The first week of the new season had started brightly for us with Alex Prugh’s opening 66 on Thursday, however it ultimately ended frustratingly for us as Prugh folded tamely in the wind on Sunday and the rest of our team failed to get in to serious place contention.
So, with the new seasons curtain raiser in California over the PGA Tour now jets off for what can now be legitimately called the ‘Asian Swing’.
Next week we will be in Jeju Island, South Korea for the Second playing of the CJ Cup and this will be followed by the WGC HSBC-Champions event in Shanghai, however this week it is the turn of the CIMB Classic played in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
The CIMB Classic is co sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the PGA Tour.
The event first debuted in 2010 and for the first three years it was played at the Mines Resort & Golf Club.
In 2013 the event then moved to TPC Kuala Lumpur and this has been its home ever since.
As well as hosting the CIMB Classic TPC Luala Lumpur hosted the Maybank Malaysian Open on the European Tour from 2010-2015 meaning that for three years from 2013-15 the course was in the unique position of hosting a PGA Tour and European Tour event in the same year.
When the event was first introduced on tour their was a reluctance from several PGA Tour stars to head to Asia for just one week.
Now that we have the three week stretch in Asia though it is a different story and the field has steadily grown in quality over the years.
The event is a limited field event of 76 players with no cut. This includes 10 places which are given to leading Asian Tour players, whilst the PGA Tour players qualify based on Fedex Cup rankings from the past season.
The field and betting market is headed up by two time former champion Justin Thomas. The supporting cast includes European Ryder Cup star Paul Casey, an in form Billy Horschel and another two time former winner Ryan Moore.
The West Course at TPC Kuala Lumpur is a par 72 measuring just over 7000yds.
The course first opened in 1991 before undergoing a complete redesign in 2009. Further renovation has then been undertaken this year.
The greens historically were seashore Paspalum however as a part of this years renovation work they have been re-turfed with TifEagle Bermuda grass.
In addition the fairways and tee boxes have been re turfed with ‘Celebration’ Bermuda grass.
The course is short by modern day standards for a par 72 and this allows all types of players an opportunity to succeed here.
This can be seen from the aggressive way Justin Thomas has taken the course apart when twice victorious and equally from the conservative way Ryan Moore has plotted his way to victory here on two separate occasions.
As noted before the tournament has been on the PGA Tour calendar since 2010 so this year will see the 9th playing of the event. Let’s take a look at the past eight winners.
I have marked with an * the winners of the event since it moved to it’s current home at TPC Kuala Lumpur.
2017 Pat Perez*
2016 Justin Thomas*
2015 Justin Thomas*
2014 Ryan Moore*
2013 Ryan Moore*
2012 Nick Watney
2011 Bo Van Pelt
2010 Ben Crane
So what does this tell us? Well firstly without stating the obvious although the event is co- sanctioned by the PGA Tour and Asian Tour you can say with 99% certainty that the winner of the event will be a PGA tour regular.
That’s not to say of course that the winner will be of American nationality as there are plenty of PGA Tour regulars in the field who hail from Asia.
I guess the point I am making is unless you are careful you can get sucked in to backing an Asian tour regular at a big fancy price on the basis that they perform well in this part of the world and the conditions will suit them, however history tells us that the winner and indeed the places will be filled up by the players we see week in week out on the PGA Tour.
In fact looking back over the history of the event I can only see two instances where an Asian tour player made the top 5 here, the first was Marmat in the first playing of the event in 2010 and the second would be considered questionable as I am referring to Aphibarnrat when he was not yet quite considered a world elite player.
Beyond this it really does seem that this venue is a ‘horses for courses’ type track.
This can be seen by the fact that since the event moved to TPC Kuala Lumpur in 2013 not only have we seen two repeat winners in Moore & Thomas but we have also seen Matsuyama make the frame three times, Bradley finish in the top 10 three times, Woodland finish runner up twice and Cam Smith make the frame twice.
To sum up this is not a week for reinventing the wheel.
In the five editions we have seen at TPC Kuala Lumpur the winning score has been gradually getting lower.
In 2013 & 14 Moore won with -14 and -17, whilst JT’s two wins were achieved with totals of -26 and -23. Finally Pat Perez won with a total of -24 last year.
We are used to daily storms in this part of the world as the day progresses, however this week if the current forecast is to be believed we could be in for longer and more sustained storms each day throughout the event, which in turn will most likely lead to a birdie fest of target golf.
With a limited field hopefully they should find a way to get it done in four days but I suspect we’ll be seeing 7am local time tee times every day to try and get the players in the house by lunchtime.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
BILLY HORSCHEL –16-1 – 1.5pts e/w 1/4 odds 1st 5 FINISHED 33rd
I am afraid I will not be getting too many prizes for originality this week and with my first selection it is back to the well with Billy Horschel.
Now to be fair I see no real need for apologies here as it is only three weeks since I put Billy up at the Tour Championship with the bold statement that I thought he was arguably that week “the best e/w bet of the year” and he duly did the business for us with a 2nd place finish.
So why Billy again this week? Well to be quite frank and nailing my colours to the mast I am most likely going to ride Billy weekly until either his form bubble bursts or, far more likely, the win comes.
For want of sounding like a stuck record we all know by now that Billy is a confidence/streak player and with form figures of 2 3 3 in his last three starts I am as confident as a keen be with the age old mantra that there are three certain things in life, Death, Taxes and a Billy Horschel win when he gets on a hot streak of form.
