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Wednesday, 17 October, 2018

Back defiant Lahiri to gain revenge on defending champ Thomas

Indian should be spurred on by Presidents Cup heroics

Anirban Lahiri experienced redemption at the Presidents Cup
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Palmer's top tip
Anirban Lahiri 30-1

FedEx Cup champion Justin Thomas is all the rage for the CIMB Classic, the 9-2 favourite seeking to win the title for a third consecutive year, but will motivation be an issue for the world number four?

Thomas has just finished a season in which he won five times, including his maiden Major, and the week before last he represented his country for the first time. A month or two off after the Presidents Cup to relax and reflect on a year in which he banked $20m would probably have been desirable, but Thomas is honouring his CIMB commitment.

The unwritten obligation to defend titles, along with the attachment Thomas has with the tournament which provided his US Tour breakthrough, means the mega-rich 24-year-old has made the long trek to Malaysia. It is debatable, though, whether he will have the work ethic or focus required to produce his best for four days in difficult conditions. The only thing settled about the weather is the relentless heat – oppressive temperatures which make concentrating even tougher than usual.

On course and current form, Thomas looks a sensational bet. The suspicion that he may deliver a lacklustre performance, though, means he can be left alone at the price. And it should be noted that he lost his Presidents Cup singles match 3&1, his energy levels possibly dipping at that point after the rigours of the FedEx playoffs.

Much preferred at more than six times the price of Thomas is the man who he overtook in the final round of last year's CIMB. Anirban Lahiri built a four-shot lead after three brilliant rounds 12 months ago (66, 66, 65), before Thomas stepped up a gear. And that is not the first time the Indian has excelled on this course.

Lahiri won at what was then called Kuala Lumpur Country Club in the 2015 Malaysian Open. He carded a third-round 62, making his European Tour breakthrough the following day. He has moved on to bigger things, becoming a US Tour contender and twice representing The Internationals in the Presidents Cup, and he may be teeing off this week more confident than ever.

The Presidents Cup was a miserable write-off for most of the Internationals, but for Lahiri it provided redemption. Having missed a crucial putt in the 2015 edition, the wild-card was under considerable pressure the week before last, but he went undefeated on Saturday and Sunday. There was a serious threat of the Cup being over a day early such was the States' dominance, but Lahiri and Si Woo Kim battled to a fourballs victory to salvage the situation.

Lahiri's weekend defiance in front of hostile galleries in New Jersey was so gutsy that teammates nicknamed him Big Balls afterwards, placing a sign in front of his seat at the Sunday press conference. Expect a relieved Lahiri to kick on from here. He finished second in the Memorial in June and ninth in his final Stateside outing of the season, the BMW Championship. The CIMB is his best hope of a maiden US Tour triumph.

Next best
Peter Uihlein 66-1

Last month Peter Uihlein secured a US Tour card by winning the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship in the Web.com Tour Finals, and the carefree 28-year-old American is threatening to realise his potential.

The 2010 US Amateur champion and former world number one amateur won on the European Tour in 2013, but is yet to show his class in elite company. The CIMB is a good chance of a US Tour breakthrough for a talented underachiever.

Uihlein was ninth in Malaysia last year in the Maybank Championship and his last visit to Kuala Lumpur Country Club yielded a share of 16th in the Malaysian Open. He is strong generally in Asia, with fifth place in the 2013 BMW Masters, fourth in the 2015 Shenzhen International, fourth in the 2016 True Thailand Classic and fifth in the 2017 Dubai Desert Classic.

Other selection
Thomas Pieters 40-1

Punters who were stung by Thomas Pieters throwing in a series of uninspired performances on the European Tour over August and September may be loath to support him this week, but the fiesty Belgian could easily get his game-face back on for his debut as a US Tour member.

Pieters may have struggled to get his juices flowing in Denmark, Prague and Portugal, while lesser players than him were competing for the FedEx Cup, but a US Tour card has entered his back pocket and this is a fresh dawn.

Pieters finished fourth in his last no-cut event – the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational – and he will have four rounds to showcase his incredible ability in Kuala Lumpur. His iron-play was fantastic at Firestone and accurate approaches are the key to success this week.

Pieters had missed seven cuts in a row prior to jetting to Kuala Lumpur for his Malaysian Open debut in 2014, and another weekend off seemed likely after he opened with a 75, but rounds of 67, 69 and 68 followed, and he finished eighth, highlighting how much this course suits. A year later, he closed with a 66 for 16th place.

Others to note
Gavin Green The Malaysian youngster has finished second and first in his last two Asian Tour starts, and his future looks bright. The local hero could sneak a place at 100-1.

Haotong Li The pride of China, who finished third in the Open in July, could take a shine to an easy track which plays to his strengths. A debutant who may be worth a tickle at 80-1.

Si Woo Kim The Sawgrass champion, full of fury in the Presidents Cup, is another to consider at a big price in a small field lacking superstars.

Hideki Matsuyama The world number three has been struggling since blowing a winning opportunity in the USPGA. Course-proven at this venue, though, and defeated Justin Thomas in the Presidents Cup singles.

Brendan Steele The quiet Texan successfully defended his Safeway Open title on Sunday, so has jetted to Malaysia full of beans.

Bud Cauley The US Tour maiden finished seventh in the Safeway, squandering another breakthrough chance. Thomas's housemate will have got plenty of advice from his pal on how to tame this course.

Staking plan
A Lahiri
2pts each-way 30-1 Betfred, Boyles
P Uihlein
1pt each-way 66-1 Betfair
T Pieters
1pt each-way 40-1 Betfred


Read Steve Palmer's preview of the Italian Open


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 Anirban Lahiri, Justin Thomas (twice)

When to bet By 12.30am tonight

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 3.30am tomorrow

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

Last week – Safeway Open 1 B Steele (33-1), 2 T Finau (16-1), T3 P Mickelson (18-1), C Hadley (55-1), T5 G DeLaet (80-1), T Duncan (200-1), T7 A Landry (125-1), B Cauley (50-1)

Course overview Previously known as Kuala Lumpur Country Club, this layout joined the Tournament Players Club network last year. 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.

Story of last year Justin Thomas hunted down Anirban Lahiri with an eight-under-par final-round 64, the American cruising to a three-shot victory to successfully defend his title.

Weather forecast Sweltering temperatures and regular bursts of heavy rain, along with a threat of thunder, look set to make this a difficult week for the competitors

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, although softer conditions are expected this time. 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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The CIMB is his best hope of a maiden US Tour triumph
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