Maybank Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
WITH the desert swing behind them, the European Tour heads to Malaysia for the Maybank Championship at Saujana Golf and Country Club. Like the desert, the weather will be hot, very hot, but the players also have to cope with humidity. It is an uncomfortable four days for everybody involved.
This is only the second time that this tournament has featured on the schedule, and 12 months ago it was won in splendid fashion by Marcus Fraser of Australia, who returns to defend his title. And he will be joined some of the world's best players, including Masters champion Danny Willett, Rafa Cabrera Bello, of Spain, and Charl Schwartzel, of South Africa.
Like his fellow countryman Louis Oosthuizen, Schwartzel is something of an enigma. He seems to have the lot - a beautiful golf swing, the ability to hit the ball miles, deadly accurate with long irons and a magnificent touch around the greens. And like all South Africans, he is a fantastic bunker player. He is a former Masters champion, but he will not need anybody to tell him that he should have won more majors and more run-of-the-mill events. Schwartzel tends to get down on himself very quickly and the shoulders slump and he loses focus. He also has an alarming tendency to change his putting stroke and grip on a regular basis - and you just cannot do that and expect to stay on top of your game.
Willett continues to struggle to rediscover his best form, and there were some signs in Dubai that he may not be terribly far away. The Yorkshireman will not be content with the way he has played since claiming the Green Jacket at Augusta and suffers from a well documented back problem. But he is as fit as he has ever been and is swinging the club quite beautifully again. Don't be at all surprised to see him on the leaderboard in Malaysia.
There will be a huge amount of interest in the performance of Anirban Lahiri. He won this event in 2015 and followed that two weeks later with an emotional win at the Indian Open in front of his home fans. before finishing fifth at the US PGA Championship, the best any golfer from India has ever done at a major. He is now making his way on the PGA Tour.
Lahiri said, “Malaysia has been a very important place for me and my career. It’s where I got my first European Tour win and I would love to get back to winning ways when I return for the Maybank. The fans gave me a lot of support to help me with that win. I want to get 2017 off to a strong start and I am hoping those winning memories can give me an edge against what will be a very tough line-up.”
Another man certain to attract a large following is the ageless Thongchai Jaidee, who seems to get better with every passing year. The Thai golfer is now 47 years old and he just loves this part of the world. While many other players will suffer unbearably in the humidity, Jaidee is used to it and will take it all in his stride.
His great strengths are that he finds an awful lot of fairways and has an ability to hole out from all over the place.
Look out, too, for a big week from Jaidee's countryman Kiradech Aphibarnrat. The big man did not have a great time in 2016 but he looks to be back to his best. Nothing gets him down. Knock him down and he bounces back up again. He is not the finest physical speciman you have ever seen. Put another way, he is overweight, fat even. But the heat doesn't seem to trouble him in the slightest.
And I have a good feeling for the brilliant young South African Brandon Stone, who has just returned from his first experience on the PGA Tour. Stone is a certain future major champion and is already proving that he is happy to be a globetrotter, something that will stand him in good stead as he continues his golfing education.
To Win: Rafa Cabrera Bello. Must win sooner or later
Each Way: Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Due a big week
Each Way: Thongchai Jaidee. Made for these conditions
Rafa Cabrera Bello. Enjoying a sublime run of form
Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Playing really well again
Thongchai Jaidee. A specialist in this part of the world
Victor Dubuisson. The big enigma
Brandon Stone. Class act
Tommy Fleetwood. Confidence is high
Danny Willett: Coming back
Marcus Fraser. Good feelings from last year
Anirban Lahiri. Looking for some inspiration
Lee Westwood. Usually plays well in this part of the world
Tags: european tour
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