The PGA TOUR heads to Asia for the first (of three) straight events in the Far East. That includes the CJ Cup next week in South Korea, which looks to be taking place on a phenomenal course. I’m excited to see that one, especially the closing island-green par 5.
But first, we head to TPC Kuala Lumpur for the fifth edition of this event hosted by the course. It also hosted the Euro Tour’s Maybank Malaysian Open from 2010 to 2015.
The course is a short, par-72 layout with feastable par 5s and seashore paspalum greens. The field is just 78 golfers and there is NO CUT.
Given the climate in the area (hot, wet, and sticky) we should expect to see preferred lies in play for most (or all) of the week. That has been the norm here, as they’ve played lift, clean, and place, for at least 14 of the 16 CIMB Classic rounds. I say at least because the reporting on preferred lies is not always there, but 14 have been reported as LCP.
We have four years of CIMB history here, but just two different winners. Ryan Moore won the first two editions while Justin Thomas has won the last two. They are complete opposites in terms of the distance/accuracy spectrum, but they are both elite in strokes gained approach and proximity to the hole. With Ryan Moore describing this as a “position golf course” that makes sense. The off-the-tee game doesn’t mean as much this week since golfers will have to lay back frequently and hit into the same landing zones, but approach should be of utmost importance.
As for the scoring conditions, there were 23 eagles here last year and 44 eagles the year before that. That’s an extremely high ratio, given the small field size. We should see some monster scores on FanDuel and DraftKings this week.
James Hahn did a great job to summarize the course conditions here a few years ago,
“You definitely have to be in shape to walk the golf course in this humidity and the heat.
You have to hit a lot of great shots out there. A lot of great tee shots, put yourself in the fairway, to where you can lift, clean and place it.
When you’re off in the rough, you get fliers and the ball’s not stopping on the greens from the rough.
The greens are a little slow compared to PGA TOUR conditions, but they roll true.”
Looking for crossover success (Correlated Courses), the following events showed promise: WGC Bridgestone, Safeway (Silverado), Wyndham, The Masters, and TPC Boston.
Check out the CIMB Fantasy Golfanac for more information on the event…
Players to Watch
Justin Thomas… Coming off a career season and he’s the defending (two-time) champ at the course. Hard to not peg him as the man to beat this week. Will he ever get tired of winning? Should rack up the hole-by-hole points on this course, regardless of finishing position.
Peter Uihlein… The favorite for Rookie of the Year got off to a slow start in Napa. Heading to Asia this week, he should be very comfy. Since 2015 on the Euro Tour, nobody has gained more strokes in Asia than Uihlein. That makes him a very nice rebound candidate this week. Others near the top of that list in top strokes gained in Asia include Scott Hend, David Lipsky, and Anirban Lahiri.
Luke List… The Luke List Chalk Week didn’t crush anyone last week but it also didn’t live up to full expectations. Now we head to another course with an easy pack of par 5s. Should be right up his alley, again.
Anirban Lahiri … Didn’t get the redemption he wanted at the Presidents Cup but he should be ready to rock at a very familiar course. Looking at performance at TPC KL (including the Malaysian Open), nobody in this field has gained more strokes on the field than Anirban. That includes a win at the 2015 Malaysian. He was also the solo leader after 54 holes here last year (his only 54-hole lead on TOUR) before fading to T3. Course Horse.
Scott Hend… Built in the same mold as guys like Luke List, Thomas Pieters, Harold Varner III, Grayson Murray, Patrick Rodgers, etc… these guys all have elite upside when it comes to playing courses with easy par 5s. The form of guys like Pieters and Rodgers are a bit concerning, but Hend has been playing well, worldwide, over the past few months. Should enjoy a trip that takes him closer to home. He was second on that list of most strokes gained in Asia (Euro Tour) since 2015, that I pointed out in Uihlein’s blurb.
Poom Saksansin… Looking for deep sleepers this week, Poom might be someone to consider. The 24-year-old Thai fighter has three wins worldwide (1 on Asian Development Tour and 2 on Asian Tour). Possibly more impressive, he’s finished T16 and T28 in his recent Euro Tour starts (Euro Masters and European Open). Priced at $7,300 this week, we should see extremely low ownership here since you could save $200 and take the local who won in his latest start, Gavin Green, or punt at min-salary with someone like Jazzy J. They all offer similar risks and upside, IMO, but Poom will provide the lowest ownership.
Rafa Cabrera Bello… He’s been dormant since the BMW Championship. Well-rested or rusty? That is yet to be determined. What stands out is his history at TPC KL. He finished T10 last year in his CIMB debut. On top of that he owns a pair of top 5s at the Malaysian Open. Should fly in way under the radar, but he packs plenty of upside, as usual.
Hao Tong Li… Should be comfortable playing in Asia, in terms of climate and grass types. Going back to that list of strokes gained in Asia, Li would have ranked 5th on the list for total strokes gained but looking at a per-round basis, he would be #2 since 2015, squeezing in betewen Lahiri and Uihlein. This event offers a good opportunity to pad some Non-member FedExCup Points, if the youngster is looking to make the jump to the PGA TOUR by earning Special Temporary Membership.
Kevin Na… Looking at performance in rounds using Lift, Clean, and Place (since 2014), Kevin Na has gained the most strokes over the field in those rounds (in this week’s field). He keeps it between the pipes which lets him clean his ball more often than the field. A similarly accurate golfer (Russell Knox) checks it at #4 on the Lift, Clean, and Place list. Both could be in for a good week after disappointing fantasy owners in their latest starts.
My Top 25 for the 2017-18 CIMB Classic
1. Justin Thomas
2. Hideki Matsuyama
3. Paul Casey
4. Brendan Steele
5. Rafa Cabrera Bello
6. Emiliano Grillo
7. Luke List
8. Kevin Na
9. Keegan Bradley
10. Russell Knox
11. Anirban Lahiri
12. Peter Uihlein
13. Gary Woodland
14. Branden Grace
15. Grayson Murray
16. Scott Hend
17. Adam Hadwin
18. Graham DeLaet
19. Charl Schwartzel
20. Scott Piercy
21. Xander Schauffele
22. Ian Poulter
23. Jamie Lovemark
24. Harold Varner III
25. Hudson Swafford