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The CIMB Classic is now into its fifth 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, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Hideki Matsuyama 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 (twice) highlights a tournament where 'under the radar' quality tends to come through. It's hard to believe that Thomas at this very same point 12 months ago was the World Number 35 with his single win here in Kuala Lumpur the only PGA Tour success on his resume. The CIMB has now become the first stage of a three-part short field, no cut Asian adventure for the PGA Tour, followed by the inaugural CJ Cup next week in South Korea and the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China the week after.
The CIMB Classic field comprises 78 attendees including the top 60 available players from the closing 2017 FedEx Cup rankings, 10 from the Asian Tour and 8 Sponsor's Exemptions. A $7 million purse this week makes the CIMB a draw for plenty and field strength corresponds well with the likes of the freshly crowned FedEx Cup champion and 2-time winner here Justin Thomas, going for his 3rd straight victory at TPC Kuala Lumpur. He's joined by the Tour Championship winner Xander Schauffele and runner-up here 12 months ago Hideki Matsuyama. This week's field also includes Tour Championship qualifiers Paul Casey, Jason Dufner, Adam Hadwin, Pat Perez, Kyle Stanley, Jhonattan Vegas and Gary Woodland. Throw-in talented players of the ilk of course winner Anirban Lahiri, Branden Grace, Ian Poulter, Charl Schwartzel and Thomas Pieters. We also have the likes of SSP Chowrasia, Gavin Green, Phachara Khongwatmai and Scott Hend from the Asian Tour, forming a truly international field.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Italian Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Betfair Sportsbook are on their own this week when it comes to offering additional places across both the CIMB Classic and the Italian Open. They are the only bookmaker offering 6 places each-way at 1/5 odds in Malaysia and are also offering 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds at the Monza-hosted Italian Open. Betfair have also just launched a brand new up to £100 of free bets promotion for new customers. You must be over 18, T&Cs apply:
Course Guide: TPC Kuala Lumpur's 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, TPC Kuala Lumpur, 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. 2016: 70.30 (-1.70), Difficulty Rank of 44 of 50.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Robin Nelson designs include:
Course Overview: The West Course at TPC Kuala Lumpur is an interesting test where players can choose to be aggressive or conservative with equal opportunity. The course is short for PGA Tour professionals. Wind never tends to be a factor here and conditions are always hot and humid plus very soft and receptive. The ball travels a long way in these climes and with a number of short par-4s and par-5s to attack, this course is always there for the taking. Indeed slightly firmer conditions (no, lift, clean and place) and a slight breeze saw the course rise from 47th easiest to 44th easiest on the PGA Tour last season. It's certainly not a challenge, indeed the course has received some small changes over the past few years with the aim of helping scoring even further. 2015 saw the 280-yard par-4 14th get a new tee box 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 saw 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. Plotters can prosper, as can those with a more expansive, powerful game - take Justin Thomas, Adam Scott, Brendan Steele, Anirban Lahiri and Hideki Matsuyama from the past 2 renewals. What is 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: 2016: Justin Thomas (-23); 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 predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Scott Piercy, Anirban Lahiri and Brendan Steele.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Bridgestone Invitational / Barracuda Championship and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Thomas 25/1; 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, Malaysia is here. Expect soft, receptive conditions and intense heat with humidity this week at TPC Kuala Lumpur. Wind will not be a factor, but with feel-like temperatures up to around 37 degrees Celsius in the afternoons, conditions will be energy sapping in the extreme.
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:
Justin Thomas (2016): "It's not a course you have to over-think. It's all in front of you. Just hit here, hit there and make the putt and beat everybody else. The course suits my game I think because I get to play a lot of wedges. I feel like I'm a pretty good wedge player, and you just kind of have to know how far your ball is going. There's not a lot of wind out here, so if you know how far it's going, you're going to be around pin-high all the time. I feel like I've been hitting it solid enough or hitting it well enough to where I know my distances and I've definitely hit some good iron shots the last couple days and especially last year. But it's just, I don't know, I guess there's something about it that I like. Conditions wise, it's very similar to Florida heat. It gets really hot in Louisville where I'm from, too, in the summers. But I feel like once it gets to about that 95, 100 heat index, it's all the same. We're wearing pants, we're sweating a lot and it's really just trying to maintain energy."
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 4 CIMB Classic winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2013:
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.
2016 - Justin Thomas -8/64 - Group 11 of 13 -1st Tee - 25/1 Derek Fathauer - Group 2 of 13 - 1st Tee - 125/1 Keegan Bradley - Group 10 of 13 - 1st Tee - 80/1
2015 - Scott Piercy -10/62 - Group 3 of 13 - 1st Tee.
