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The CIMB Classic is now into its fourth season as a fully-fledged PGA Tour event, but the origins of this tournament go back to 2010 when Ben Crane won at The Mines Resort where we were on board at 40/1. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson have all played this event in the past, but none of them have ever triumphed - instead a champions' list that starts with Ben Crane and moves on to Bo Van Pelt, Nick Watney, Ryan Moore (twice) and Justin Thomas highlights a tournament where 'under the radar' quality tends to come through.
The CIMB Classic field comprises 78 attendees including the top 60 available players from the closing 2016 FedEx Cup rankings, 10 from the Asian Tour and 8 Sponsor's Exemptions. A $7 million purse this week makes the CIMB the richest tournament on the PGA Tour this autumn outside of next week's WGC and field strength corresponds well with Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama (fresh from his win in the Japan Open at 4/1), Sergio Garcia, Branden Grace and Patrick Reed all in Kuala Lumpur. This week's field also includes Tour Championship qualifiers Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Kevin Chappell, Emiliano Grillo, Kevin Kisner, Russell Knox, Ryan Moore, Kevin Na, Sean O'Hair, Jhonattan Vegas, Gary Woodland and defending champion Justin Thomas. Throw in talented Byeong-Hun An and Younghan Song plus Marcus Fraser and Scott Hend from the Asian Tour, plus course winner Anirban Lahiri who finished 2nd in Macau last week, and we have a cracking international field.
From a bookmaker perspective, Paddy Power are the only firm offering 6 places each-way this week (at 1/5 odds), which in a 78 man field is commendable - you can access this and £/€30 in free bets for new customers here.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Portugal Masters - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: The Kuala Lumpur G&CC West Course is an original Nelson and Wright design. The course is a short (7,005 yard), scoreable Par 72, that features the traditional split of four par-3, ten par-4 and four par-5 holes. Seven of the par-4s are sub-425 yards with five of those at 400 yards or less. Greens averaging 6,500 sq.ft. run to 11 on the stimpmeter and feature Seashore Paspalum.
West Course, Kuala Lumpur G&CC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Designer Nelson & Wright, 1992, Parslow, 2007; Course Type: Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,005 yards; Water Hazards: 10; Fairways: Seashore Paspalum; Rough: Seashore Paspalum 2"; Greens: 6,500 sq.ft average featuring Seashore Paspalum; Stimpmeter: 10.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2013: 71.97 (-0.03), Difficulty Rank 28 of 43 courses; 2014: 71.30 (-0.70), Difficulty Rank 30 of 52 courses. 2015: 69.62 (-2.48), Difficulty Rank 47 of 50 courses.
Course Overview: The West Course at Kuala Lumpur G&CC is an interesting test where players can choose to be aggressive or conservative with equal opportunity. The course is short for PGA Tour professionals and 2015 saw scoring at record low levels - this was helped by the fact that lift, clean and place was in operation and that there was virtually no wind. 2015 also saw a couple of course detail changes that produced lower scoring. The 280-yard par-4 14th saw a new tee which allowed for a straight tee shot. The difficult par-5 18th hole, which played as the toughest of the par 5s in 2014, also was reconfigured to provide a bigger drive landing area, encouraging more players to go for the green in two shots. 2016 sees the par-4 9th hole extended by 20 yards (to 24 yards), taking the course to over 7,000 yards for the first time in its history.
Effectively the West Course is the kind of test that allows some of the world's best players plenty of birdie chances. The course may not play quite as soft as it did 12 months ago, but expect scoring on the same level as we saw at Silverado last week. Plotters can prosper, as can those with a more expansive, powerful game - take Justin Thomas, Adam Scott and Brendan Steele from last year. What's for sure is that players with a liking for birdies and hot, humid conditions will inevitably come to the front. Plus look for those who are exceptional with a short iron from 175 yards and in.
