The PGA TOUR heads to Malaysia this week to kick off a run of events in Asia.
Travel is one angle to consider this week but we also have a renovated course and an interesting weather forecast to deal with.
We have a small field of roughly 80 golfers this week and no cut-line to sweat. That means everyone will be guaranteed to play all four rounds this week, barring a withdraw.
Another important reminder for gamers: Given the time-zone differential, this event starts much earlier than the normal week-to-week event. Make sure you set your lineups as early as possible this week.
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The West Course at TPC Kuala Lumpur will again play host to this event. It's played that role for all eight previous editions and it also previously hosted the Malaysian Maybank Championship on the European Tour.
It's undergone some renovations since last year. The biggest change is the grass types. Previously a paspalum course, they have relaid the greens with TifEagle Bermuda and used Celebration Bermuda from tee-to-green. This is a big change for anyone leaning on course history because the greens were previously on the slow side but now they will be prepped to run at 12+ feet on the stimpmeter.
The change to bermuda on the fairways will also generate more roll but that could be negated if the course gets soaked during the week. More on that in the weather section.
Back to the layout, it's a par 72 that plays to just 7,005 yards on the scorecard. That is SHORT.
There is water in play on more than half the holes, so you have to be careful on your way around this short layout.
Given the lack of length, it's clear that you don't have to have distance to contend here but if you sift through the past leaderboards will you notice there are plenty of big hitters finding their way into the top 10. Distance looks to be a nice advantage to have in your corner this week. Don't be caught overlooking driving distance, just because the course is so short.
If we look at the scoring environment, this course allows A LOT of fantasy goodness. We have the Tournament and Champions and CareerBuilder Challenge in a tier of their own but TPC KL falls in the second tier with events like the John Deere Classic, Sony Open, Wyndham, and Shriners. Since 2014, this course ranks top 5 in birdie-or-better rate and top 10 in terms of allowing the fewest bogeys or worse. A part of that has to do with the weather here which typically brings stormy conditions which softens the course and forces them to play preferred lies. Expect more of that this week with plenty of precipitation in the forecast.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how they will play...
Justin Thomas: "I mean, it’s a place that I play well. I mean, it suits my game well. It’s a lot of wedges and I feel like I’m able to take advantage of my wedge game really well, I even did so this week."
Cameron Smith: "Well, I grew up in Brisbane. It’s kind of similar to this but obviously not as bad as this. But yeah, I enjoy the heat. I always play well in the heat for some reason, I honestly can’t tell you why."
Ryan Moore: "There’s just a certain few golf courses a year that you just seem to play well on and this is one of them for me. I think that I read the greens pretty well, I putt pretty well on them, and I think I’m just comfortable with a lot of the tee shots and where to leave it and the approaches into the greens."
Scott Piercy: "I love the heat. I grew up in Vegas, so I’m used to the heat. Maybe not the humidity like this, but some guys aren’t accustomed to it. I love it. So, it’s player to player, really. "
Gary Woodland: "The golf course sets up good to my eye, you know. It’s one I feel like I can attack. The par 5s are all gettable. You get four opportunities with four par 5s. So if I drive the ball in play, I have a pretty good chance to be successful out there."
Overview: A lot of talk about handling the heat. JT says it is a course that will put plenty of wedges in his hand. Woodland talks about the importance of feasting on the par 5s here as they are all relatively easy.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Silverado Resort and Spa
Innisbrook's Copperhead Course
Club de Golf Chapultepec
The Silverado connection is easy to piece together. They are right next to each other on the schedule. They are both played on short, par 72s. There isn't an obvious link between the rest of the courses but they are the ones that show up at the top of the correlation list for TPC KL.
It's also worth noting a strong link between this and the CJ CUP but that is only one year to work with. Other than that, we might see TPC Sawgrass become more of a correlated course, given the switch to identical grass types and plenty of water to deal with. I want to see the data match up before fully endorsing that connection.
Thursday: A 40% chance of morning showers/storms. High around 86 degrees (Feels like 100). Calm winds.
Friday: A 45% chance of morning showers/storms. Sunny intervals with a high of 86 degrees (Feels like 97). Calm winds.