2014 - Rikard Karlberg -7/65 - Group 1 of 13 - 1st Tee.
2013 - Ryan Moore -9/63 - Group 8 of 13 - 1st Tee.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Paspalum PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
2 - Justin Thomas.
1 - Scott Brown, Pat Perez, D.A. Points, Ian Poulter.
It's worth noting that the West Course has played host to both the CIMB Classic since 2013 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 7 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 in 2013 and 2014 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 capture his first PGA Tour win with a record-low score of -26/262. He backed that-up with a -23/265 total 12 months ago, beating Hideki Matsuyama by 3 shots and Derek Fathauer / Anirban Lahiri by 4.
Both Moore and Thomas topped the birdies column in their wins (24 and 25 for Moore, 30 and 29 for Thomas), with Justin also making 2 Eagles on his way to his maiden Tour title in 2015. 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.
My selections are as follows:
Gary Woodland is a must-back this week and fits the identikit profile of a CIMB winner down to a tee. The World Number 48 is playing some lovely stuff right now and his liking for TPC Kuala Lumpur is there for all to see. 2nd in 2013 where he lost in a play off to Ryan Moore, he followed that up 12 months later with another runner-up position here sharing second place with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Na.
"The golf course sets up good to my eye, you know. It's one I feel like I can attack. The par‑5s are all gettable. You get four opportunities with four par‑5s. So if I drive the ball in play, I have a pretty good chance to be successful out there," was how Gary described TPC Kuala Lumpur test back in 2014 and there's no doubt that Woodland can go low and loves soft, receptive conditions. Take last season as an example: 2nd at a soft El Camaleon came at -19/265; 6th at Waialae came at -17/263; 5th at a soft Pebble beach came at -12/275; 4th at a soft Glen Abbey came at -19/269. You get the picture and don't forget that Woodland announced himself on the PGA Tour back in 2011 when he finished runner-up to Jhonattan Vegas by shooting -27/333 at the Bob Hope Classic when it was a 5-day tournament.
When conditions are receptive Gary often pops up on leaderboards. He came alive in Boston after the rain fell shooting 67-67 across the weekend to finish 18th. His play at East Lake was also eye-opening: plenty of rain had fallen in the build-up and there was Woodland in 4th spot after 36 holes. Yes, he fell away across the weekend at the course showed its true teeth, but with low scoring, receptive conditions and a lower grade of competition in Malaysia this week I can see him being right in the mix. His wedge play has been superb over the past 12 months and he was also 6th for Putts per GIR here back in 2013 so he can convert on these Paspalum greens. RESULT: T28
Anirban Lahiri is undoubtedly a threat this week on a course which has to be his favourite. World Number 68 Lahiri, fresh off some Presidents Cup heroics, will surely be revved-up for a return to Malaysia and TPC Kuala Lumpur in particular where he's played so well in the past. An Asian Tour stalwart, Lahiri finished 9th at the Johor Open as far back as 2009 and since then he has the small matter of 10 top-26 finishes in this part of the world, with 8 of them being top 10s. The West Course has also been an undoubted friend to India's Number 1 golfer who's impressed me no end since his move to the PGA Tour. 10th at the European Tour's 2014 Malaysian Open here was followed by Asian Tour wins at the Indonesia Masters (April 2014) and Macau Open (October 2014). Then on his return to Kuala Lumpur G&CC (as it was called then) in February 2015, Lahiri shot -16/272 to hold off Bernd Wiesberger to win the Maybank Malaysian Open for what remains the biggest win of his career. Naturally Anirban also came extremely close to winning this CIMB title here 12 months ago, when rounds of 66-66-65 had him 4 shots clear of eventual victor Justin Thomas and Russell Knox going into Sunday. A quadruple bogey on the 3rd hole in the pressure cooker of the final round did for his chances of victory, but he showed character to shoot -4 across the rest of the round to finish in 3rd spot. During the tournament Lahiri gave his thoughts on the course, "When you've played a golf course a few times, you get a lot more comfortable, and I think that's the big difference between me playing on new courses every week and during the year and last season. So this week obviously feels like home. I've played it few times. I've won here. So good memories out on the golf course."
