It’s been a whopping three weeks since the 2016-’17 PGA Tour season culminated with a Xander Schauffele victory at the Tour Championship and Justin Thomas cashing a $10 million check as FedExCup Champion — but, believe it or not, it’s already time for a full-field tournament with most of the world’s best.
And, for good measure, Justin Thomas is the odds on favorite.
The CIMB Classic at TPC Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia has become one of the Tour’s marquee early season events. It’s also been the site of Justin Thomas victories each of the past two seasons. And, as you might imagine with that and his current form, he’s far and away the favorite this week.
That said, he’s not the only big name teeing it up. As previously stated, the CIMB has turned into one of the Tour’s big events. The a for-mentioned Schauffele, last week’s winner Brendan Steele and Hideki Matsuyama are all among those vying to unseat Justin Thomas as tournament champions.
Here’s a look at those with a real chance — and those who are just playing:
Justin Thomas — Duh. Two starts here since the overhaul to TPC Kuala Lumpur and he’s won both times. He’s coming off a season where he won five times, collected a major and a FedExCup title. He’s won twice in the last two months and is, obviously, the hottest player on the planet. If you pass on Thomas in any format this week, you’re an idiot.
Hideki Matsuyama — After playing well in the most recent stretch of grueling tourneys, Matsuyama comes to a track where he has had success. While he hasn’t won here, he has collected a top-5 and top-10 finish in his last two starts. Besides Thomas, he’s probably the biggest name in the field this week and certainly deserves our attention.
Ian Poulter — I don’t necessarily like Poulter to win this week in Malaysia, but passing on him in most formats would still be a mistake. With six top-25’s in his last eight starts, Poulter is trending in the right direction. He hasn’t lost his fire or his game, he’s just been a little off. Poulter has played well in this part of the world before and it’d come as no surprise if he did it again this week.
Thomas Pieters — Making his first start as a PGA Tour member, Thomas Pieters looks to make amends for a difficult end of the season stretch that left him reeling a bit. The young Belgian finished T-4 in his last event that didn’t have a cut, so maybe the lack of pressure and his immense talent will prove enough to collect his first W. If not, he’s still worth a look in most formats.
Kevin Na — Many are, once again, taking a flyer on Kevin Na this week. I, however, am not one of them. Kevin Na has been struggling for quite some time and, sadly, I don’t see that changing for a while. Na has found himself in a slump since early last season, and save for a couple positive upticks in performance, it’s been much of the same. Na should remain on benches in all formats.
Keegan Bradley — Another name that has been on the lips of many this week is Keegan Bradley. Like Na, however, I’m not sold. Bradley played well here last year, even sharing the 18-hole lead, but he’s been so inconsistent since, honestly, the anchored putting ban, that I can’t waste a start on him until he shows some consistency.
Xander Schauffele — It would stand to reason that a guy who has won in the last three weeks might be poised to collect another win in the near future — but when it comes to Xander Schauffele this week, I can’t pull the trigger. Schauffele may be the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, but he’s also making his first career start at TPC Kuala Lumpur and playing in his first event this far from home. I think this week presents more of a challenge than many are expecting for Schauffele.
Paul Casey — Paul Casey has done everything lately but win, it seems. Sadly, I think that trend continues in Malaysia. I’d like to see Casey atop a leader board on Sunday again soon, but as he heads to the CIMB Classic devoid of a top-20 in this event, I can’t say I’m expecting much. If you want to take a chance, I won’t argue with you — but don’t say I didn’t warn ya.