10 Players to Watch: CIMB Classic

1. Henrik Stenson, Sweden — Following a month off after his powerful run through the FedEx Cup playoffs, Stenson returns and hopes to bring that form with him. He tied for 10th in the BMW Championship and had runner-up results in the Barclays, the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship to wind up second in the FedEx Cup standings behind champion Jordan Spieth. The Swede is playing in the CIMB Classic for the first time, and he will stay in Asia the next two weeks to play in the second and third events of the European Tour’s Final Series, the WGC-HSBC Champions and the BMW Masters, both in China. He won the Race to Dubai two years ago and is 16th in the standings this season.

2. Kevin Na, United States — Off to a great start to the 2015-16 season with a playoff loss to rookie Emiliano Grillo of Argentina in the Frys.com Open and a tie for second in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, Na hopes to finally break through in Malaysia. He has finished second five times since his only PGA Tour victory in the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Na is playing in the CIMB Classic for the second time. Last year, he opened with scores of 69-68-67 to tie for the lead with defending champion Ryan Moore heading to the final round. However, Na closed with a 2-under-par 70 while Moore shot 67 to win his second consecutive title by three shots.

3. Ryan Moore, United States — The American comes to Malaysia looking for a three-peat, as he has claimed two of his four PGA Tour titles in the CIMB Classic. Two years ago, Moore opened with a 9-under-par 63 and was at or near the top of the leaderboard all the way before defeating Gary Woodland with a 5-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole. Last year, he played the weekend in 67-67 to win by three strokes over Woodland, Kevin Na and Sergio Garcia of Spain. Moore got this season off to a solid start when he tied for 10th in the Frys.com Open, but he finished in a disappointing tie for 43rd in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in his hometown of Las Vegas.

4. Branden Grace, South Africa — Playing for the first time since becoming the fifth player in Presidents Cup history to post a 5-0 record three weeks ago, Grace is making his first appearance in the CIMB Classic. He actually has been playing very well since the end of last year, when he won the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa in December and the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in January. That kick-started a very solid season that including a tie for fourth in the U.S. Open, a tie for 20th in the Open Championship and solo third in the PGA Championship. Grace ranks sixth in the Race to Dubai standings and will play in the last three events of the European Tour’s Final Series.

5. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan — Even though he has been unable to follow up his first PGA Tour victory in the 2014 Memorial with another title, Matsuyama has played well enough. He posted nine top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour last season to become the highest-ranked Asian player in the world at No. 15. He is making his third start in the CIMB Classic. He tied for 25th two years ago when he was in the top 10 after starting 70-68 but played the weekend in 72-74. A year ago, he tied for 21st, shooting the par of 72 or better all four days. Matsuyama got his 2015-16 season off to a solid start when he tied for 17th in the Frys.com Open two weeks ago.

6. Adam Scott, Australia — Hoping that more work with a conventional putter might finally start paying off, the Aussie will open his 2015-16 PGA Tour season this week in the CIMB Classic. With the ban on anchored putters starting on Jan. 1, he tried to make the switch early this year but went back to the long wand and used it until the Presidents Cup three weeks ago. He went 1-2-2 in South Korea, but things seemed to turn around when he routed Rickie Fowler in singles, 6 and 5. He tied for seventh a week later in the Japan Open. Scott is playing in the Malaysian event for the first time, but he has the Australian Open, Australian PGA and Australian Masters coming up, and he usually plays at least two of them.

7. Patrick Reed, United States — Having established himself in the U.S. with four victories on the PGA Tour in recent seasons, Reed wants to establish himself as more of an international player, so he will tee it up in the Asian events the next two weeks. This is the third consecutive year that he will play in the CIMB Classic, and he has yet to break into the top 25 at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. Reed tied for 40th two years ago and improved to a tie for 26th last year, when he broke 70 for the only time in eight rounds in the tournament with a 4-under-par 68 in the third round. This is where he started last season, too, and he wound up playing in 27 events and the Presidents Cup.

8. Sergio Garcia, Spain — The Spaniard is another player on both major tours who will start his three-week run in Asia at the CIMB Classic, which he is playing for the third straight year. He posted four scores in the 60s last year at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club to wind up in a tie for second, three strokes behind repeat champion Ryan Moore. Two years ago, he opened with a 6-under-par 66 and seemed headed for a top-10 finish before closing with a 72 to tie for 11th. After the Malaysian event, Garcia will head for China to play in the WGC-HSBC Champions and the BMW Masters, the second and third events of the Euro Tour’s Race to Dubai. He has some work to do at 29th in the Race to Dubai standings.

9. Gary Woodland, United States — Woodland opened the 2014-15 season with a tie for second in the CIMB Classic, three strokes behind repeat winner Ryan Moore. He couldn’t keep that up, so he is back in Malaysia this week to see if he can rediscover whatever magic he seems to have at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. Two years ago in his first appearance at the course, he broke par every day and wound up in a playoff with Moore, who won when he made birdie on the first extra hole. Woodland had his moments last season, especially when he reached the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship before losing to Rory McIlroy.

10. Nick Watney, United States — The future looked bright for Watney in 2012 when he captured the CIMB Classic, which was co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour but not yet a part of the regular-season schedule. That was his ninth victory as a professional, including five on the PGA Tour, but he has not found the winner’s circle since. After opening with a 1-under-par 71 that year, he reeled off scores of 65-65-61 to win by a single stroke over Robert Garrigus and Bo Van Pelt despite making his only bogey on the last hole of his course-record round. Watney has shown only flashes of his former brilliance since, and this week he will try to build on a tie for 11th in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSC Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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