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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Benny An can lay down gauntlet to hat-trick chasing Justin Thomas

Classy Korean should enjoy the assignment

Byeong Hun An is formidable with an iron in hand
1 of 1

Starts 1am Wednesday night
Live on Sky Sports Golf from 3.30am Thursday

Justin Thomas is 60 under par for three visits to TPC Kuala Lumpur, has twice won the title, and top-scored for the United States in the Ryder Cup last time out.

Plenty of punters will be rushing to back the short-price favourite for the CIMB Classic, but motivation may be an issue for Thomas, who has nothing to prove from this long trip to Malaysia and must be looking forward to some off-season down-time.

Thomas, who has been suffering with tendonitis in his right wrist in recent weeks, does not represent great value on a low-scoring track where everyone should get among the birdies. A poor weather forecast – and the possibility of a 54-hole event – further discourages an investment at skinny odds.


Palmer's top tip
Byeong Hun An 33-1

Conditions look perfect for Byeong Hun An, known as Benny by his peers, to remind the world what an excellent player he is in the CIMB Classic over the next four days.

The Korean, at age 17, became the youngest winner of the US Amateur Championship in 2009, then he picked up a comfortable victory on the Challenge Tour in 2014 before an incredible six-shot romp in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in 2015.

An has been focused on a maiden US Tour title since, coming close on several occasions. He has finished second three times – twice losing in a playoff and suffering at the hands of an imperious Dustin Johnson in the other.

An has shown a liking for 'second-shot courses', where he has some room to unleash his natural power and attack from the tee, before firing at smaller targets on approach. His playoff defeat to Bryson DeChambeau in the Memorial at Muirfield Village in June highlighted the point, as did his bridesmaid role behind Johnson in the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey at the end of July.

The CIMB venue – TPC Kuala Lumpur – provides a similar test. Accurate iron-play is the key to success and An finished 18th on the US Tour strokes-gained-on-approach stats last season. Putting is his weakness, but the Florida-based pro will be aided by the switch to bermuda grass at TPC Kuala Lumpur since last year. The Seoul-born swinger should feel right at home, playing in Asia with Florida-like turf under his feet.

An kept himself ticking over nicely with eighth place in the Donghae Open on the Asian Tour in the middle of last month and is fresh for a bold title tilt at TPC KL, where he finished 39th of 78 runners in his only previous appearance (2016), closing with a 67 which was bettered by only five players in the field.

And compatriot Sang-moon Bae has just provided a boost to An by winning on the Tour last month after returning from two years of military service. At some stage before the age of 33, An will have to start his two years of duty for Korea and put his career on hold, but Bae has shown that it is a hurdle which can be overcome.

Next best
CT Pan 45-1

Another player who should be comfortable in Kuala Lumpur is CT Pan, the Taiwanese youngster who has been able to spend some time in his homeland in the build-up to this tournament. The hop south to Malaysia could bring a maiden US Tour title.

The former world number one amateur has twice threatened his Stateside breakthrough in the last couple of months, finishing second in the Wyndham Championship and fourth in the Dell Technologies Championship. He finished 17th on his CIMB debut last year, carding four under-par rounds, and he arrives 55 places higher up the world rankings this time.


Other selections
Danny Lee 45-1
Cameron Smith 33-1
Kiradech Aphibarnrat 80-1

Another former world number one amateur who was born in Asia is worth following. Tenth place in the Safeway Open on Sunday was an extension of an encouraging spell of form from Danny Lee, who was once one of the most promising youngsters in the sport. Like An, Lee was US Amateur champion as a teen (18 in 2008), then he won the Johnnie Walker Classic on the European Tour the following year.

The Korean-born Kiwi won on the Tour in 2011, then on the US Tour (Greenbrier Classic) in 2015. This is a top-class 28-year-old, who has amassed $10m in prize money on the US Tour, getting his act together again.

