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Maybank Malaysian Open preview

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The European Tour is back, and despite returning to mainland Europe for the NH Collection Open in Spain, two weeks ago, we are now back in Asia, specifically Kuala Lumpur Malaysia.

The Maybank Malaysian Open, an Asian Tour event, co-sanctioned by the European Tour since 1999 has produced some fine winners in recent years, including one of last season’s surprise packages on the European Tour, Kiradech Aphibarnrat who won here 12 months ago.

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The last four winners of this event are, as aforementioned Kiradech Aphibarnat in 2013, Louis Oosthuizen (2012), Matteo Manassero (2011) and Seung-yul Noh (2010), all of whom have won multiple events in their career. Interestingly, apart from Oosthuzien, each of the other winners have won at least one other professional event in Asia either before or after winning here, something which may be worth keeping in the back of your mind.

This event has twice been cut to a 54-hole event, due to weather conditions, firstly back in 2006, when Charlie Wi won, and then again in 2013, so here’s hoping that we see a four-round event this time around. Last year the event was brought forward to the 21st March, but for the two years prior, it was held on this same week, so again that may be something to consider.

The Course: Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club, par 72, 6,967 yards. This course is far from long, which would have helped someone like Manassero win here in the past, so an emphasis would be placed on accuracy over distance this week. Due to the undulating fairways, finding the right part of them can be a huge plus, especially when trying to hit these greens.

There have been new run-offs added to several greens, making the approaches into the greens that much more important, so being ranked high in Greens in Regulation would certainly be preferable. If you do miss these greens, getting up and down will be important, so if you like a player who’s not hitting as many greens as you would like, look to see how he’s performing around the greens.

Putting is as important as ever, with the winning score always being low, you will need to take plenty of opportunities with the putter to make sure you keep up with the competition.

Even with the thunderstorms cutting the event short last year, Aphibarnrat still managed to get to -13 thru 54 holes, so trying to play catch up over the weekend isn’t ideal. Fast starters may well be a good bet here, because if the event does get cut short, those who are trying to play their way into the event, and charge at the weekend, may run out of time. The fact that every player that finished in the top-10 here last year, shot a sub-70 in round one is strong evidence for that case.

Market Leaders: Lee Westwood (10/1), Louis Oosthuizen (14/1), Francesco Molinari (20/1), Rafa Cabrera-Bello (22/1), Matteo Manassero (25/1)

Four of the five players at the head of the market played in the Masters, at Augusta last week, and only Manassero missed the cut, so there may be question marks over the fatigue of some of the players here, especially Oosthuzien who is still struggling with injury.

There is no doubt about it, that these five are up there with the best players on the European Tour, so it’s no surprise they come in at the odds they have. Each player can be beat, and there is plenty of depth in this field, so it really is down to personal opinion whether these five are value.

Here are my selections for the 2014 Maybank Malaysian Open.

Francesco Molinari 20/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes, PaddyPower) 2pts e/w: Francesco Molinari is one of those players that you fully expected to of won a lot more than he has, but that does not take away from the fact that he is a superb player, and this course looks perfect for him.

The Italian is one of the most accurate players in the world, and his iron game is superb, but his Achilles heel is his putting and hopefully that can hold up this week.

He currently sits 24th in Driving Accuracy on huge European Tour, and 11th on the PGA Tour, so he’s doing the right things off the tee.

His Greens in Regulation stats have been ok on the European Tour, currently ranking 37th in that category, but he can improve on this, and I am sure he will rank higher, come the end of the season.

He has been in decent form this year, without really excelling, but his last two starts are particularly encouraging. Molinari has spent some time in America this year, plying his trade on the PGA Tour (who can blame him) and whilst he started the season slowly, his performance in his last regular event, the Bay Hill Invitational was superb, and saw him finish T5.

Fast forward to the Masters, and Molinari managed to put himself near the top after day one, and still in contention at the half-way point. He failed the produce over the weekend, as he managed to shoot three straight 76s after his opening round of 71, but his weekend play doesn’t concern me.

He has made one start here at the course/event, back in 2006 when Charlie Wi won, and he finished in 8th place, finishing six shots shy.

This wasn’t helped by Molinari’s round three score of 70, whilst Wi shot 63, but it’s hard to tell where Molinari would of finished, had the event gone distance. Like last year the event was cut to 54-holes, and Wi’s score over three rounds was more than impressive.

Despite falling short in 2006, and although it was a long time ago now, he did lead the field in Greens in Regulation that week, but ranked middle of the road for putting, so that will need to improve.

It’s hard to use his round in 2006 as a guide, because it was so long ago, plus the course has been adjusted since, but it’s only a positive in my eyes.