Winners: 2015: Justin Thomas (-26); 2014: Ryan Moore (-17); 2013: Ryan Moore (-14); 2012: Nick Watney (-22); 2011: Bo Van Pelt (-23); 2010: Ben Crane (-18).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published CIMB Classic predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players in the Top 5 of the Predictor are Ryan Moore (Predictor number 1), Hideki Matsuyama, Kevin Na, Adam Scott and Scott Piercy.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the PGA Championship and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Thomas 25/1; 2014: Moore 33/1; 2013: Moore 33/1; 2012: Watney 20/1; 2011: Van Pelt 25/1; 2010: Crane 40/1. Average: 29/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Kuala Lumpur is here. We may well see drier course conditions and more breeze in 2016, but naturally a course located equatorially has to receive plenty of watering so that it can host main Tour events. Overall though I'm not expecting scoring at the same level as 2015 with greens likely to be less receptive and a north-westerly breeze on Sunday taking this closer to 2014.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of Kuala Lumpur G&CC winners since 2013 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how Kuala Lumpur G&CC sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Ryan Moore (2014): "I think it was playing very much like it did last year. It was a little less rough overall for the golf course than it was last year, so it makes scoring a little bit easier. But it's a good test of golf. It tests every part of your game and you gotta put it in the fairway, and once you're in the fairway, you gotta hit good shots, and you know, always have to make putts."
Sergio Garcia (2015): "It's the kind of course that you have to drive the ball well. It's asking you to hit a lot of good shots, because if you start hitting from the rough, there's a lot of shots into the greens that are very difficult to get close and even hold the green. So, if you manage to do that, you can score decent, because it's not terribly long. You have a lot of holes where you can score and make some birdies. So, I guess that's pretty much about it."
Lee Westwood (2014): "I like the variation to it. I like that it makes you think. You know, there's driver off a lot of holes, but you don't have to hit driver. It gives you options even on the par 5s. It's tightened up quite a bit on holes like 3 and you could hit 3 wood up there, but if you want to take it on with driver, it's possible. I think it's a good golf course strategically wise, as well. And then you need to use your common sense and have good course management skills. I think there are a lot of opportunities to take holes on out there, but at the same time there are a lot of opportunities to play conservatively and take par on certain holes. It gives you chances with regard to the par 5s, making birdie on those, and I think hitting the fairway is going to be paramount, especially if the conditions are wet. You don't want to be coming out of the rough because the greens seem to stay firm. Hitting a lot of fairways and setting up iron shots that you can be aggressive with."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 3 CIMB Classic winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2013:
PGA Winner Green-type Analysis: For the record, here's the breakdown of Paspalum victors in the field since 2008:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes Robin Nelson was also a key designer (with Neil Haworth) of Sheshan International Golf Club, host course to the WGC-HSBC Champions event most years since 2005.
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since the tournament moved to Kuala Lumpur G&CC in 2013. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
It's worth noting that the West Course has played host to both the CIMB Classic since 2013/2014 and the Maybank Malaysian Open on the European Tour from 2010-15. Winners of the Malaysian Open have been 2010: Seung-yul Noh; 2011: Matteo Manassero; 2012: Louis Oosthuizen 2013: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 2014: Lee Westwood and 2015: Anirban Lahiri - a fair mix of long hitters and accurate types. The key on the West Course is to minimise costly mistakes which, with plenty of water in play, are numerous.
From a CIMB Classic perspective, all of the 6 renewals to date have been low-scoring affairs. The Mines Resort course wasn't as tight as the West Course and yielded winning scores of -18/266, -23/261, and -22/262. Ryan Moore's wins here were delivered with scores of -14/274 and -17/271 (rough was lighter in 2014). However extremely soft conditions (even for Malaysia) allied to some course revisions and no breeze whatsoever saw Justin Thomas triumph here 12 months ago with a record-low score of -26/262. Both Moore and Thomas topped the birdies column in their wins (24 and 25 for Moore and 30 for Thomas), with Justin also making 2 Eagles on his way to his maiden Tour title. All winners of the CIMB have been ranked between 22-64 in the Official World Golf Ranking and all have had a liking for low-scoring resort golf. All CIMB winners have also had decent results on Florida-type courses and can score heavily on both par-4s and par-5s.
