going on to secure world number one.
“Now, Brooks has come along and won three majors and knocked Dustin off his perch.”
Koepka may be catapulting his stature to new heights, but the 28-year-old is one of about 60 players Cowen currently coaches.
The Englishman is a former professional golfer himself, and after giving up the game to become a coach in the late ’80s, he also has his own academies at Emirates Golf Club and Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.
Cowen’s philosophy is to simplify key fundamentals of the golf swing and focus on other areas of the game, and nothing proves his success better than the fact that six of his players past and present have go on to win majors: Darren Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell, Danny Willett, Henrik Stenson and Koepka.
Just this week, for example, the 67-year-old will fly from Dubai to China to work with Haotong Li, Alexander Levy, Thomas Pieters, Matt Fitzpatrick and Kiradech Aphibarnrat across the four days of the HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
Following his trip to China, he will return to Dubai for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship on November 15, where he has coached virtually all the players to have won the prestigious tournament at some stage in their careers.
“Quality players always come to the top in this tournament,” said Cowen. “It’s a great week. It finishes the year off nicely. I’ll never forget the three wood Stenson hit to the last green to win it back in 2013.”
Stenson – another one of Cowen’s long-term clients – produced one of the most memorable performances in Dubai five years ago, hitting a staggering 69 greens in regulation out of 72 over the four days to claim both the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai titles.
His flawless final round 64 earned him a tournament record total of 25-under par and was an example as to how players should approach the sweeping greens at Jumeirah Golf Estates in a bid to card low scores and threaten at the top of the leaderboard.
“You have to be hitting lots of fairways to find the sections on the green where the flag is,” Cowen said. “If you’re hitting out of the semi-rough you can’t find the sections of the green where the flag is so you can’t get the birdies required and the scoring becomes quite low because of the good weather and the quality of the greens. You’ve got to find the right quadrant to get those birdies.”
The Swede – a two-time winner of the DP World Tour Championship – is currently sidelined after undergoing a minor elbow procedure last week, but should be fit for the season-ending showpiece, where he will line up alongside 60 of the best players in Europe.
As it stands, Francesco Molinari looks to be the frontrunner to secure a maiden Race to Dubai title, holding a commanding lead over defending champion Tommy Fleetwood.
The 35-year-old has taken his game to another level in 2018 with three wins, including becoming Italy’s first major champion with victory at the Open Championship in July. As well as that, he won all five of his matches for a triumphant European Ryder Cup team at Le Golf National earlier this month.
Although Molinari is not part of Cowen’s stable of pros, he is quick to pay tribute to a star player who has done everything right on and off the course to propel his game to new heights.
“He’s had a tremendous year. He’s a really nice guy. He’s done everything correctly. He’s employed the right people at the right time. He’s moved forward from a position where he looked he might move backwards. He didn’t look like he was going through and he did then,” he said.
“His putting always let him down in the past and Phil Kenyon has done a great job since coming on board. Dave Alred, his performance director, has put a lot of good work in.
“Francesco has got a really good team around him. When they put good teams together and have the ability then they tend to come through.”
*The DP World Tour Championship takes place at Jumeirah Golf Estates from November 15-18, entry is free for spectators.