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CIMB Classic: Thomas bids for the treble but Hahn the value in KL

James Hahn - The punter's idea of value in KL
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The PGA Tour is off to Malaysia this week for the limited field CIMB Classic. Read what Steve thinks it will take to win in KL with his in-depth preview here...


"Hahn finished down the field on debut in 2014 but in both 2015 and 2016 he sat fourth with a round to go before going on to finish sixth and ninth so his course form figures are strong. His form is typically patchy again this year but he knows how to win and I thought he was just a shade too big at [65.0]."

Tournament History

First staged in 2010, the CIMB Classic was an unofficial tournament for the first three years before it became an official PGA Tour event in 2013. It's a limited field competition with only 78 competitors, including the top-10 Asian Tour players.

The CIMB Classic used to be the only PGA Tour event staged in Asia but not anymore, we're off to Korea next week for the inaugural staging of The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges.

Having spent three years at The Mines, this event moved to Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club when it became an official PGA Tour event in 2013 so this will be the fifth time the course has hosted the event.


Venue

The TPC Kuala Lumpur (West), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


Course Details

West Course - Par 72, 7,005 yards.
Stroke index in 2016 - 70.3

Formerly known as the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club, the 36-hole property, which also includes the East Course, became the TPC Network's newest member last summer.

The Nelson & Haworth designed West Course opened in 1991 and it was given a thorough redesign in 2008 by Ted and Geoff Parslow. Nelson & Haworth were also responsible for the WGC HSBC Champions venue - Sheshan International.

In addition to being the host course for this event since 2013, the West Course was also the venue for the now defunct Malaysian Open on the European Tour between 2010 and 2015 and it was also the venue for that event back in 2006 when Charlie Wi won but that was before the redesign.

The fairways and rough are Seashore Paspalum and the greens are Seaisle Supreme. With so much precipitation, the greens are always receptive and they'll do really well to get them to run as fast as 11 on the stimpmeter. Water is in-play on 13 holes and the fairways are described as undulating.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 3:30 on Thursday morning.


First Seven Tournament Winners

2015 - Justin Thomas -23
2015 - Justin Thomas -26
2014 - Ryan Moore -17
2013 - Ryan Moore -14 (playoff)
2012 - Nick Watney -22
2011 - Bo Van Pelt -23
2010 - Ben Crane -18


What Will it Take to Win The CIMB Classic?


Neither length or accuracy off the tee is crucial here - it's all about finding the greens and putting well. I've looked at the last 10 results here (six Malaysian Open Opens and four CIMB Classics) and only four winners have ranked worse than eighth for Greens In Regulation and Louis Oosthuizen (the 2012 Malaysian Open champ) is the only winner to rank outside the top-12 for putting. Justin Thomas, who has won the last two editions, only ranked 14th for GIR last year and 30th the year before but four of the first six home ranked inside the top-eight for GIR last year and 12 months earlier, the first three GIR performers all finished inside the top-six.

Thomas has putted really well - ranking fourth last year after topping the Putting Average stats in 2015.

Other stats to consider are Birdie Average and Par 4 Scoring. Thomas has made more birdies than anyone else in each of the last two years and eight of the ten winners have ranked first or second for birdies made. Thomas ranked number one for Par 4 Scoring in each of the last two years and no course winner has ranked outside the top-12 for that stat. It's basically a birdie-fest.


Is There an Angle In?


Course form holds up ridiculously well. In the last four years, both Thomas and Ryan Moore have won the event back-to-back, Gary Woodland has finished runner-up twice and Kevin Na has finished second and third. Hideki Matsuyama boats consecutive top-five finishes in the last two renewals, course winner, Anirban Lahiri, finished third last year, Rafa Cabrera-Bello finished 10th 12 months ago, having finished fourth and third here previously, and Charl Schwartzel, Scott Piercy, James Hahn and Charles Howell III have all registered back-to back top-10s here.

This isn't a huge field so the time differential isn't as pronounced as it used to be in the Malaysian Open (all six winners of the Malaysian Open winners here were drawn in the morning on day one) but I'd still slightly favour those starting early on Thursday.

Thomas was drawn late last year but the early starters on day one have averaged less than the afternoon starters in each of the four years the event has been staged here and they were advantaged to the tune of 1.27 strokes four years ago.


Is There an Identikit Winner?


