CIMB Classic: Na can star at Kuala Lumpur
The PGA Tour heads to the Far East and Dave Tindall has three each-way picks for this week's event in Malaysia...
"His Strokes Gained: Putting stats have been superb of late and birdies are definitely what’s required this week for an event won with -24, -23 and -26 the last three years."
Each-way terms: 1/5 odds, 6 places
Main Bet: Back Kevin Na each-way @ 35/1
The idea of Kevin Na winning twice in a calendar year may seem preposterous to some but having been on him at 45s when he landed the Greenbrier Classic in some style, I'm happy to play the American again at 35s in this limited field.
For starters, Na likes heading back to Malaysia. In 2015 he said at this week's venue, TPC Kuala Lumpur: "I love this golf course. Malaysian fans have been very nice to me. And also, from my first win being here when I was like 19 at Kota Permai, so I have some great memories at Malaysia and I can only thank Malaysia for that.
"Last year, I was right up there until the end. Losing that ball on 17 that kind of cost me the event." That was a reference to his eventual second place in 2014 when he shot 69-68-67-70.
In 2015, he opened 67-66-64 to set up another strong final-day challenge and a closing 67 secured third spot.
Also T10 when the event was held at The Mines in 2012, Na was T29 last year and, despite an opening 66 which put him in the top five after day one, T44 last time.
Overall though, he's done plenty of good things on this golf course and he could just like it even more this time.
A revamp has seen the greens changed to TifEagle Bermuda and Celebration Bermuda installed on the fairways.
Speaking about the changes, Kiradech Aphibarnrat said on Tuesday: "The greens are fantastic. I think it's the first time I see the ball roll on the fairways, which is like a good sign. The fairways will be more difficult because it's going to roll off the fairways. Previously, it just stops or just ends up a yard away. The greens are firmer and faster and there is lot of slope on the greens and I'm sure you're going to hole less putts."
The firmer conditions and installation of Bermuda bring Florida courses to mind and, in particular, TPC Sawgrass which has the exact same strain of grass.
Na's record at the Players Championship includes a third, a sixth and a seventh while he's got a string of other top 10s in the Sunshine State.
As for more recent form, he made the top 20 in the year's final major and posted T15 (Northern Trust) and T12 (BMW Championship) in the play-offs before failing to make an impression at East Lake.
His Strokes Gained: Putting stats have been superb of late and birdies are definitely what's required this week for an event won with -24, -23 and -26 the last three years.
At the BMW where he shot a second-round 62, Na said: "I've been playing my game, which is put it in play, hitting the irons well and then make a lot of putts."
That sounds like the ideal recipe for success this week.
Next Best: Back C.T. Pan each-way @ 45/1
For my second pick, I'll try the 45/1 about C.T. Pan.
The 26-year-old from Taiwan had a first look at the course last year and did well, opening with a pair of 70s before shooting 69-68 on the weekend to take tied 17th.
He's jumped over 50 spots up the world rankings since then and broke into the top 100 for the first time last month when finishing tied fourth at the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston.
That put Pan through to the BMW - the penultimate leg of the play-offs - but he couldn't advance to East Lake despite scores of 67-67-71-68.
He's posted six top 20s on the PGA Tour in his last 11 events and went close to victory in the Wyndham Championship. He was 6-under for the day after 17 holes of his finale and traded at odds-on but hit a cart path, his ball bounced out of bounds and the resulting double bogey ended his hopes.
However, to finish fourth at TPC Boston just two starts later suggests there was no damage and he said at the Dell Technologies: "The second place at the Wyndham really helped me. I got a lot of FedExCup points from there.
"Honestly, for the whole summer I felt good on my game, I just need to click, need to put everything together to put up good scores for four rounds, which I did this week and I feel great.
"I definitely feel like this is the best of my game, this period of time."
Taking it up a notch again in the Far East would appear to make plenty of sense and dealing with humidity is one extra concern for the players this week. Pan will have no trouble with that and making the top 20 in each of his last five starts on the Asian Tour adds to the feeling that he'll be in his comfort zone here.
He's very active on Twitter and seems particularly excited about this week's event. A couple of days ago he also tweeted: "My new season kicks off at @cimbclassic, I am glad to have my brother on my bag in all Asia events!"
Ranked 13th for Driving Accuracy and 6th for Greens In Regulation last season, he was also in the top 50 for Birdie Average.
With plenty of support him behind him, Pan may just be the man.
Final Bet: Back Cameron Smith each-way @ 28/1
Justin Thomas may just be too good for everyone as he seeks a third victory in the event.
The one American to emerge with great credit from the Ryder Cup after top scoring, his B game could easily be enough to win here.
However, the 5/1 is short enough and he could get out-putted by someone with a hot blade.
Ryan Moore is another two-time winner and he backed into a play-off at the Safeway Open last week but, again, 12/1 looks very short on a player of his level (one win in since 2014).
So I'll delve further down again and plump for Cameron Smith at 28s.
The Aussie was one of the big hits of the play-offs, finishing tied third at The Northern Trust and solo third in the Dell Technologies.
Those finishes firmly cemented his place in the top 50 in the world and it may surprise some that he's now as high as 32 which represents a peak.
Smith was T5 at Augusta National back in April and he's also posted tied fifth in two of his three starts in this event.
The first was in 2014 and the most recent was last year when he showed his ability to go low on this layout with 8-under 64s in his opening and final rounds.
Throw in a top four in the 2014 Selangor Masters on the Asian Tour and he's had three top fives in his last four starts in Malaysia.
There could be a few reasons for that but one of them is handling the conditions.
Last year in interview we saw this exchange:
Q. You've got a fantastic record here in Asia. The humidity, the heat, the conditions, they don't really seem to affect you as much as others?
Cameron Smith: No. Well, I grew up in Brisbane. It's kind of similar to this but obviously not as bad as this. But yeah, I enjoy the heat. I always play well in the heat for some reason, I honestly can't tell you why.
"I love the course. I love it here. I feel really comfortable in Malaysia, and yeah, it's always a good, fun week for us."
Once again, a faster, firmer TPC Kuala Lumpur could just suit Smith even better given how Aussies relish such conditions as it's what they grew up playing.
"My game feels really good," he said at TPC Boston. "Coach came in last week and tweaked a few things. And everything has fallen into shape. Confidence is back up and the putts are dropping as well."
The stats show that he did everything well in those first two play-off events so everything looks good for a Smith challenge.
CIMB Classic 2018 Field & Each-Way Tips