Weekend: More of the same with a chance of showers and storms all weekend. Extremely hot when factoring in the humidity.
There is lots of rain in the lead-up forecast, lots of rain forecasted during the event, and lots of rain forecasted after the event. This tournament almost always uses preferred lies (lift, clean, and place) becasue this weather is so common here. I would expect more of that this week.
With a soft course and calm winds, I would expect extremely low scores as usual, as long as they can avoid major delays.
On the bright side, it is a limited field of about 80 golfers which means they can send everyone on in a two-hour time window.
Golfers to Watch
Won this event back-to-back before settling for T17 last year. The soft conditions allow him to use his distance and then go target hunting. He's the class of the field and he likes the course. Hard to go wrong there.
Rafa Cabrera Bello
Back-to-back top 10s here. Also had a few close calls (top 5s) when playing the course on the Euro Tour. His best finish on TOUR is a T3 at the WGC-Mexico Championship, played on a course with a bit of crossover success. He also finished T4 at the 2017 PLAYERS so he shouldn't mind the change in grass types which are now identical to TPC Sawgrass.
A close call last week as he lost in the playoff but he's now heading to a course where he's already won twice. He's been inside the top 10 after 12 of his 16 rounds played here. Will the change of grass types change that love for the course? Probably not.
He's really struggling at the moment but his last four visits to TPC KL have been T10, T3, T21, and WIN. That win came at the Malaysian Maybank Open but it's still another good result on this course resume. Just his comfort playing in Asia is probably worth a shot or two over the course of the week, by itself. A bit of a long shot given his current form but one with a lot of upside.
The Belgian Bomber had a few top 20s here on the Euro Tour before a mediocre T44 last year. His boom-or-bust nature makes him a great Showdown play for DFS gamers but also makes him a strong play in general, if you are willing to handle the blowup risk that comes attached with your purchase.
Making his first start as a card-carrying PGA TOUR member. Has a win at TPC Kuala Lumpur (2013 Malaysian Maybank) so that should give him the confidence he needs if he gets off to a rocky start. Also finished T3 here during the 2014 edition, his last appearance at the CIMB Classic. Given all that history, I think he makes for a relative safe play this week but he also has upside to post a top 5 like we've already seen him do here.
Has a pair of top 5s here at TPC Kuala Lumpur. One pro-tip I'll share with you is to go back and read Mo's Recaps (The Takeaway) from the previous year. You can gather a lot of good information about how the tournament went down. Last year for instance, Smith posted the low round of the day on Thursday and on Sunday (both rounds of 8-under 64). That helped him secure a first-round lead which remains his only lead/co-lead after any round on the PGA TOUR. As an Aussie, he's on the record for liking the heat. It could easily be one of those weeks where the youngster pops onto the front page of the leaderboard. Or maybe you reserve him for DFS Showdown lineups since he clearly knows how to go low here at TPC Kuala Lumpur.
Got inducted into the UCLA Hall of Fame last week. If that doesn't give you a confidence boost, I don't know what will. Chappy needs it as he enters with some horrendous form. In particular, he's losing an average of 3.1 strokes putting over his last 5 ShotLink events. From a long-term view, he's a top 25 player in this field with lots of top-heavy finishes on his resume, making him worthy of consideration in weekly fantasy formats as a high-risk, high-reward type of play.
Ranking the Field
1. Justin Thomas
2. Ryan Moore
3. Rafa Cabrera Bello
4. Paul Casey
5. Keegan Bradley
6. Marc Leishman
7. Brandt Snedeker
8. Billy Horschel
9. Gary Woodland
10. Emiliano Grillo
11. Louis Oosthuizen
12. Branden Grace
13. Cameron Smith
14. Jason Kokrak
15. C.T. Pan
16. J.J. Spaun
17. Kevin Na
18. Sam Ryder
19. Scott Piercy
20. Thomas Pieters
21. Anirban Lahiri
22. Danny Lee
23. Charles Howell III
24. Kyle Stanley
25. Kiradech Aphibarnrat
Head over to Dave Tindall's British Masters Preview. Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our Expert Picks and Wednesday for the DFS Dish.