SHANGHAI – Except for the red carpet in bunkers on the practice range, signs posted in English and Chinese, and bicycles competing with BMWs for space on the road, the HSBC Champions looks like any other World Golf Championship.
Too bad the PGA Tour doesn't see it that way.
The tour opened itself to criticism — and even silly whispers of a conspiracy — by deciding to wait until after the HSBC Champions before sending ballots for its postseason awards. The tournament counts as an official win if a PGA Tour member is holding the trophy Sunday at Sheshan International, so it was the right decision to wait.
For those who saw ballot delay as a slight against Luke Donald, they're missing the point.
The only bias this exposed was how the PGA Tour continues to treat this WGC differently from the other three. Otherwise, there is no way it would have forgotten that the season really didn't end when Donald ran off six straight birdies, shot 64 to win at Disney and establish himself the clear favorite as player of the year.
And the bias looks even worse considering the other "world" events are all played in America.
"This should be treated as the rest," Thomas Bjorn said. "It comes at a time when certain people are not going to play, but that's the nature of the beast. It's a world-class field on a fantastic golf course. There's a couple of players missing, but not too many. This event has everything it needs. It showcases the game in this part of the world. And this is where the future is lying financially for golf."
The tour makes a reasonable argument for giving the HSBC Champions only partial status.
Because of where it falls on the calendar and on the globe, many of its stars aren't playing as much. The HSBC Champions has the fewest percentage of PGA Tour players (44 percent compared with about 70 percent for the other WGCs), thus the tour is hesitant to award all its perks when the majority of the field is not already a member.
But if any player wins against this field, is that not worthy of PGA Tour membership?
"I don't think it can be both ways," Nick Watney said. "If it's a WGC event, it should count as official money. It should be all or nothing. I don't understand how it can be an official win, but not be official money. It's kind of like, 'Who do we think we are?' Yeah, you can put our name on it, but we're not going to count it toward our tour. I just don't get it."
Why shouldn't it count as an official money?
Remember, when PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem first introduced the WGCs more than a decade ago, the idea was to end the season with back-to-back blockbuster events — the Tour Championship and a World Golf Championship in Spain. Of course, this was before the FedEx Cup came along, and before Europe began tapping into the lucrative Asian market.
The problem with counting this toward the PGA Tour money list was the guy hitting balls Tuesday afternoon between Hunter Mahan and Rory McIlroy. It was Bobby Gates, and if the name sounds familiar, he was the one who missed a 7-foot par putt on his final hole at Disney that ultimately cost him his card.
Gates wound up at No. 126 on the money list by $1,431. If the HSBC Champions counted as official money, he would be guaranteed at least $25,000 and assured of finishing in the top 125.
"It is weird to be here at a World Golf Championship before I go back to Q-school," Gates said. "But it's a bonus to be here. It's a WGC, and the best in the world are here. I'm one of those anomalies."
This is where it gets a bit muddled — for Gates and Jim Herman, an American who finished 196th on the money list.
Both were on the Nationwide Tour last year when they won in consecutive weeks Down Under — Gates in New Zealand, Herman in Australia. Because those events were co-sanctioned with the Australasian Tour, both finished high enough on the Australasian Tour's money list that they got into the HSBC Champions through the allotment of spots awarded that tour.
Is it fair that Gates gets into a WGC event when some 70 guys ahead of him on the money list weren't even eligible?
Then again, the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and the Cadillac Championship at Doral always seem to have a few players who raise two questions: Who is this guy, and how did he get in this field? It shouldn't matter that in this case they happen to be Americans.
The solutions are simple.
The HSBC Champions will be played a week before Disney next year. There is no reason it shouldn't count as official money. If the money list means that much, a player should be willing to travel to Shanghai. And if players aren't eligible, they can always play better.
What might help is increasing talk about starting a new PGA Tour season — the money list and FedEx Cup points — with the Fall Series. In that case, the HSBC Champions and even the Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia could be part of the schedule.
The tour delayed sending out awards ballots out of fairness to the players in Shanghai, and out of respect to the title sponsor. That should not be dismissed lightly. HSBC is aware that it is not looked upon in the same way as the other WGCs.
"Is it something we'd like to see worked on? Absolutely," said Giles Morgan, head of sponsorship for HSBC. "It's less important for us. This is a showcase for golf in China. It's a relatively new market for golf, and a hugely important market for HSBC. At the same time, we believe this is a World Golf Championship, and therefore we want all the best players in the world."
Maybe more of them would come if it counted.