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The Malaysian capital city is our next stop as the Royal Selangor GC in Kuala Lumpur hosts the inaugural Maybank Championship Malaysia this week. The event isn't to be confused with the Maybank Malaysian Open which was a regular event on the European Tour until recently with a similar slot in the schedule, the same sponsor and also played on another track in Kuala Lumpur - the differences are subtle but important nonetheless and we're effectively starting with a blank canvas here.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Northern Trust Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Overview. The Royal Selangor Golf Club dates back to 1893 and the Old Course which we're playing a composite version of this week is a classical, tree-lined affair measuring 7,079 for its par of 71. The back 9 presents scoring opportunities with 2 of the 3 par 5s on that half plus the 340 yard par-4 10th and 375 yard par-4 14th; 17-under was the winning score the last time the European Tour visited this club at the 2002 Malaysian Open won by Alastair Forsyth so it's clearly scoreable without being a complete pushover. Fairways are lined with fairly thick rough and water comes into play on around half of the holes which puts a fair premium on accuracy off the tee; the greens were re-laid with Bermuda TifDwarf in 1992 before being further updated to TifEagle last year and overall the course is a mature, solid test for the professionals.
Tournament Stats. This is the inaugural Maybank Championship Malaysia so there's no event form to study this week. Current Form stats are here.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Kuala Lumpur is here. Thunderstorms are likely in the afternoons for the first 3 days which will threaten suspensions to play. As is usually the case in this part of the world, it will be hot and humid throughout with temperatures in the low to mid 90s Fahrenheit which will quickly sap energy.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
This is the inaugural Maybank Championship Malaysia so there's no event history to study, however the Old Course here in Kuala Lumpur was used on the European Tour back in 2002 when Alastair Forsyth won his first title at this level when he captured the Carlsberg Malaysian Open. Stats for the top 5 that week were as follows:
Anything approaching 70% driving accuracy was an excellent return that week which emphasises the challenge from off the tee here, however Alex Cejka finished a shot outside the play-off despite missing nearly two-thirds of fairways. Maximising greens in regulation and producing a putting performance in the 1.6s on the Bermuda greens was the winning combination in the end 14 years ago, however fairly thick rough this year may well favour the more accurate types a little more this time around.
The local climate is predictable enough in that afternoon thunderstorms are commonplace and the rain will keep the greens receptive and scoreable, however the course does drain well so don't expect any wet weather to be too much of an issue other than keeping the players away whenever there's lightning in the area. Those who can navigate to the greens in the requisite number of shots will find birdies with relative ease, so for me this course suits more accurate types who have shown evidence of a warm enough putter to post enough red numbers to get into contention. Form on shorter tracks and in hot and humid climes is a plus, as is the temperament to remain patient during the weather delays that often plague events in this region.
Events on new (or seldom used) tracks are a good leveller and it often pays to look past the short-priced favourites in events like this in my opinion. If push came to shove I'd have gone for Joost Luiten out of the market leaders given his steady tee-to-green performances this season and a putting display in Dubai that encourages, however at a best priced 18/1 he's a little too short for me to get involved. Danny Willett, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer are all well capable of winning an event like this of course, however I'll be trying to get a positive return from players a little further down the list this week. My selections are as follows:
Having set our criteria for an accurate type who putts well on Bermudagrass greens, the name Alejandro Canizares is pretty easy to come by. The son of former Ryder Cupper Jose Maria Canizares is a star in his own right nowadays having twice been victorious on the European Tour including, most recently, at the classical Moroccan track used for the Trophee Hassan II in 2014 when he beat Andy Sullivan by 5 clear strokes. The 33 year-old should win more events given his raw credentials - he's accurate off the tee (14th for fairways hit this term so far), has a great short game (top 50 for scrambling each of the last 3 years) and is an excellent putter (20th for putting season to date) - an excellent combination for here and his only handicap, length off the tee, won't be punished anywhere near as much on this shorter layout.
