The PGA Tour crosses the globe to Malaysia this week for the limited-field CIMB Classic. Read Steve's in-depth preview ahead of the early start on Thursday morning here...
“If you don’t really fancy anyone strongly before the off, why not wait and get involved in-running? This isn’t an easy course to make up ground on and early pace-setters are always hard to catch.”
First staged as recently as 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 comprising of those that mad the trip from the top 60 in the FedEx Cup standings from last season, along with sponsor exemptions and members of the Asian Tour.
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 second edition of The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges and the week after that we visit China for the WGC - HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
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 sixth time the course has hosted the event. Although it will play somewhat differently this time around...
The TPC Kuala Lumpur (West), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
West Course - Par 72, 7,005 yards.
Stroke index in 2017 - 70.663
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 in the summer of 2016.
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 used to be Seashore Paspalum and the greens were Seaisle Supreme but as Andy Swales details here, the whole course has had a change in grass type to Bermuda since last year's edition.
With so much precipitation, the greens are always receptive and slow and they won't reach 12 on the stimpmeter. Water is in-play on 13 holes and the fairways are described as undulating.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 03:30 on Thursday morning
Last Five Winners
2017 - Pat Perez -24
2016 - Justin Thomas -23
2015 - Justin Thomas -26
2014 - Ryan Moore -17
2013 - Ryan Moore -14 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the CIMB Classic?
Last year's winner, Pat Perez, ranked number one for Greens in Regulation and that's not a surprise. 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 11 results here (six Malaysian Open Opens and five CIMB Classics) and only five 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. Although Perez only ranked 11th.
Other stats to consider are Birdie Average and Par 4 Scoring. The last three winners have made more birdies than anyone else and nine of the 11 winners have ranked first or second for birdies made. Perez only ranked third for Par 4 Scoring last year but Thomas ranked number one in each of the two years that he won and no course winner has ranked outside the top-12 for that stat. It's basically a low-scoring birdie-fest.
Is There an Angle In?
Course form holds up ridiculously well and if trends continue, Perez should go well again! In the last five years, both Justin 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 boasts consecutive top-five finishes in the last three renewals, course winner, Anirban Lahiri, finished third two years ago and tied 10th alongside Rafa Cabrera-Bello last year and the Spaniard also finished 10th two years ago, having finished fourth and third here previously. Keegan Bradley has three top-ten finishes 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 anywhere near as pronounced as it used to be in the Malaysian Open but I still think the draw is (just) worth mentioning. All six winners of the Malaysian Open here were drawn in the morning on day one and the early starters on day one have averaged less than the afternoon starters in each of the five years that this event has been staged here. They were advantaged to the tune of 1.27 strokes five years ago but it isn't something I'd get too hung up about with such a small field. The last two winners were both drawn late on Thursday.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Unsurprisingly, the PGA Tour stars have dominated the leaderboards here since the inaugural staging in 2010 and all eight winners have ben Americans but the winners haven't always been really well-fancied. Ben Crane won the very first edition at around the 50.049/1 - 60.059/1 mark and Perez was an 80.079/1 chance 12 months ago. No favourite has ever succeeded and no winner has been any shorter than 20.019/1 before the off.
If you don't really fancy anyone strongly before the off, why not wait and get involved in-running? This isn't an easy course to make up ground on and early pace-setters are always hard to catch.
Perez sat tied for fifth after round one, trailing by two, and he was never headed after that. And he was the third 36 hole leader to win in-a-row...
Although he had a big wobble during round three in 2016, 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.
When he won for the first time, in 2015, 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 again. Prior to Thomas' first win and Lahiri's success three 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 two years ago, 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 Manny 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, year after year, 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 measures well in excess of 600 years and only averaged 4.76 last year and the other three par fives (holes three, five and ten) all played easier.
Justin Thomas is a strong and very obvious favourite. He's won the event in two of the last three years (17th last year) and he has a tremendous strike rate. He's won five of his last 29 starts and given he's not won since the beginning of August, at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, he's arguably due another title, but I'm happy to let him go unbacked at just a shade over 5/1.
I'm not for a second saying I don't fancy his chances but that's just short enough for me, even in a reduced field event. As highlighted earlier, favourites don't have a great record and if he fails to shine on Thursday, given how important a fast start here is, that could be the end of his chances. I'm happy to let him go unbacked before the off and the same can be said of the other market leaders.
Two-time tournament winner, Ryan Moore, is understandably well-fancied after his playoff defeat at the Safeway Open on Sunday but he's not the easiest to get across the line and he definitely looks short but I did come close to backing Xander Schauffele at around the 20/1 mark. He's in very decent form and he was third here on debut 12 months ago but after much deliberation I've decided to leave him alone before the off too.
In addition to Schauffele, I came very close to backing C.T Pan, who currently ranks highly for both Par 4 Performance and GIR but I wanted slightly bigger than the industry-best 45/1 with the Sportsbook given he didn't really shine here 12 months ago and he's yet to win on the PGA Tour so I've reluctantly left him out too and played just two before the off.
Si Woo Kim was hopeless here 12 months ago but he was tenth on debut in 2016 and I thought he looked a fair price at around the 90.089/1 mark. The change to Bermuda won't hinder his prospects given it's the same strain as that found at Sawgrass, where he won his first PGA Tour event and he just strikes me as too big given he already has two wins and two playoff defeats to his name in just two years.
This is an event to get struck into after round one so I'm keeping my powder dry for in-running trading but I couldn't resist throwing a few pounds at Scott Piercy at 160.0159/1 given he's shown an aptitude to the venue previously.
Si Woo Kim @ 90.089/1
Scott Piercy @ 160.0159/1
I'll be back sometime on Thursday with the In-Play Blog after the opening round
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