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Fantasy Golf: CIMB Classic preview & picks

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Course: TPC Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Yardage: 7,005 yards – Par 72

Purse: $ 7 M

Field: 78 Players

Recent CIMB Classic Winners

2012: Nick Watney

2013: Ryan Moore

2014: Ryan Moore

2015: Justin Thomas

2016: Justin Thomas

The first tournament of the season is in the books. Brendan Steele was able to hold off Tony Finau and Phil Mickelson on Sunday to win the first event of the 2017-18 season. Steele came into the day down two strokes. Tyler Duncan, who led coming into the day, struggled out of the gate, while Steele jumped out ahead with three birdies. He bounced back from two back nine bogies with birdies on 16 and 18, to secure a two-shot victory over Tony Finau. Steele has now won the Safeway Classic for the second time in a row. Steele will be in the field this week for this week’s event, the CIMB Classic.

The CIMB Classic is an event co-sanctioned by the PGA and Asian Tour. Played in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this event has only 78 players – 60 from the PGA TOUR, 10 from the Asian Tour, and eight with a sponsor exemption. Notables from the PGA TOUR include Player of the Year, Justin Thomas, tour Rookie of the Year, Xander Schauffele, Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Charl Schwartzel, Jason Dufner, Branden Grace, and last week’s champion, Brendan Steele. There will be no cut this week, so all 78 players will play four days of golf.

Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club has been host to the CIMB Classic since 2013. As a par 72 track playing just a shade over 7,000 yards, this course can yield some very low scores. In the four years that the event has been played here, Ryan Moore has won twice and Justin Thomas has won the last two editions of the event. Moore’s two winning scores were 14 and 17 under, while Thomas’s were 23 and 26 under par. With Thomas and Matsuyama, among others in the field, we can assume that the winning score will be in the 20s again this year.

The low scoring means that birdie or better % is a must for success. The “or better” in birdies or better has meaning this week. This course has some eagle opportunities as well, so Par 5 scoring and strokes gained: approach will be key for players to have eagle opportunities and tap-in birdies. As a baseline for success here, strokes gained: off-the tee will be a need. If you’re wayward off the tee at Kuala Lumpur, there are several water hazards waiting to meet you. Take players who strike the ball well off the tee and they will have a few wedges into greens this week. With the tournament being played in Malaysia, viewing will be a challenge because they’ll be teeing off around midnight eastern on Thursday.

Key Stats

Birdie or better %

Justin Thomas celebrates after the final round of the PGA Championship.

Justin Thomas celebrates after the final round of the PGA Championship.

(Chris O’Meara/AP)

Par 5 scoring

Strokes gained: approach

Strokes gained: off-the tee

Top Tier 10K – Justin Thomas ($ 12,300)

Justin Thomas may not win the CIMB Classic, but there is no logical case you can make against taking him. Thomas has won the last two CIMB Classics, and is fresh off his 2016-2017 Player of the Year honors for which he won five tournaments and the FedEx Cup. He’s got all the statistics you want to play this course. He was ranked in the Top 10 in all ball striking categories and Par 5 scoring. The only other clear cut choice in this range is Hideki Matsuyama, who shot in the 20 under range the last two years he’s teed it up. However, I’ll spend the extra $ 1,100 on Thomas who’s winning everything he plays lately.

9K Range – Pat Perez ($ 9,000)

Of the players in the 9K range, Schauffele gives the most upside, but I’m going to go with the most consistent in this range, and that’s Pat Perez. Perez is coming off his best season as a pro. He finished his final five tournaments last season T-34 or better, including T-6, T-12, T-16 as his final three finishes against the best competition out there. Perez has a very clean game with no weaknesses. He’s solid from tee-to-green and has great touch around the greens. He may have less of a chance to win than the other 9K players, but his floor is the highest of the bunch.

8K Range – Brendan Steele ($ 8,300) & Anirban Lahiri ($ 8,200)

You can get last week’s winner at a bargain price. Brendan Steele is a very solid player coming off a victory and playing in a mediocre field. I would’ve expected his price to be around $ 500-$ 700 higher. With just one tournament in the books this season, Steele leads the Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee and tee-to-green. He ranked seventh in the field last week in strokes: gained approach. He putted decently last week, but still has room to improve. If his swing is still in last week’s form, he’ll outperform his price tag no matter what his putter does.

Anirban Lahiri is coming off a great finish to his 2016-17 season. He snuck into the final spot of the BMW Championship field and then went on to finish ninth. One week after that he played some terrific golf at the President’s Cup. His solid play that Saturday was the only reason the U.S didn’t clinch the Cup after Day 3. As a PGA and Asian Tour member he’s very familiar with Kuala Lumpur Golf Club and enjoys playing there. His last two finishes in the CIMB are T-4 and T-21, with a combined score of 33 under in those eight rounds.

7K Range – Bud Cauley ($ 7,600) & Keegan Bradley ($ 7,000)

Cauley plays very well in the events that aren’t stacked with Top 50 players, as his T-7 finish last week makes evident. If not for a disappointing final round 74, Cauley could have won. He ranked Top 40 in strokes gained: off-the-tee, strokes gained: approach, and strokes gained: putting, so his entire game is in form.

I was very surprised to see Keegan Bradley’s name all the way down below some of the Asian Tour players. Bradley may not be the same player he was when he won the PGA Championship in 2011, but overall, 2017 was a bounceback year for him after it appeared his game was completely gone. He had three Top 10s in 2017, and is looking to build on that starting this week.

6K Range – Chad Campbell & Scott Brown ($ 6,800)

If you go with Justin Thomas, it is inevitable that you’ll have to go with a player or two in the 6K range. Chad Campbell & Scott Brown are your targets in this range. Both players are coming off mediocre weeks at the Safeway Open, but both made the cut. Last year, both Campbell and Brown were above average ball strikers, ranking in the top half of the Tour in strokes gained: approach. The short course will even things out for these two, as neither hits it particularly far. Campbell is coming off a miserable putting week, and still made the cut; he should fare better this week.

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