Our man takes a detailed look at this week's Race to Dubai action from Malaysia where he fancies defending champion and pre-event favourite, Lee Westwood, will take all the beating...
"Lee Westwood’s record when he pops up anywhere in the East is truly remarkable and in what isn’t the strongest of fields, he simply has to be backed. "
The first Malaysian Open was staged in 1962 but it's only been a co-sanctioned European and Asian tour event since 1999. The tournament has been moved in the schedule several times in recent years and this year it kicks off the 2015 Asian Tour season.
Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club
West Course - Par 72, 6,967 yards. Stroke Index in 2014 - 71.96
Designed by Nelson & Haworth, the design team responsible for Sheshan International - home of the WGC HSBC Champions events, the West Course has been the venue for this event for the last five years and it's also been the venue for the CIMB Classic on the PGA Tour for the last two years. The west Course staged this event in 2006 when Charlie Wi denied Thongchai Jaidee a hat-trick of event wins but it was completely remodelled after that renewal so an examination of the last five stagings and the last two CIMB Classic results is the way to go.
The fairways and rough are Seashore Paspalum and the greens, running at 11 on the stimpmeter, are Seaisle Supreme. Water is in-play on 13 holes and the fairways are described as undulating.
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Last Five Winners
2014 - Lee Westwood -18
2013 - Kiradech Aphibarnrat - 13 (54 holes)
2012 - Louis Oosthuizen -17
2011 - Matteo Manassero -16
2010 - Seung-yul Noh -14
What Will it Take to Win The Malaysian Open?
The West Course isn't especially long so it's an event that the shorter hitters can prosper. Matteo Manassero ranked just 41st for driving distance when he won here in 2011 but length is more in important than accuracy off the tee according to the stats. The last five event winners have had an average driving distance ranking of 21.2 but average accuracy rating of 31.2.
Three of the last four winners have ranked inside the top-seven for putting and Ryan Moore, who has won both renewals of the CIMB Classic here, has ranked inside the top-10 for putting but the most important stat to consider looks to be greens in regulation. At the first CIMB Classic three months ago, three of the first four home ranked inside the top-eight for greens hit and the first four home in this event last April all ranked inside the top-eight for greens in regulation.
Is There an Angle In?
Kiradech Aphibarnrat has a great record on the West Course but other than him, the Asian Tour players have really struggled in both this event and the CIMB Classic and are probably best overlooked. The very classy Anirban Lahiri finished tied for 10th last year but he was the only Asian Tour player inside the top-12.
Three of the last four renewals of this event have immediately followed the US Masters and we've witnessed some incredible performances by players that have overcome a disappointing finish in Augusta, as well as the travel from one side of the world to another.
Rory McIlroy traded at odds-on here before losing out to Manassero just days after his infamous Masters meltdown and Louis Oosthuizen won the event the week after losing in a playoff to Bubba Watson at Augusta.
Lee Westwood hadn't really looked like winning the Masters last year but he had entered the final round just three off the lead and a 12/1 shot so he must have felt at least some disappointment as yet another major passed him by. It didn't put him off any though as he absolutely bolted up here - winning by seven strokes.
The draw appears pivotal. All five winners in this event have been drawn in the morning on day one and Ryan Moore enjoyed an early start when winning both his CIMB Classic titles.
Not only do the early starters get to play the course at its pristine best, they also get to finish up their first rounds and avoid any afternoon weather delays. At this very early stage, the forecast suggests we're going to get a benign and clear week but storms gather from nowhere in Malaysia, and usually in the afternoons, so I'll be surprised if we don't get at least one stoppage.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The cream rises to the top in this event and the leaderboard is always packed with top-class players. Concentrate on the quality towards the head of the market and look to those with previous course form.
Ryan Moore and Gary Woodland finished first and second two years in-a-row at the CIMB Classic and plenty of players have played well here in this event on more than one occasion. Alex Noren (not in the field) has twice finished inside the top-six and Louis Oosthuizen (also absent) was second last year, two years after winning the event. Danny Willett has three top-six finishes and the Spanish pair of Pablo Larrazabal and Rafa Cabrera-Bello have both had back-to-back top-eights.
Seung-Yul Noh was four shots off the lead after round one and tied for 18th and he was five back and tied for 11th at halfway in 2010 but he's by some distance the odd man out - this is a frontrunners' course and a fast start looks essential.
Ryan Moore was never out of the front five in November and he was never outside the top-two when he won in 2014. The last two winners of this event have won wire-to-wire, Oosthuizen was third after round one and never headed thereafter and Manassero was never outside the top-four.
Westwood lost his way on Sunday in Dubai, trying to chase down Rory McIlroy but we can overlook that. He was pressing hard and as soon as he found water on the 9th his chance was gone and he would have been going through the motions after that.
Westwood has an incredible record whenever he heads out East and he's most certainly the man to beat. He was a bit disappointing at the CIMB Classic here when he finished 13th but even then he managed to make this ace at the 11th.
Given he chased home Westwood last year and that he's finished inside the top-six in each of his last three starts, Bernd Wiesberger emphatically ticks both the course and current form boxes, and like Westwood, he fares well in the East. He won his first European Tour title in Korea and he's won in Indonesia on the Asian Tour. He deserves to get his head in front but he's not been ruthless in-the-mix and that just tempers my enthusiasm.
There's not much to choose between course specialist, Danny Willett, and course debutant, Graeme McDowell, and I suspect both will be of more interest to punters than Stephen Gallacher at around the same price.
Westwood's record when he pops up anywhere in the East is truly remarkable and in what isn't the strongest of fields, he simply has to be backed. He's won twice from seven appearances in Malaysia already, has four victories from 12 starts in Japan, two victories from just five outings in Thailand and he took back-to-back Indonesian Masters titles in 2011 and 2012, to make it two from three there. And he's only been to Macau and Korea twice but he's won once in both countries!
I'd love to wait and see whether he gets the favourable early draw but I can't see his price holding up and if he does get the wrong side of it, I can always lay him back.
Lee Westwood @ 8.27/1
I'll be back tomorrow with my Farmers Insurance Open preview.
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