12 months on Lahiri again arrives with momentum and maybe more belief that he can win on the PGA Tour. Runner-up in June behind Jason Dufner at Muirfield Village highlights he can mix it at the biggest tournaments and Anirban shot a -5/66 to finish 9th at the recent BMW Championship. He also performed well at the Presidents Cup a fortnight ago, where amidst the International team carnage he earned a great Saturday afternoon victory with Si-Woo Kim and came back from 2 Down standing on the 17th tee to halve his singles with Kevin Kisner. You have to like his chances this week. RESULT: T10
Scott Piercy 1pt EW 45/1 with (5 places, 1/4 odds)
3rd in this week's Predictor Model, Scott Piercy is another who deserves respect this week. Across the past 5 years on the PGA Tour my analysis ranks him as the second best resort scoring player in the field, behind only Justin Thomas. Played well enough last week after 3 months of inactivity finishing 17th in Silverado, and his OWGR is pretty false - 84th - on the basis that he has missed a number of big tournaments since the close of June. 10th (2012), 7th (2016) and 10th (2017) at the CIMB Classic across his 3 visits to Malaysia says everything about his appropriateness for TPC Kuala Lumpur this week and his 3 PGA Tour wins have come with winning scores of -15/273 (Montreux 2011), -17/263 (Hamilton 2012) and -19/265 (RTGT 2015) and that last win came in Alabama. 4th last November at El Camaleon again highlights Piercy's ability to shoot low score (-17/267) and play well in receptive, equatorial conditions. Scott certainly came back firing last week shooting 19 birdies and he finished 5th for Strokes Gained Putting. If he can tidy up the mistakes which led to too many dropped shots last week, he can definitely be a factor this week. RESULT: T63
A short, attackable Par 72 set-up shouts Adam Hadwin to me who as we know from this season loves to shoot low scores on resort-level scoring tests. A week after Chesson Hadley shot -11/61 at Silverado, a quick glance at the Lowest Round chart from last season shows 2 players atop the category. 2-time CIMB Classic winner Justin Thomas' amazing -11/59 in the opening round of the Sony Open was only matched by Hadwin who shot a tremendous -13/59 in the 3rd Round at La Quinta Country Club at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January. A streaky scorer, Hadwin went on to lose the next day at PGA West to Hudson Swafford, but he soon put that right in March when he captured his first PGA Tour title at Copperhead with a sublime performance to see off Patrick Cantlay. The World Number 50, up from 191st in the OWGR at the turn of the year, has had an excellent 2017, but I'm sure he'll see TPC Kuala Lumpur this week as a great opportunity to secure a coveted spot at the top table of world golf going into 2018. Hadwin contended at the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston going into Monday just 2-back from leader Justin Thomas before finishing 12th and the Canadian also shot -6/65 in the final round at Conway Farms, which suited power hitters. However as we've seen with Ryan Moore, Kevin Na, Chris Stroud and Derek Fathauer here at TPC Kuala Lumpur since 2013, shorter hitters can contend at the CIMB Classic and I think the test this week will be right up Hadwin's street.
21st here 12 months ago is encouraging as he entered the tournament in relatively poor form and without the confidence that he now has to rub shoulders with the very best on the PGA Tour. He played well enough at the Presidents Cup only losing 2&1 to Mickelson in the singles and it's interesting to see a number of top-10 finishes across shorter resort formats like Deere Run, Royal Montreal, TPC Summerlin and El Camaleon. RESULT: T51
I was encouraged by Grayson Murray last week who finished with a strong -3/69 in extremely fast and windy conditions at Silverado to finish 9th and with Thomas, Matsuyama and Casey in the field this week I'm pleased that Murray's price this week remains buoyant. In TPC Kuala Lumpur, where low scoring is a must in terribly hot conditions, I can see the Raleigh, North Carolina resident, who attended Arizona State university, going extremely well. Season-long PGA Tour category rankings of 18th for Birdie Average, 27th for par-5 Birdie or Better Conversion, 17th for Driving Distance and 18th for Putting Average are perfect for the test ahead. The humid conditions will also suit. 2016 saw the trending World Number 90 finish 5th (-14/274) in Nashville, Tennessee and 7th (-20/264) in Knoxville, Tennessee on the web.com Tour. Promotion to the PGA Tour saw Grayson finish 8th (-13/275) in only his second appearance in Jackson, Mississippi, before he won (-21/263) the Barbasol Championship in Auburn, Alabama. Since July Murray has used the Barbasol as a platform to get himself noticed in higher echelons of golf. 22nd in balmy conditions at the Quail Hollow-hosted PGA Championship was his first Major as a professional and it's worth remembering that a 1st Round 68 was good enough for 3rd place which he backed up with a 69 in the 3rd Round, seeing him in 6th spot after 54 holes. Murray, who has a strong wedge game combined with power and finesse on the greens, should really like the test this week in conditions which will climb to 30+ degrees Celsius. RESULT: T69
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