After one tournament in California, the PGA Tour heads to Malaysia. The CIMB Classic has become a walk in the park for Justin Thomas given he has won the event for the past two years.
It was the site of his first PGA Tour win and since he broke through in 2015, Thomas has become one of the game’s elite players.
The event is contested at TPC Kuala Lumpur on the West course where Thomas shot the course record of 61 in 2015.
There’s only 78 players this week with 68 from the PGA Tour and 10 from the Asian Tour. It’s also a no-cut event so there’s no need to worry about whether your horses will make the weekend.
The course is easy, one of the softest on the PGA Tour, and Thomas got to 26-under in 2015 and 23-under last year as he claimed the title.
It’s not a particularly long track and a lot of players will leave the driver in the bag.
This week’s theme revolves around birdie-makers to bank those Moneyball points with a slight bias towards good putters.
Before we move on, I will briefly touch on last week’s Safeway Open that was won by Brendan Steele.
I looked at 10 golfers. Eight made the cut and four finished inside the top 15, including Tony Finau (second), Chesson Hadley (T3), Tyler Duncan (T5) – who was not rostered by a single lineup among the 156 entries in the $2 Putt – and Grayson Murray (T9).
You need to score points this week. With only 78 players in the field, you will have to find a unique mix of players and there’s a good chance you will also need the tournament winner in your lineup.
Finding these lower-priced players that can put up birdies will be vital and you will need a point of difference to push yourself up the leaderboard.
Given there’s no cut, this is a week to be aggressive. Don’t hold back on any dark horses that you like.
The $7K, $8K and $9K Range
Let’s group these ranges together.
Justin Thomas ($9,800) – OK, he will be popular. I get that. But he’s one of the best players on the planet coming back to an event he has won twice where he holds the course record. He’s also one of the best scorers on Tour. He ranked sixth on Tour for strokes gained: approach last season, which is valuable on a second-shot course like this one. Eat the chalk and take him.
Charl Schwartzel ($7,800) – Among the big names at the top of the list, Schwartzel may go slightly underowned. The former Masters winner has never finished worse than 19th in four tournaments at this course and he’s also a fairly accurate type.
The $6K Range
Right, this is where the real fun begins.
Scott Piercy ($6,800) – The Las Vegas resident returned from injury with a T17th at the Safeway Open last week and finds himself at a place where he has performed well previously. Piercy led after the opening round in 2015 at the CIMB Classic and has the ability to score. He was fifth in the field in strokes gained: putting last week.
Anirban Lahiri ($6,600) – Lahiri should’ve won this thing last year but made a catastrophic quadruple-bogey nine early in the final round, which saw him fade as he eventually finished T3. Lahiri is another player who can rack up those points and was 14th on Tour in birdie or better percentage in the 2016-2017 season.
Cameron Smith ($6,700) – The Australian has a great short game and I think he will go overlooked this week in this field. He’s seen the course before with a couple of respectable finishes too, including a T5 in 2014. He’s boom or bust so let’s hope he booms.
The $5K Range
This is where you will make or break your week.
Adam Hadwin ($5,900) – The Canadian is one of the best putters on Tour and ranked 18th in strokes gained in that department last season. He shot a 59 last season too. He can get hot and score when he needs to.
James Hahn ($5,900) – Hahn will go overlooked this week and his course form – ninth and sixth in his past two appearances – ensures you need to take a second glance at him. He’s not a superstar but can get going on tracks that suit him.
Li Haotong ($5,800) – This kid is going to be a gun when he puts it all together. I remember watching him at a tournament at The Hills in Queenstown in New Zealand on the PGA Tour of Australasia as a 17-year-old playing among seasoned pros and he was not overawed. Now 22, he’s still streaky but that’s what we want from players in this range.
Stewart Cink ($5,600) – At 44 the old boy is still going strong. Cink simmered all of last season without truly contending at an event and his numbers were too good for that not to change at some stage. Cink ranked fourth in strokes gained: approach last season and that should serve him nicely when playing from the fairways this week. He’s also another player that could go overlooked.
Wesley Bryan ($5,400) – This is a play that’s certainly a flyer but it seems crazy that a guy who won on Tour last season is at the lowest price this week. Bryan is an excellent putter and is sharp with his approaches. The American is not great off the tee but with this being a course where he won’t need the driver, I think he’s a good pickup at this price.
Piece of Chalk: Each week I suggest a popular player to stick with because he is a must and this time it is too easy: Take Justin Thomas ($9,800) and just embrace him at the top of your lineup.
Scrub-A-Dub: My scrub last week – Sam Ryder – missed the cut so at least my pick this week isn’t in danger of that. I will stick with the bargain-basement-priced Wesley Bryan ($5,400). Let’s hope he can drop those putts.