10 Players to Watch: CIMB Classic

  1. Patrick Reed, United States — Coming off a 3-1-1 performance in the Ryder Cup, which helped spark the United States to its first victory over Europe in eight years, Reed will look for a quick start to his 2016-17 season. He is coming off another strong campaign, having finished third in the FedExCup point standings after recording 11 finishes in the top 10, including his fifth PGA Tour victory in The Barclays to open the playoffs and runner-up finishes in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the Valero Texas Open. Only FedEx champion Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson finished ahead of him in the point standings, and he is up to No. 7 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Reed is making his fourth appearance in the CIMB Classic and last year tied for 10th to post his best result. He tied for 40th in 2014 and tying for 26th two years ago.
  1. Paul Casey, England — Picking right up where he left off in the FedExCup playoffs, in which he finished in the top five in the last three events including two runner-up results, Casey opened the new PGA Tour season with a tie for third in the Safeway Open. He wound up two strokes behind winner Brendan Steele, staying in the hunt all the way after opening with a 64, with only a double-bogey 7 on the fifth hole of a third-round 71 keeping him from being right there at the end. The Englishman, who was denied a spot on the European Ryder Cup team because he no longer plays on the Euro Tour, is 58 under par in his past four tournaments and has risen to No. 12 in the world. Casey, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2009 Shell Houston Open, is making his third appearance in the CIMB Classic, having tied for 37th in 2015 and tied for 24th last year.
  1. Adam Scott, Australia — It appeared that last season was going to be a huge one for Scott when he opened the Florida swing by winning the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship, running his total to 13 career victories on the PGA Tour. However, even though he finished in the top 10 on seven more occasions, he was unable to find the winner’s circle, finishing second in the Northern Trust Open and the CIMB Classic, in which he makes only his second start this week. The Aussie reeled off four scores of 68 or better in Kuala Lumpur, including a 9-under-par 63 in the final round, but couldn’t quite catch Justin Thomas, who claimed his first PGA Tour victory with a 6-foot par putt on the 72nd hole. Scott, ranked No. 6 in the world, will team with Marc Leishman to form Team Australia in the World Cup of Golf next month in Melbourne.
  1. Ryan Moore, United States — After recording the clinching point for the United States in the Ryder Cup, Moore will try to continue his recent strong play in his 2016-17 season debut. He claimed two of his five PGA Tour victories in the CIMB Classic, beating Gary Woodland on the first hole of a playoff in 2013 with a 5-foot birdie putt, then successfully defending his title with a three-stroke victory over Woodland, Sergio Garcia of Spain and Kevin Na. Last year, Moore tied for 10th. He is 49 under par in three appearances at the tournament. He birdied the last three holes to beat Lee Westwood of England, 1 up, to put the U.S. over the top in the Ryder Cup after losing to Rory McIlroy on the fourth hole of a playoff at the Tour Championship. He finished seventh in the FedExCup standings after posting nine top-10 finishes, including a victory in the John Deere Classic.
  1. Sergio Garcia, Spain — The Spaniard will make his first start of the 2016-17 PGA Tour season this week after posting a 1-2-2 record for the Europeans in the Ryder Cup, halving perhaps the best singles match with Phil Mickelson. Both players shot 9-under-par 63 at Hazeltine, with Lefty carding 10 birdies and Sergio nine, each sinking dramatic putts on the final hole. Garcia is coming off a season in which he claimed his ninth PGA Tour victory in the AT&T Byron Nelson, beating Brooks Koepka with a par on the first playoff hole to tie Seve Ballesteros for the most titles on the circuit by a Spanish-born player. Garcia is playing in the CIMB Classic for the fourth time. He came close to winning two years ago with four rounds in the 60s but finished three shots behind Ryan Moore in a tie for second. Garcia also tied for 11th in Kuala Lumpur in 2014 and tied for 24th last year.
  1. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan — Fresh off a three-stroke victory in the Japan Open Golf Championship last week, Matsuyama will try to keep his recent strong run going in the CIMB Classic, in which he finished solo fifth last year. He also wound up fifth in the Tour Championship last month, capping a season in which he finished in the top 10 eight times. That included his second PGA Tour victory in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he beat Rickie Fowler with a par on the fourth extra hole. Matsuyama, knocking on the door of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking at No. 13, posted four rounds of 68 or better at Kuala Lumpur last year and finished four strokes behind champion Justin Thomas. This will be his fourth start in the tournament, as he tied for 25th in 2014 and tied for 21st a year later.
  1. Justin Thomas, United States — Thomas won the CIMB Classic a year ago in his first appearance in Kuala Lumpur, taking the lead with a course-record, 11-under-par 61 in round two and then holding off Adam Scott of Australia by one stroke down the stretch. Thomas overcame a double-bogey 6 on the 14th hole with three straight birdies and then sank a 5-foot par putt on the final hole to claim his first victory on the PGA Tour. He opened the new season last week with a tie for eighth in the Safeway Open, bouncing back from a 3-over-par 75 in the first round with scores of 66-66-67. Thomas, whose only other pro victory came in the 2014 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship on the Web.com Tour, finished 12th in the FedExCup standings on the strength of seven top-10 finishes, including a tie for third in the Players Championship and a tie for sixth in the Tour Championship.
  1. Brendan Steele, United States — Steele this week will try to become the first player to win back-to-back events on the PGA Tour since Adam Scott captured the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship to start the Florida swing early last year. Last week, he earned his second victory on the circuit by shooting 7-under-par 65 in the final round to beat Patton Kizzire by one stroke in the season-opening Safeway Open. Steele, whose other victory on the circuit came in the 2011 Valero Texas Open, was tied for the lead with Justin Thomas after 54 holes last year in the CIMB Classic and closed with a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68, but it wasn’t quite good enough. He tied for third while Thomas won with a 66. This will be Steele’s third appearance in Kuala Lumpur; he tied for 25th in 2014.
  1. Kevin Na, United States — Even though his only PGA Tour victory came in the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, Na keeps knocking on the door, finishing second eight times. Last week, he opened the new season with a solo seventh in the Safeway Open after finishing in the top 10 on eighth occasions in 2015-16, including two seconds and two thirds. Na is making his third appearance in the CIMB Classic, and he was close to winning in each of those other two starts, playing his eight rounds in 38 under par. In 2014, he was tied for the 54-hole lead with Ryan Moore but closed with a 70 to tie for second as Moore won by three strokes. Last year, Na again was in the hunt all the way before tying for third, two strokes behind winner Justin Thomas.
  1. Russell Knox, Scotland — Even though he had a career season by winning twice on the PGA Tour in 2015-16, Knox continues to fly a bit under the radar. He will defend his title next week in the WGC-HSBC Champions, and he also won the Travelers Championship in August, in addition to losing a playoff to Graeme McDowell in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba and tying for second in the RBC Heritage. Those results helped him finish 10th in the FedExCup point standings, despite a disappointing 23rd-place finish in the Tour Championship, and he has climbed to 20th in the Official World Golf Ranking. Knox is making his second appearance in the CIMB Classic, and last year he warmed up for his victory in Shanghai with a solid tie for 21st at Kuala Lumpur. The 31-year-old Scot worked his way up to the PGA Tour, winning on the EGolf Tour, the Hooters Tour and the Web.com Tour along the way.

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

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