Justin Thomas was matched at no bigger than [25.0] last year, having gone off at around the [24.0] mark when he won 12 months earlier and that was a typical sort of price for a winner here.

Ryan Moore went off at around [32.0] when defending in 2014 and that was just a few ticks shorter than he was in 2013 and the three winners at The mines, before the tournament was made an official PGA Tour event, were all fairly well fancied before the off too. This hasn't been an event for outsiders.


In-Play Tactics


Although he had a big wobble during round three last year, Thomas was always there or thereabouts. He lead after rounds one and two before being headed by Lahiri in round three but his route to victory was fairly typical. This isn't an easy course to make up ground on...

When he won for the first time, Thomas sat tied for 16th and six adrift after round one but a sensational 61 saw him take up the running at halfway and he was tied for the lead with a round to go.

Anirban Lahiri is the odd man out. He came from a long way back to win the Malaysian Open in February 2015 but he put a big shift in on Saturday and he had plenty of help from his rivals. He trailed by nine strokes at halfway before a superb third round 62 saw him climb the leaderboard but he still trailed by five with a round to go. It looked as though he had too much on his plate, despite the sensational 62, but the four men ahead of him - Paul Waring, Alejandro Canizares, Bernd Wiesberger and Lee Westwood - all performed really poorly on Sunday with rounds of 73, 74, 74 and 75 respectively and the Indian was able to win by a stroke with a final round 68.

That clearly shows that you can overcome a slow start but only in exceptional circumstances and I'd definitely favour the early pace setters. Prior to Thomas' first win and Lahiri's success two years ago, all the winners here had been up with the pace all the way. Ryan Moore was fifth and three off the lead after round one in 2014 but he was third at halfway and tied for the lead through three rounds and like Thomas last year, he was never outside the top-two all week when he won for the first time in 2013.

At the Malaysian Open, prior to Lahiri's win, both Lee Westwood in 2014 and Kiradech Aphibarnrat a year earlier, led from flag fall. Louis Oosthuizen, in the 2012 edition, trailed by just two after round one and was never headed thereafter and Matteo Manassero was never outside of the front four when he won here in 2011.

If you're going to get up nice and early and trade in-running, the three hardest holes on the course are holes 11, 12 and 13. If the leader is going to lose his way on the back-nine on Sunday, over that run of three holes is highly likely to be where it happens.

The course finishes with a par five but birdies aren't that easy to come by there. It measure well in excess of 600 years and only averaged 4.85 last year with five holes playing easier.


Market Leaders


Although he's only a fraction of the price he's been for the last few years here, there's absolutely nothing wrong with Justin Thomas' price of just a shade over 4/1. He's in the form of his life, he clearly loves the track and with five wins in his last 26 outings, I'm not sure how he could be priced up any bigger and I certainly wouldn't want to put anyone off him.

Hideki Matsuyama has contended in each of the last two years so the course form's in the book but his current form is far from special and he's easy enough to swerve at around 10/1. Since fluffing a chance to win his first major, at the US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, Hideki's disappointing form figures read MC-23-47-26 and anyone backing him does so in the hope that a return to Asia sparks a revival.

This will be Paul Casey's first outing since he blew his chance of victory at the Tour Championship and he looks an awful price again. He simply doesn't win enough to be backed at a short price and his course form figures aren't great either. In three previous visits he's never cracked the the top-20.


Selection


After much deliberation, I've decided I can live with missing out on profiting from a potential Thomas hat-trick. As highlighted above, his price is perfectly fair but it's no more than that and I'm happy to let him go unbacked.

Last week's Safeway Open winner, Brendan Steele, was tempting. He was third here two years ago, having led with a round to go, so he too likes the course but as daft as it may sound, he didn't putt well enough last week to quite chance here.

He'll find fairways and greens for fun again but he'll need to putt better than he did last week to win this and I'm going to swerve him too.

Anirban Lahiri has very solid course credentials but he's fractionally too short and while I fancy him to go well again (fifth last week and seventh on his only course appearance), I can't back Graham DeLaet to win because he simply never does, so the only one I'm chancing before the off is James Hahn.

Hahn finished down the field on debut in 2014 but in both 2015 and 2016 he sat fourth with a round to go before going on to finish sixth and ninth so his course form figures are strong. His form is typically patchy again this year but he knows how to win and I thought he was just a shade too big at [65.0].


Selection:
James Hahn @ [65.0]


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