CIMB Classic Predictions
Date: October 30 – November 2
Course: Kuala Lumpur G and CC – Malaysia
TV: The Golf Channel
by Evergreen, Golf Handicapper, Predictem.com
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Most folks arent all that familiar with the fall schedule on the PGA Tour. Many professed golf fans often regard the T.O.C. in January as the official start to the season, even though four months of tournaments have taken place by then. Heck, some even offer that the golf season doesnt start until the Masters. No matter what you think of golf this time of year, the CIMB Classic tees off on Thursday from Malaysia and this event features the strongest field since the TOUR Championship.
The CIMB Classic has only been held since 2010 but the event has grown quickly from an exhibition to a full-fledged PGA tournament. This is a full-point FedEx and money event and the winner will get some additional goodies, like a trip to Augusta this spring. There are 60 PGA pros in the 78-man field, another 10 entries are from the Asian PGA and the remaining 8 are sponsor exemptions. The tournament has set out to be a global invitational and has succeeded in that goal as the field has participants from Mexico, South America, Australia, Canada and South Africa to go along with the familiar faces from Europe and America.
An American has won every CIMB Classic to this point with Ryan Moore taking the trophy last year. He was preceded by Ben Crane, Bo Van Pelt and Nick Watney and just a quick look at those names, in addition to others that have done well, will reveal success is directly tied to great shotmaking. Kuala Lumpur Golf Club is not a course that you can blindly attack. The par-72 measures a relatively short 6,952 yards, but almost every shot requires that some element of difficulty be negotiated. The course is dotted with fairway and greenside bunkers, there is water in play on 12 holes and there are very few flat lies given the near-universal mounding in the landing areas. This is a strategy course, plain and simple.
The online betting sites have released their odds and head to head match pairing, so lets take a look at some of the best bets for this week.
Sergio Garcia (10 to 1 odds)
Sergio is teeing it up for the first time since the Ryder Cup and is looking to build off a very strong 2013-14 season that saw him as a runner-up on three separate occasions. Garcia was T11 at the CIMB last year and is certainly no stranger to the toughest international events. He improved his putting over the past few years and he led the Tour in scoring for the better part of the season before Rory McIlroy finished fast and pushed him to second. Garcia finished the year 31stin total driving and 14thin greens hit for the 16thbest overall ballstriking mark. He is long enough to go after the risk/reward shots here and he should be a factor all week.
Hideki Matsuyama (14 to 1)
There will be plenty of gallery love for the Asian Tour regulars and Matsuyama is one of the biggest names in Asian golf. He won the Memorial last year to prove he can contend against the best in the world and did manage a T25 here last time out. He finished just 116thin greens hit in 2014 but is hitting them at a 77% clip in his first events this year so he is hot right now. He was top-20 in both PGA birdie and scoring average and was a respectable 41stin scrambling.
Lee Westwood (14 to 1)
Westwood didnt have the best year on Tour but did manage top-10 finishes in both the Masters and the PLAYERS so he can still hang in the big events. He finished the season outside the top-90 in fairways, greens, ballstriking and scrambling. Those are ominous stats for this week, making Westwood a gut play as the pure stats dont support him having a good week. He is certainly talented but without a lot of recent success, I would be looking to bet against him in head to head matches.
Billy Horschel (16 to 1)
The kind of play that netted finishes of 2-1-1 to end the season and win the FedExCup didnt come with him to the Shriners and he wound up missing the cut. That cut is probably not a big deal, in fact it probably allowed him those few extra days to better plan his trip to Malaysia, but you do wonder about the hangover effect coming off such a life-changing string of tournaments. Statistically, Horschel is a fit for this course with top-11 ranks in total driving, greens hit and ballstriking. The putter is good enough to make the birdies to win but he needs to prove he is back to form before I put any bets on him.
Jason Dufner (20 to 1)
Dufner missed the end of last season with a neck injury but returned to action in Perth and played pretty well, finishing T23. The fact he is playing again suggests he is pain-free and that makes him a factor right away. Even while nursing his iffy neck, Dufner managed four top-10 finishes and only missed three cuts. He brings one of the best tee-to-green games and while he doesnt putt particularly well for average, he seldom three putts and often contends when he gets it rolling.
My Picks to Win:
Ryan Moore (25 to 1)
I often look away from the defending champion as title defenses are few and far between but this is just the second go-around for Kuala Lumpur so any familiarity with this course is a big positive. Moore finished last year 9thin fairways, 23rdin greens hit and 21stin birdie average. He is solid across the board with the 12thbest all-around rank and provides great potential return if he can make it back-to-back wins.
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Kevin Streelman (33 to 1)
Kevin did see this course last year and while a T53 isnt very exciting, that experience is valuable. He is coming off a T2 at the Shriners and is always among the Tour leaders in fairways hit, finishing 2013-14 ranked 16thin that category. He isnt fantastic anywhere else but you need to be in the short grass to score here, plus he adds a respectable 58thin birdie average so he can put up the numbers to win.
K.J. Choi (80 to 1)
Choi tied for 14thhere last year and this type of course has always been in his wheelhouse. He isnt the marksman with the irons that he was ten years ago but he still finds the fairways regularly and has improved on the greens with top-35 marks in both putting average and strokes-gained. He is the grizzled vet of Asian Tour golf and has certainly seen it all.
Head to Head Matches
Picks to win based on final score after all four rounds. Check with your golf sportsbook for single round pairings and prop bets.
Just about every book puts some version of the top-5 against one another in head to heads so I simply do a top-5 (or so) ranking each week to let you know my thoughts on how the big names will fare.
1. Sergio Garcia
2. Hideki Matsuyama
3. Charl Schwartzel
4. Gary Woodland
5. Billy Horschel
6. Patrick Reed
7. Lee Westwood
Brendon de Jonge v. John Senden (my pick to win: Senden)
Both men are way above average in finding the fairways but Senden finished last year in the top-25 in greens hit while de Jonge was outside the top-100. Senden has proven to be the better putter and also owns stat edges in putting, birdies, scoring and ballstriking.
Chesson Hadley v. Morgan Hoffman (my pick to win: Hoffman)
Hadley is the reigning rookie of the year but the rookie class wasnt particularly deep last year and the stats dont look good for him this week. Neither is very good in finding fairways or greens but Hoffman is 10thin strokes-gained putting, 79 spots better than Hadley and that also shows in a scrambling advantage for Hoffman.
Good luck and good golf!