With regards to the course Billy has made two previous visits to TPC Kuala Lumpur and he has finished 11th & 37th.
It is fair to say then that he can’t boast the form that the likes of Moore, JT, Bradley or Woodland can here, however on his first visit he played nicely on the back of some steady form at the end of the previous PGA season, whilst on his second visit he had just produced his heroics to win the Fedex Cup, so I suspect he understandably was going through some MLD at that time.
My overall view on this course though is that it should suit Billy very well as, as noted earlier, strong ball strikers have had plenty of success here.
In addition as a Florida man through and through the switch to Bermuda greens should be very much in his favour.
So, Billy it is for us again this week and I am confident he will produce the goods.
XANDER SCHAUFFELE – 20-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/4 odds 1st 5 FINISHED 25th
Next up for us this week is Xander Schauffele.
Xander made his debut at TPC Kuala Lumpur this time last year and just a few weeks after his memorable Tour Championship victory.
However, whilst you could have forgiven Xander for turning up here rusty after a couple of weeks of R & R whilst gazing at his booming bank balance, there was none of this to be seen and he delivered a very creditable third place finish.
This year Xander arrives in Kuala Lumpur on the back of a 3rd place and a 7th place finish in the last two Fedex Cup Play Off events, so he is coming in to the event in great form.
Winless since his heroics at the Tour Championship I am sure Xander will be keen to get a win under his belt ASAP in the new season.
As noted earlier the aggressive approach can certainly pay dividends on this track as we have seen from JT and Xander certainly showed this when opening up here with a round of 65 last year on the way to his 3rd place finish.
I am confident that Xander’s game will flourish again in Malaysia this year and I can see him going very close to notching his third PGA Tour win.
CAMERON SMITH – 35 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 22nd
Another player who has enjoyed his visits to TPC Kuala Lumpur over recent years is the young Aussie Cameron Smith.
This time last year Cameron arrived in Asia in not the greatest of form, however his two week stint notched him a 5th place here and a 3rd place the following week in Jeju Island for the CJ Cup. Clearly therefore Cam is comfortable golfing in Asia.
In last years event Cam had two rounds of 64 but unfortunately struggled on Friday and Saturday.
In addition to his great showing last year Cam also finished 5th here in 2014 so that’s two top 5 finishes in three starts here.
Obviously Cam has come on considerably as a player over the past few years so the fact that produced a top 5 here so early in his career is hugely encouraging.
Although the Aussie has a win to his name on the PGA Tour courtesy of his pairs win with Jonas Blixt at the Zurich Classic he is yet to garner a solo win, and this will be a monkey he will be keen to get off his back ASAP.
He has proven with his victory in the Australian PGA last winter that he has what it takes to get the job done in elite company and he is clearly a player on his way to the top of the game.
Returning this week to a venue he clearly likes I am confident Cam can give us a great run at a juicy e/w price.
JUSTIN THOMAS – 11-2 – 4pts Win. FINISHED 5th
For my final selection this week I once again make no apologies for including the player who is by far the most likely winner of the event, Justin Thomas.
JT has made three trips to TPC Kuala Lumpur and on two occasions he has walked away with the trophy.
The one time he has not done so was last year when he arrived here on the back of winning the Fedex Cup and on this basis I think it is only fair to forgive him a fairly luck lustre performance on his first outing since banking the $10 Million.
If we put to one side last years effort JT is a collective -49 in his previous 8 rounds on the course, so basically he is averaging 66.
In these 8 rounds he has only shot in the 70s once, when he shot 71 in the third round in 2016.
Interestingly I saw JT refer to this round, or specifically the last 5 holes of it, in a Q&A on twitter over the weekend.
This is because he was asked in what round had he learnt the most on the course and his answer was the last five holes of this round, as having struggled hugely all day he birdied these last 5 holes to shoot 71 and set himself up to win the next day. Never give up was the lesson Justin learned from this.
So there we have it, even when he has struggled here he has positive vibes from the venue!
Justin was by far the USA’s biggest success in the Ryder Cup so despite their overall team debacle he should arrive here in a positive frame of mind.
Justin has winning form on Bermuda as recently as last March at the Honda and he also has two top 11s in his last three trips to Sawgrass, so the switch to Bermuda should be no issue for him.
It is incredibly rare that I would pull the trigger on a golfer at 11-2, however when deciding to do so I had to ask myself would JT win this once in five runnings?, and the answer to me was an undoubted yes, in fact I would probably say two or three times in five runnings!
Simply put JT is the class act in the field, he is, as we know, a win machine and he is by far the most likely winner here, and I am more than keen to have him onside even at these prices.
UPDATED 10th OCTOBER
TRADER - RYAN ARMOUR FINISHED 33rd
For this weeks trader I am taking a chance on the Ohio native Ryan Armour.
My logic with Ryan is more hunch based this week in that I can't help feeling that this is the sort of course that should be right up his street.
Second on the tour last season in driving accuracy Armour finds fairways for fun and he is a player right out of the 'Ryan Moore mold' who tends to fair well here.
His form was solid towards the end of last season and this included an 8th place finish at the Wyndham. He also finished 4th in the same event the previous year giving us another solid link with Moore who has won at Sedgefield CC.
Ryan also notched his only previous tour win this time last year so he should have good vibes coming in to the fall events.
This is Ryan's first outing in this event so we are slightly speculating as to how he will handle the conditions this week, however I am confident he will give a good account of himself.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 320+