Lee played at TPC KL in the 2011 Malaysian Open and was sixth after three rounds, before losing his head on the Sunday, dropping to 17th place, then messing up his scorecard and suffering disqualification. He returned to finish 13th in the 2014 CIMB, and seventh last year after arriving in abysmal form.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished third in the 2010 Malaysian Open at TPC KL, won the 2013 edition and was third in his only CIMB appearance at the track in the same year. The Thai will be relishing his first event as a US Tour member.

And make room in the staking plan for Cameron Smith, another Florida-based pro who will appreciate the switch to bermuda grass. Smith, who played a lot in Asia at the start of his career, can boast CIMB form of 5-37-5 and he recently posted two third-place finishes in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Others to note
Xander Schauffele
The world number 18 finished third and seventh in the final two FedEx Cup playoff events, and he was third on his CIMB debut last year. He looks the pick of the market principals.

Anirban Lahiri
The Indian won the 2015 Malaysian Open at this venue and has finished third and tenth in the CIMB the last two years.

Ryan Moore
The former Ryder Cup star has twice been victorious in this event at this course and he warmed up with a playoff defeat in the Safeway Open.

Keegan Bradley
The 2011 US PGA champion got back to winning ways in the BMW Championship a month ago. He was CIMB runner-up to Pat Perez last year.

Paul Casey
The Englishman won 1.5 points from three matches in the Ryder Cup. He finished seventh in the CIMB last year.

Kevin Na
The Korean-born American won the Greenbrier Classic by five shots on the US Tour in July. He has a second and a third to his name in the CIMB at this course.

Staking plan
B H An
2pts each-way 33-1 Betfred, BoyleSports
CT Pan
1.5pts each-way 45-1 Paddy Power
D Lee
1.5pts each-way 45-1 Betfred, BoyleSports
C Smith
1.5pts each-way 33-1 Ladbrokes, 188bet
K Aphibarnrat
1pt each-way 80-1 Betfred

The lowdown

Course West Course, TPC Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Prize money $7m ($1.26m to the winner)

Length 7,005 yards

Par 72

Field 78

Course records – 72 holes 262 Justin Thomas (2015) 18 holes 61 Justin Thomas (2015)

Course winners taking part Louis Oosthuizen, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Malaysian Open), Ryan Moore (twice), Anirban Lahiri (Malaysian Open), Justin Thomas (twice), Pat Perez

When to bet By 1am Wednesday night

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 3.30am Thursday

Time difference Malaysia is seven hours ahead of the UK and Ireland

Last week – Safeway Open 1 K Tway (50-1), T2 R Moore (25-1), B Snedeker (22-1), T4 S Im (100-1), L List (50-1), T Merritt (150-1), S Ryder (125-1), A Baddeley (125-1)

Course overview Previously known as Kuala Lumpur Country Club, this layout joined the Tournament Players Club network in 2016. Located just five miles from the centre of Kuala Lumpur, the Nelson Howarth created West Course was extensively redesigned by Ted and Geoff Parslow in 2007 and 2008, so punters should concentrate on course form from 2009 onwards. The CIMB Classic moved from The Mines Resort, which staged the first three runnings, to this venue in 2013. The field size increased from 48 and the tournament was given full status as part of the US Tour's FedEx Cup schedule. Kuala Lumpur CC hosted the Malaysian Open on the European Tour seven times (2006, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015). Three of the par-fives are short by modern standards (the third, fifth and tenth), but the 18th is a 634-yard beast. The 318-yard par-four 16th is a tempting option for powerful drivers, but a narrow green provides a small target. Since last year, all paspalum grass has been replaced by bermuda grass.

Last year Pat Perez cruised to a four-shot victory over Keegan Bradley, with the hat-trick chasing Justin Thomas tailed off in 17th place

Weather forecast Hot, humid and thundery throughout, so suspensions in play are likely. Hardly any wind

Type of player suited to challenge Length is typically not of great importance at this layout, with the 18th hole comprising 634 yards of just 7,005. Countless bunkers, ponds and undulating greens demand accurate iron-play, which has been the key to success for most previous champions

Key attribute Accuracy

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An kept himself ticking over nicely with eighth place in the Donghae Open on the Asian Tour in the middle of last month
E.W. Terms
Sky bet