CIMB Classic | Five players to watch in Malaysia
The PGA Tour descends on Kuala Lumpur G&CC West in Malaysia this week for the CIMB Classic -- the third event on the new 2013-14 wraparound schedule.
If you're a golf enthusiast who watches some of the tournament on TV this week and thinks, "I feel like I've seen this place before," it's because you have. The LPGA completed the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia on the same course just two weeks ago.
Nick Watney returns to the CIMB Classic, where he's the defending champion after flirting with a 59 in the 2012 event, contested at The Mines Resort & GC.
This week marks the first time that the CIMB Classic is an official event on the PGA Tour schedule. The field of 78 competitors also includes the likes of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson.
Here's a closer look at five players you should keep an eye on this week.
5. Russell Henley.
Best finish in 2013: Winner of the Sony Open in Hawaii
Reason to watch: Henley turned heads in January when he became the first PGA Tour rookie in 12 years to win in his Tour debut. Since then, Henley hasn't had anything to truly write home about. He did record two more top-10 finishes, but there was nothing else that really jumped out. Henley is in Malaysia a week after missing the cut in Las Vegas. So why then, you ask, is the 24-year-old University of Georgia product someone to watch this week? It's just a hunch. Henley is a fearless putter who ranked ninth in the Tour's "strokes gained putting" category. If he can find the dance floor, look out.
4. Keegan Bradley
Best finish in 2013: Runner up at Byron Nelson Championship; T2 at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
Reason to watch: You've seen the intense enthusiasm of Keegan Bradley before. Well, trust us when we tell you he's going to be even more jacked up this week. Why? His beloved Boston Red Sox are playing in the World Series. Moreover, in Bradley's six 2013 starts since that tie for second at the WGC-Bridgestone, he's only once finished outside of the top 19 -- and he hasn't missed a cut since the U.S. Open. It's been over a year since the 2011 PGA Champion's last win too, so he's itching to hoist some hardware.
3. David Lynn
Best finish in 2013: Runner up in the Wells Fargo Championship
Reason to watch: The Englishman enjoyed a fairly successful first full season on the PGA Tour in 2013 with six top-10 finishes in 22 starts. The 40-year-old heads to Malaysia riding high after his victory at the Portugal Masters just two weeks ago. That win was Lynn's second on the European Tour and his first since 2004. It's got to be a good feeling as he embarks on his first start of the 2014 PGA Tour season (while, by the way, he's concurrently wrapping up the 2013 European Tour season. Weird).
2. Bo Van Pelt.
Best finish in 2013: Third at the Crowne Plaza Invitational
Reason to watch: How is it possible that this guy has only won one time on the PGA Tour? In no way, shape or form are we playing down that accomplishment. It's just hard to believe that a player like Van Pelt -- an absolute top-10 monster (though just one such finish in 2013) -- only has that lone Tour win at the 2009 U.S. Bank Championship... But, his game travels well internationally. Van Pelt won the CIMB Classic in 2011 (it was still an unofficial Tour event then), tied for second last year and also won the 2012 Perth International. For some reason, he clearly plays well this time of year. Temperatures are expected to be brutally hot in Malaysia this week. For Van Pelt, who makes his home in Tulsa these days, it shouldn't be an issue. Van Pelt is also coming off a 2013 season in which he missed out on the Tour Championship for the first time since 2009. There's a little added motivation.
1. Phil Mickelson
Best finish in 2013: Winner of the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Open Championship
Reason to watch: It's Phil Mickelson. Do you really need a reason? Here are a few -- he's coming off one of the best season's of his career, which is saying something. Recently, Mickelson said he'd be making far fewer starts than usual in an effort to play his best golf when he tees it up (and, of course, with a focus on the majors). Any time Mickelson is in the field he's a pre-tournament favorite. This week is no different, as he's the highest ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.