5th in Abu Dhabi and 8th in Dubai where the putter really began to fire on the slick Bermuda greens is positive form - both represented personal best efforts in each of those events - and three top-14 finishes in the Malaysian Open including 3rd last season where he produced the best putting performance of the week suggests he's more than comfortable in this part of the world. The Spaniard will be happier than most with the oppressive conditions here in Malaysia and while he's driving the ball so well (top-10 for accuracy on 6 of his last 8 starts) this represents an excellent opportunity for Alejandro to notch his third European Tour title.
In a lot of ways, Gregory Bourdy is a very similar player to Alejandro Canizares who plies his trade through accurate ball-striking and a strong short game as opposed to brute force and again, like his Spanish colleague, this layout should suit him nicely. 16th for accuracy last season and 15th for GIR is what the Bordeaux man is all about and that tee-to-green excellence may well get him in to a contending position once again this week as he looks to build on a positive start to the 2015/16 campaign that's already seen him finish 2nd at Leopard Creek and bank 3 cheques from the Desert Swing including 13th in Qatar.
2nd for driving accuracy on his last start in Dubai (75%) and 1st for GIR the week before that in Qatar (84.7%) suggests that the 33 year-old's long game is in excellent shape right now and a return to the Kuala Lumpur region that's seen finishes of 2nd (2011) and 5th last year in the Malaysian Open could well spark another big performance if he can find some form with the putter. There's just about enough Bermudagrass form to encourage us here - he's finished inside the top 6 for putting in 3 of his last 5 efforts at the Dubai Desert Classic - and it was interesting to hear him talk about his game in Qatar where he said "Last week I was a bit frustrated because my game was very good and I finished only 50-something, 54th. I feel very confident and my putting is very good at this time" - strong words from the 4-time European Tour winner who was also victorious in the heat and humidity of Hong Kong back in 2009.
Now whilst Canizares and Bourdy fit the blueprint that I suspect is most favoured here at Royal Selangor, Scott Hend could well prove to be the exception to the rule and he's been steadily backed since bookies began revealing their hand on Monday. As one of the longer hitters on the European Tour - he's currently averaging over 310 yards off the tee - this layout might appear to be a fundamental mismatch, however that's exactly what I thought before he won his maiden European Tour title in Hong Kong at the end of 2014.
The Queensland native has been producing the best golf of his career since hitting 40 and is hovering around the top-100 in the OWGR still after another positive performance in Dubai on his last start. He finished 8th that week ranking 1st for total driving and 2nd for ball-striking on a course that's full of dog-legs and isn't just about smashing it off the tee. The 42 year-old racked up his 7th Asian Tour victory in Macao in October and regularly ranks as one of the most Bermudagrass-positive players on the European Tour in my analysis which could well be enough to give him a fighting chance here. Clearly comfortable in this part of the world and playing in these oppressive conditions, if Hend can repeat his tee-to-green performance from Dubai again here in what is a weaker field then a top-5 finish or better isn't out of the equation by any stretch of the imagination. 3 top-20 finishes at the Malaysian Open from his last 4 events also adds encouragement for this week.
First Round Leader Market
One player who caught my eye when missing the cut in Dubai was Andrew Dodt and his second round 66 featured some excellent all-round play having effectively played himself out of the tournament with an opening 80. Last year's Thailand Open champion is about as erratic as they come which means this bet could just as easily totally backfire, however at 250/1 I'm taking a punt given he has a nice early tee time on Thursday and can clearly play the conditions having also won at the Avantha Masters on the European Tour earlier in his career. He's made the top-5 twice after day 1 at the Hong Kong Open with rounds of 65 and 66 respectively and every now and then everything aligns and he produces a low round. Yes, it's a punt, but with a level playing field in terms of course experience and positive vibes following his joint lowest round for well over a year, 250/1 is a price that I'm happy to take on for small stakes.
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