Hard not to root for a guy like Justin Thomas. He played collegiately at Alabama, and around 4 a.m. Sunday in Kuala Lumpur he woke up so he could watch the Texas A&M-Alabama live streaming on his computer. Now, you might be thinking that's no big deal, but golfers tend to like their routines and Thomas had to go play the final round of the CIMB Classic later that day.
But apparently a lack of sleep was no problem as Thomas started the final round four shots behind leader Anirban Lahiri but fired a 64 to repeat at the CIMB Classic. Lahiri made a quadruple bogey on the par-5 3rd, while Thomas birdied four of his first five holes and added three back-nine birdies to finish at 23 under and beat out Hideki Matsuyama by three shots. It was the second Tour win for Thomas, who played his final 23 holes at 13 under, as he became the first player to defend a title since Matt Every at the 2014-15 Arnold Palmer Invitational. Thomas joined Ryan Moore (2013-14) as players who have repeated at TPC Kuala Lumpur. Thomas made 29 birdies in the tournament, three short of the Tour record in a 72-hole event.
Thomas joins Scott Piercy (T10 in Kuala Lumpur) as the only players with Top-10 finishes in both season-opening events. Thomas actually is working on a career-high three straight Top 10s when you go back to the Tour Championship.
At Bovada last week, Thomas was +1600 to win. Alas, I wasn't a huge fan. I did get Adam Scott at -125 for a Top 10 (although he lost out on top Australian to Marc Leishman) as well as head-to-head at -115 over Patrick Reed (-115). Also liked Paul Casey for a Top 10 but he cooled off finally with a T21. Also missed on Moore for a Top 10 as he was T17. He was my pick to win at +1400. I did recommend perhaps taking a prop on Moore, Reed and Thomas to win at +400 vs. the field (-650), so I'll count that as a pseudo-victory.
This week there are two PGA Tour events: the big-money, limited-field World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai and the opposite-field Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi. Needless to say, I'll stick with the one in China as that's where all the big names are. Sixteen of the world's Top 20 are set to play, although No. 1 Jason Day is still recovering from his back troubles. Jordan Spieth also is not entered. Nine players from each Ryder Cup team are going to tee it up. You won't see a field this good again until 2017. It's also the final regular-season event on the European Tour ahead of its Final Series (like FedEx Cup playoffs).
The defending champion is Scotland's Russell Knox, who only got into last year's field as an alternate when J.B. Holmes withdrew. Knox became the first player to win a World Golf Championship in his debut when closed with a 4-under 68 for a two-shot victory over Kevin Kisner. At No. 85 in the world at the time, Knox was the lowest-ranked player to win this tournament. Reigning Masters champion Danny Willett, who is in the 2016 field, made a huge charge on Sunday with a 62 but finished third at 17 under, three behind Knox.
Golf Odds: WGC-HSBC Champions Favorites
Rory McIlroy, fresh off winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup, is your +550 favorite at Bovada. He has made five starts in this tournament and his worst finish was T11 last year. Dustin Johnson, the 2015-16 PGA Tour Player of the Year, is the +550 second-favorite. He was sixth in the Tour Championship in his last Tour event. He won this tournament in 2013 and was T5 last year.
Henrik Stenson (+2000), Matsuyama (+2000), Casey (+2200) and Thomas (+2200) round out the favorites. Stenson struggled at the close of the PGA Tour season with a knee injury, which forced him to withdraw from one playoff event. He did play the Ryder Cup. Stenson was 11th here last year. Matsuyama had that runner-up last week but has never been better than T41 in this tournament. Casey has a best result of fourth here in 2011 and was 23rd last year. Thomas was 27th in his debut here last year.
Golf Odds: WGC-HSBC Champions Picks
For a Top-10 finish, I like Johnson (-225), McIlroy (-200) and Martin Kaymer (+275). Johnson is a heavy +175 favorite as top American and probably will be. McIlroy is the heavy +175 favorite as top European but I'll go with Kaymer at +1200.
Head-to-head, I like Kaymer (-110) over Bubba Watson (-120), Brooks Koepka (-125) over Rickie Fowler (-105), Matt Kuchar (-115) over Knox (-115), Johnson (-110) over McIlroy (-120), and Matsuyama (-130) over Thomas (even).
I think either Johnson or McIlroy wins as they both have played really well here in the past. I haven't seen a prop pairing them yet but there likely will be one. But I'm throwing some long-shot money on Kaymer at +3500. He won here in 2011 and had Top 10s each of the next three years. He also comes off a solid sixth in his most recent European Tour event.
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