By Tim Hartin
The CIMB Classic field of 48 need one thing on their minds when teeing it up Thursday at The MINES Resort and Golf Club: birdies. In its first two years, the 6,917 yard, par-71 course in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has seen its competitors go low. Ben Crane claimed the inaugural event in 2010 with an 18-under, 266 tournament total, while Bo Van Pelt cashed in the top prize by firing a 23-under, 261 total, last year. Van Pelt’s week featured an eagle along with 25 birdies and only four bogeys.
The CIMB Classic has boasted big-named fields in its first two years and the 2012 version is no different. PGA Tour players naturally headline the event, with members of the Asian Tour and the Professional Golf Association of Malaysia looking to stare down the world’s best and make a world name for themselves.
So, who will lead the birdie fest this week,who will fall short and what unfamiliar names may we see on the leader board?
Who’s Hot — Contenders
Van Pelt would love to end the week being a back-to-back winner in two senses of the phrase: a successful defending champion and a winner in consecutive weeks. The 37-year-old closed out last week with a 4-under 68 at the ISPS Handa Perth International in Australia, holding off Jason Dufner for the victory. Van Pelt also performed well at the close of the FedEx Cup, scoring T-10 finishes at both the BWM Championship and The Tour Championship.
Meanwhile, Dufner also makes the transition to Malaysia sporting a solid game. His second-place finish last week featured 21 birdies and an eagle (the same as Van Pelt), but too many bogeys. If he limits the lost shots this week, Dufner has proven he can go low and contend. Last year, Dufner finished with a T-10 in his first appearance at the CIMB.
Brendon de Jonge is one of several players making the quick turnaround from the McGladrey Classic to the CIMB this week. The Fall Series was a success for de Jonge, as he posted a solo 2nd at the JT Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and a T-4 at the McGladrey Classic following a final-round 65. He currently leads the PGA Tour in total birdies this season with 410.
Tiger Woods continues his whirlwind of a fall schedule in Malaysia after hosting an amateur event at Pebble Beach last weekend. Woods may not be “hot” in his former sense of the word, but a trio of top-10s in the FedEx Cup Playoffs prove he’s a threat in any stroke play event. A winless 2012 Ryder Cup record and a 1-2 record in the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final aren’t exactly stellar, but Woods can still make the birdies which are needed this week. On Tour this season, Woods ranks No. 2 in scoring average (69.78), No. 4 in birdie average (3.97) and No. 5 in par-5 scoring average (4.56).
Carl Pettersson rode a hot streak into the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but played to a cumulative score of 12-over during the four events. A T-20 finish at The Tour Championship was his best of the series. In his 16 playoff rounds, he posted six rounds of 73 or higher.
Johnson Wagner, like Pettersson, is a PGA Tour winner this season, but doesn’t seem to have his “A” game at the moment. After cashing checks in his first six events of 2012, Wagner has made just one more cut (11) than he’s missed (10). His early season play helped him advance in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but a missed cut at the Barclays and T-51 and T-45 finishes didn’t get him to The Tour Championship. When returning to play in Vegas during the Fall Series, Wagner missed the cut.
Trevor Immelman battled a wrist injury early in 2012 and has struggled to find his rhythm. The South African owns just three top-20 finishes this season and has missed 10 cuts. His entries in both the JT Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and the Frys.com Open finished before the weekend.
Names to Learn
Thaworn Wiratchant isn’t exactly household name, but his 15 Asian Tour wins — three in 2012 – -have given him some notability. The 45-year-old has a good opportunity to become the oldest Order of Merit winner in the history of the Asian Tour, after his win at the Hero Indian Open moved him to the No. 1 position. In addition to his three victories, Wiratchant has two more T-2 finishes and a solo 2nd finish on the Asian Tour. The 25-year professional ranks No. 1 on the Asian Tour in his total score to par and total birdies this season. Wiratchant earned a T-33 finish at the inaugural CIMB.
Siddikur Rahman will be making his third appearance in the CIMB. Last year, Rahman finished T-11, improving upon his T-37 finish in 2010. Rahman may not have any victories on the Asian Tour this season, but he owns five top-five finishes.
Anirban Lahiri owns an early season win on the Asian Tour and is coming off a T-5 finish at the Hero Indian Open. Lahiri made his British Open debut this season, providing the first hole-in-one for this year’s tournament, helping him make the cut and finish T-31. This is his first time playing in the CIMB, but fellow countryman Jeev Milkha Sing posted a T-10 finish in last year’s event.
Americans have walked away with the title in the CIMB’s first two years, a fact that may turn into a quick trend in Malaysia. Combine the aforementioned Van Pelt, Dufner and Woods with fellow countrymen Nick Watney, Bill Haas and 2010 champ Crane — not to mention a host of additional talented Americans — and you have a slew of proven champions taking on a small field.