His win at the HSBC- Champions in China gives me another reason to believe he can go well, as a win in Asia is something that’s nice to have under your belt, especially when trying to win an event in the same continent. He also won the World Cup of Golf, representing Italy back in 2009, with his brother Edoardo Molinari. Edoardo finished runner-up at this event last year too, so he should be able to give Francesco some fresh insight.

Apart from his win in China, Molinari has also finished runner-up, losing in a play-off, in the Hong Kong Open back in 2009, proving again he is comfortable playing in this part of the world.

With his last win coming in May 2012, there may be some doubt cast over Molinari at 20/1, but for me is amongst the elite players in this field, and should he piece things together this week, like he did in Bay Hill two starts ago, he should be right up there in contention.

Gregory Bourdy 50/1 (Bet365, Boylesports) 1pt e/w: Gregory Bourdy, with his win last year in the Wales Open, took his European tour win tally to 4, and I am confident he can add to that again.

The Frenchman was struggling with injury at the start of the season, but he’s fought back rather well, posting three top-20s in his last four starts, and making the cut in the other two.

This for me is enough evidence that he is ready to contend this week, especially on a course that he’s played rather well for the most part.

On three starts here, Bourdy has finished, 2nd on debut in 2011, 47th in 2012 and 11th last year, so he’s got two good finishes here, the 2nd place finish being very good.

During that runner-up finish in 2011, Bourdy managed to better his opening round of 71, in the next three rounds, shooting 69, 66, 67, which saw him finish -15, one shot adrift of winner Matteo Manassero.

Despite playing pretty steady this season, Bourdy is not hitting anywhere near enough Greens in Regulation, but when he does he’s putting well (7th in Putts per GIR). He should be hitting more greens given the fact he’s currently 5th in Driving Accuracy, and giving himself plenty of opportunity to attacks them.

With his excellent course form, and history of good play in contention, I am happy to get Bourdy onside here, at 50/1.

This is positive, as he is making up for his mistakes, with a good short game, and knowing how good he can be with an iron in his hand, I am sure he can hit a lot of these greens, on a course he clearly likes.

A third (final round) score of 73 was enough to see him fall down the leaderboard last year, and hopefully he can draw on his experience here, to avoid doing that this time, over the weekend.

Romain Wattel 50/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, Coral, SpreadEx) 1pt e/w: Romain Wattel is a player who looks ready to get a win, and if he does will be hoping to go on and have a breakout season, like fellow compatriot, Victor Dubuisson.

The Frenchman made a very strong start to his season, but his price until this point has reflected that, and he has often started the week at a very short price, considering he’s still yet to win on Tour.

That’s not the case this week, he is out to what I can consider a backable price for him at 50/1.

He came 4th in his first start of the season, at the Nelson Mandela Championship, and then finished 11th at the Qatar Masters, and 3rd a week later at the Dubai Desert Classic.

These three finishes highlight Wattel’ obvious ability and I do strongly expect him to get over the line, sooner rated than later.

He has played here on two occasions, finishing 7th on his debut in 2012 and 55th last year, so hopefully he can draw on his performance in 2012 and better it this week.

He has missed his last two cuts, which is why he’s drifted in price, but I’m happy to take chance on him returning to his early season form, especially at 50/1.

David Lipsky 175/1 (SpreadEx) 0.5pt e/w: David Lipsky, a member of the Asian Tour, will not be a household name for European Tour fans, but he’s been playing some good golf this year and looks a good price.

So far in 2014, Lipsky has finished 18th, and 10th in his last two Asian Tour starts, and also finished 4th in Open qualifying inbetween those two starts.

He cruelly missed out on a spot in this year’s Open Championship in a play-off, but it’s again another sign that he’s striking the ball well.

The two results on the Asia Tour this year are impressive, plus his good effort in the Open qualifying gives extra confidence, so hopefully he can bring that to Kuala Lumpur this week.

He finished 3rd in this event in 2012, amongst a very strong field, and although he missed the cut a year ago, I’m confident he can go well here again, considering the decent form he is in.

This is a price play, I feel at 175/1 he’s a bit overpriced, especially considering his finish here two years ago, and I hope he goes well again.

 

Total Points staked on the European Tour this week: 9

Profit/Loss for 2014: +146.91

Hopefully this week, we can bounce back from last week, with a winner, after coming so close, yet so far in the first major of the year. The final round of the Masters has not been kind to me at all in the last two years, so a winner this week would help erase the bad memory.

The Maybank Malaysian Open has the makings of a very good event this week, and hopefully the weather does not interfere as much as it did last year. On top of that we have a great event on the PGA Tour schedule, the RBC Heritage, so a fun betting week indeed.