It was only a matter of time before Justin Thomas got his first PGA Tour win as he's one of the most promising young players around, and he cashed in last week in Kuala Lumpur by taking the CIMB Classic. Thomas shot a final-round 66 to finish at a tournament-record 26-under 262 and hold off Adam Scott (final-round 63) by a shot. Thomas birdied Nos. 15, 16 and 17 following a double bogey at the short par-4 14th.
Thomas is one of that loaded group of Class of 2011 players, which also includes another 22-year-old named Jordan Spieth, who is a close friend of Thomas'. The former University of Alabama star was making his 43rd start on Tour. Thomas is the seventh consecutive Tour winner in his twenties, dating back to Jason Day's win at The Barclays. Thomas is also the fourth consecutive winner under 24. So, yeah, golf in is good shape as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson wind down their careers.
Scott had a chance at eagle on the final hole, but the putt was well off target, and that cost him a chance of forcing a playoff. It was Scott's first tournament since utilizing a claw grip on a short putter; the ban on anchored putting, which Scott used to do, takes effect on Jan. 1. Americans Kevin Na and Brendan Steele tied for third at 24-under. Na was second in the first two PGA Tour events this year, so he's on fire (but winless since 2011). Two-time defending champion Ryan Moore finished tied for 10th. Heavy favorite Henrik Stenson was T47.
My pick to win was Patrick Reed. He finished T10, so at least I got him there at +163. Also hit on Harris English (-105) over Luke Donald (-125), Reed (-115) over Sergio Garcia (-115), Amirban Lahiri (-120) over Danny Lee (-110), Hideki Matsuyama (-115) over Branden Grace (-115), and Moore (-115) over Paul Casey (-115).
This week the Tour stays in Asia -- well, there's an opposite-field event, the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi -- for the big-money and limited-field World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai. This will be the best field you will see the rest of 2015. World No. 1 Day is skipping this (wife expecting the couple's second child) and Tiger Woods is still recovering from back surgery, but just about everyone else is there. The HSBC Champions is also part of the European Tour's Race to Dubai. Rory McIlroy leads that title chase as he tries to win it for the third time.
The defending champion is Bubba Watson. He chipped in for eagle out of a bunker on the 72nd hole and then rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to beat Tim Clark, who had made a 5-foot birdie on the final hole for a 69 to join Watson at 11-under 277. Watson became the 14th player to win both a major and WGC title in his career. Graeme McDowell, who led after each of the first three rounds, shot a final-round 73 to miss the playoff.
Golf Odds: WGC-HSBC Champions Favorites
McIlroy, third in the world, is the +550 favorite at Bovada. He played last week on the Euro Tour's Turkish Airlines Open, his first tournament since the PGA Championship, and was in position to win entering Sunday but shot a final-round 71. McIlroy has finished in the Top 5 here three straight times (didn't play last year).
Spieth, the world No. 2, makes his first start of the new season off his PGA Tour Player of the Year honors and FedEx Cup championship (and about $22 million earned on Tour). Spieth, who won seven times worldwide last year, would return to No. 1 with a victory. He debuted here in 2014 with a 35th-place finish.
Watson (+1600), Dustin Johnson (+1600) and Stenson (+1800) round out the favorites. This is Watson's first start since the Tour Championship. Johnson comes off a missed cut at the Hong Kong Open but won here in 2013. He didn't have a chance to defend last year. Stenson was 24th here last year.
PGA Tour Picks: WGC-HSBC Champions Betting Predictions
On the Top-10 props, I like McIlroy at -225, a suddenly surging Scott (+160) and Rickie Fowler (+177), who just missed the playoff last year. Head-to-head, go with Fowler (-105) over Watson (-125), Johnson (-125) over Matsuyama (-105), and Ian Poulter (-115) over Louis Oosthuizen (-115).
An American has won this the past two years; the previous three it was an international player. I like Fowler this week off his breakout 2014-15 season that included wins at the Players Championship, Deutsche Bank Championship and Scottish Open. He is +550 to be the top American finisher, behind Spieth (+250) and Watson (+500).
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