With a very weak field last week in Las Vegas for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, I expected a fairly no-name player to win the second tournament of the new season. And I was more right than I knew as someone named Smylie Kaufman was the victor. I'm obviously fairly plugged into the golf scene to write this series but I never heard of that guy.
The 23-year-old from LSU certainly deserved it. He was on No. 9 Sunday at 8 under overall and six shots off the lead. All Kaufman did was go 8 under over his next 10 holes at TPC Summerlin, including a 20-footer for birdie on No. 18 that proved to be the difference. Had the rookie missed, we would have had a mammoth seven-man playoff. Kaufman shot a final-round 61 and finished at 16 under. It was the best final-round score by a winner anywhere since 2012.
Patton Kizzire, Cameron Tringale, Jason Bohn, Alex Cejka, Kevin Na (runner-up for second straight week) and Brett Stegmaier, not exactly a who's who of Tour pros, all finished at 15 under. Kizzire and Stegmaier also are rookies. Tringale and Bohn each had birdie putts to force a playoff, with Bohn's 40-foot attempt narrowly missing.
Kaufman's life has now changed as he gets a two-year exemption and spots in the 2016 opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii as well as the Masters, PGA Championship and Players Championship. Oh, and a check for $1.1 million. Why didn't I take up golf more seriously!? It's the second straight week a rookie has won on Tour, and Kaufman and Emiliano Grillo are friends. It's the first time rookies have won back-to-back events since Charl Schwartzel (Masters) and Brendan Steele (Valero Texas Open) did it in 2011.
I went with Bohn to win last week at +3300 so I cringed when watching him miss that 40-footer I did get him for a Top 10 at +275 and at -115 over Scott Piercy. Rickie Fowler, easily the highest-ranked player in the field, was T25 so I missed a Top 10 on him and Ryan Moore (T43).
It's a unique field this week as the Tour heads to Kuala Lumpur for the CIMB Classic, which is part of both the PGA and Asian Tours. Certainly the big local story in Malaysia is Anirban Lahiri. He can clinch the Asian Tour's Order of Merit title with a strong showing at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club's West course. He won the Malaysian Open there in February. This will be his first PGA Tour event as an official member as he earned his card through the Web.com Tour Finals.
Only 78 players are in the field, with 10 spots held for Asian Tour players, led by world No. 6 Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and two-time champion Moore. Last year, Moore repeated, the first to do so at the event, by shooting a final-round 5-under 67 to beat fellow American Gary Woodland, Garcia and Na by three shots. Na led by two shots at one point on Sunday but started to fall apart on No. 13. Moore's fourth career win also marked his third consecutive year with a fall victory. In 2013, Moore beat Woodland in a playoff in Malaysia. The year before, Moore won the Shriners. Fittingly, Moore and Woodland are in a threesome the first two days along with Danny Chia. Because this is in Asia, the first round will begin Wednesday night Eastern time.
Golf Odds: CIMB Classic Favorites
The Swede Stenson is the heavy +650 favorite at Bovada even though he has never played this event. But he had three runner-up finishes in the FedEx Cup playoffs, including at the Tour Championship. Stenson estimated he hasn't played anywhere in Malaysia since 2005. Stenson plans to play five of the next six weeks overall on either the PGA or European Tour and will have knee surgery on Dec. 9 in Orlando.
Hideki Matsuyama and Na are +1400. Matsuyama was 21st here last year. He played in the season-opening Frys.com Open and was 17th. Na has those two straight runners-up finishes this season and here last year.
Branden Grace and Sergio are +1600 with Moore at +1800. Grace was the best player at the Presidents Cup a few weeks ago in going 5-0-0. It's the South African's debut here. Sergio has that co-second here in 2014 and was 11th in 2013. Moore tries to become the first guy to win a tournament three times in a row since Steve Stricker at the John Deere in 2009-11.
PGA Tour Picks: CIMB Classic Expert Betting Predictions
We don't usually get a top American pick on regular PGA Tour events but we do here. Na is +700, Moore +750 and Patrick Reed +900. I'm going with Reed. I will take Stenson at -135 as the top European and Danny Lee at +275 as the top Aussie.
For a Top 10, go with Stenson (-188), Reed (+163) and Woodland (+275). Head-to-head, I like Harris English (-105) over Luke Donald (-125), Reed (-115) over Sergio (-115), Lahiri (-120) over Lee (-110), Matsuyama (-115) over Grace (-115), Moore (-115) over Paul Casey (-115), and Stenson (-175) over Na (+135).
It seems impossible for Moore to win again -- can you imagine if he wins and Woodland is second a third straight year? Can't remember that ever happening anywhere. I'm going with Reed to win at +1800. He was only 26th here last year but comes off a third-place finish in Hong Kong on Sunday on the European Tour so he's used to being over in Asia.
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