The PGA Tour season hasn’t started until Justin Thomas tees off in the middle of the night in Malaysia right before (or after) a great college football Saturday; the real tradition unlike any other. The CIMB Classic takes place this week, and Thomas goes for his third title in four years. He’s the headliner, but there’s plenty to talk about in the second PGA Tour event of the 2018-19 season.
Let’s take a look at this week’s contest.
What: CIMB Classic | When: Oct. 10-14
Where: TPC Kuala Lumpur — Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Ranking the field (odds)
Field strength … B-: It’s actually a pretty decent field for a tournament on the other side of the globe that requires a lengthy flight. Thomas is obviously the main event, but there are seven major champs in the field overall, which is a strong number for the middle of October.
Three stories to watch
1. Pat Perez watch: As I noted above, two of the last three winners of this event have gone on to repeat. Pat Perez will try to make it thee after his big win last year in the middle of the best two-year stretch of his career. “I’m confident I will start playing consistently well again like how it was in 2017,” Perez recently told PGATour.com. “Going back to Malaysia will be a good starting point for sure.”
2. Early roll: Remember a few years ago when Jimmy Walker rode a hot fall all year into team events like the Ryder Cup? I’m curious to see if second and third-tier players like Horschel, Schauffele, Bradley and Kyle Stanley can do the same. With Phil Mickelson probably fading as a team event player and numerous other wild cards, who will we look at a year from now after the Presidents Cup and say, “Player X really got cranking in the fall of 2018?”
3. Photo finish?: In the span of three years Thomas has gone from “nice contender to watch” at this tournament to “expected to perform at a level commensurate with winning this event.” Such are the burdens of being a top-five player in the world, and Thomas is certainly built to withstand them. I’m excited to watch him after his resounding performance in Paris.
- 2017: Pat Perez
- 2016: Justin Thomas
- 2015: Justin Thomas
- 2014: Ryan Moore
- 2013: Ryan Moore
CIMB Classic picks
Winner: I’m not sure if you came for the contrarian take this week, but I have nothing for you. When arguably the best player alive is in an event with none of the next 10 best players alive, he’s the pick.
Top 10: How long will X-man be underrated? Dropped seven top 10s (including one here) the season after dropping four, and he’s made over $8 million in the last two years.
Sleeper: Any time Thomas Pieters is in an event with longer than 50-1 odds, I’m probably going to pick him.