Bookmaker Offers: Paddy Power are the only bookmaker who haves extended their EW terms this week, going 6 places each-way at 1/5 odds:
My selections are as follows:
Kevin Na simply loves this time of the season. Since 2011 in 12 appearances across the Safeway Open, Shriners Open and CIMB Classic, Na has amassed a win, 2 runners-up and 3 further each-way payouts. Those who had backed Na with Paddy Power or Stan James last week also received a full each-way payout for his 7th place finish, a performance where Na finished 1st for Greens in Regulation and 19th for Strokes Gained Putting. It's hard to oppose a player current whose up-trending form is meeting course form which reads 2nd (2014) and 3rd (2015) and although we know Na has always struggled to get across the finish line, we only need to look at Brendan Steele's victory on Sunday to see that every player has their day. A superb wedge player who can go very close this week.
Scott Piercy is another soft course specialist who I always like to back the appearance after a contention. After a fantastic and injury free 2016, Piercy is definitely due a victory and the receptive and humid confines of the West Course are a huge opportunity for the Las Vegas-based World Number 34. 2nd in the U.S. Open followed by 2nd in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational on his next appearance earlier this summer highlights the rarefied air that Piercy can play in when he's on song. A strong track record at desert resort scoring tracks is pretty ideal for the CIMB and Piercy has that in abundance. Piercy is the kind of player who strings a couple of top performances together and his opening round -10/62 here 12 months ago highlights how the West Course is a perfect set-up for the 37 year-old who has 3 PGA Tour titles to his name with -15/273, -17/263 and -19/265 winning totals.
World Number 39 Byeong Hun An plays his first tournament as a fully-fledged PGA Tour member at the CIMB Classic this week and I think he will like the West Course on his tournament debut. An undoubtedly loves Par 72 formats and the free-scoring South Korean is adept at shooting low scores. His win at tree-lined Wentworth 17 months ago was at a tournament record low of -17/267 and this weekend 12 months ago saw Ben shoot -19/265 around Montgomerie Maxx Royal where he finished 4th to Victor Dubuisson at the Turkish Airlines Open. An has never played a stroke play event in Malaysia (he played in the EurAsia Cup earlier this year), but 4th at Amata Springs when making his debut at the Thailand Gold Championship again shows a liking for resort-style scoring challenges on a Par 72. Should be motivated to play well this week as he needs to finish the season well to keep his OWGR top 50 spot and the heat/humidity won't trouble the 25 year-old who grabbed the attention of the U.S. golfing public when he finished 2nd at TPC Louisiana shooting -15/201 in 54-hole regulation before losing in a play-off to Brian Stuard.
I will stick with James Hahn for a second consecutive week who at 63rd in the OWGR has plenty to play for in Malaysia - a win this week would take Hahn into the top 50 and it's not beyond the realms of possibility. Hahn found himself on the wrong side of the draw last week when he missed the cut at Silverado, but as we know He's not one who strings pockets of form together anyhow. Instead I'm drawn to him as he finished 6th here 12 months ago - we know this course throws up regular contenders. In an interview after shooting -7/65 in Round 2, James commented about the West Course, "I love playing this golf course. I feel like the conditions are challenging. You definitely have to be in shape to walk the golf course in this humidity and the heat. You have to hit a lot of great shots out there. A lot of great tee shots, put yourself in the fairway, to where you can lift, clean and place it."
James also has correlating course form across PGA West (4th 2013), TPC Scottsdale (2 Top 20 finishes) and Quail Hollow (1st 2016). 2 wins in the past 2 seasons at Riviera and Quail mark him out as classical golf course positive and he could surprise again this week.
First Round Leader Market
Ryder Cup star Rafael Cabrera-Bello is well known for a fast start and the Spaniard is sure to have been boosted by his Hazletine heroics where he was unbeaten with Sergio Garcia and beat PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker in the singles. Rafa has Maybank Malaysian Open experience of the West Course and was 4th here in 2011 and 3rd in 2012. Since the start of 2010, Cabrera-Bello has been First Round Leader 8 times - his last was at Sedgefield in August - and has been in the each-way places a further 10 times. Impressive numbers. The first round leader at the CIMB has always been in the first 8 groups, so I like the look of Cabrera-Bello who is in Group 6 off of the 10th tee. I also like the make-up of his group as he plays with Ryder Cup Vice-Captain Ian Poulter and the very much in-form Ryo Ishikawa.
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