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Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

Schauffele to shuffle alongside Perez for final-round shootout

Low scores on offer in sticky Kuala Lumpur

Xander Schauffele has rapidly become one of the elite
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Story so far
Pat Perez has forged a four-shot lead through three rounds of the CIMB Classic at TPC Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the ante-post 50-1 chance shortening to 1-2 with 18 holes to play.

Perez was dismissed by bookmakers and punters alike due to humdrum course form figures of 33-63-33, but this is the first year he has arrived at the track with his game in decent condition. FedEx Cup playoffs form of 34-6-12-16 set him up nicely for this assignment.

Perez, whose last US Tour triumph came in Mexico, seems able to shrug off hot, humid weather to produce his best. Despite his face boiling up like a giant tomato midway through round three in sweltering Kuala Lumpur, Perez made six back-nine birdies.

Rounds of 66, 65 and 64 have put Perez clear and if the 41-year-old continues that trend with a 63, it is game over. Birdies are freely available on this layout, though, so the chasing pack will certainly not have given up hope of catching the pacesetter. Ante-post 9-2 favourite Justin Thomas is in 24th spot, 15 shots adrift.

-21 Pat Perez
-17 Xander Schauffele
-16 Sung Kang
-15 Hideki Matsuyama, Keegan Bradley
-12 Anirban Lahiri
-11 Ollie Schniederjans, Jazz Janewattananond
-10 Peter Uihlein, Danny Lee, Lucas Glover, Rafael Cabrera Bello

Best prices
1-2 P Perez, 4 X Schauffele, 9 H Matsuyama, 14 S Kang, 22 K Bradley, 125 A Lahiri, 250 bar

Today's advice
Pat Perez has been able to do himself justice at TPC Kuala Lumpur this year and has a golden opportunity of claiming the third US Tour title of his career. His putting has improved this year and he comfortably led the third round from start to finish.

Perez is a tidy player who should pick up a few final-round birdies without making any serious cardbusting errors, so the chasing pack know they need to produce serious Sunday fireworks to threaten the trophy.

There are probably only five possible winners and Xander Schauffele represents the best value of them all. Sung Kang is a US Tour maiden who got extremely fidgety over the closing holes of round three and seems likely to buckle under pressure, while Keegan Bradley has never won an individual tournament with a short putter and will probably not roll in enough putts to topple Perez. Bradley is winless since the 2012 Bridgestone Invitational.

Hideki Matsuyama has a habit of turning into the best player on the planet for short bursts. His final-round 61 at Firestone in August is a prime example.

When he finds some putting touch, the Japanese ace takes off to an untouchable level, but generally his flat-stick work is ugly. In round three of the CIMB, the putter was flowing, and he made nine birdies and nine pars, but that fantastic effort could easily be followed by more typical dancefloor dejection in round four.

By far the most likely to trouble Perez is Schauffele, who has recent experience of emerging triumphant from a tight leaderboard.

Schauffele hunted down Paul Casey and Co in the Tour Championship a month ago, a final-hole birdie enough to edge Justin Thomas by a shot, and that hugely courageous performance stands the 23-year-old Californian in great stead for the CIMB finale.

Schauffele, who turns 24 later this month, has already won as many US Tour titles as Perez. Both have come by a single shot. Schauffele's rise has been meteoric, but he has quickly showcased incredible calm under pressure.

He had no right to win that Tour Championship, given the quality surrounding him on the leaderboard, but the rookie demonstrated immense mettle on his East Lake debut. The final round of the CIMB must seem like a piece of cake when compared to that.

Schauffele also looks the pick of the final-round threeball options (2.50am UK and Ireland time). Perez may start off playing defensive golf, trying to protect what he has got, while nerves, as already mentioned, may get the better of Kang.

Outright recommendation
X Schauffele
2pts 4-1 general

Threeballs recommendation
X Schauffele
2pts 11-8 Hills

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Schauffele's rise has been meteoric, but he has quickly showcased incredible calm under pressure
E.W. Terms
Sky bet