Inside the Ropes CIMB Classic at Kuala Lumpur
By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
The PGA Tour has been looking to expand into untapped areas of the world for quite some time and this week makes its strongest push into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The CIMB Classic at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club in Malaysia will be played for the fourth time beginning Thursday, but for the first time it is an official PGA Tour event that offers FedEx Cup points, a $7-million purse, a two-year exemption from qualifying for tour events and a berth in the Masters for the winner.
The added incentives have attracted the strongest field for a golf event ever played in the area known as ASEAN, which includes Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. “This is a stellar field and the strongest ASEAN has ever seen, 20 of the top 50 players in the world (with) 15 major championship victories and 170 PGA TOUR wins collectively,” said Dato Sri Nazir Razak, Group Chief Executive of CIMB Group. ” … With its ascension to a full-fledged U.S. PGA tour event, the CIMB Classic is now Malaysia’s biggest international sporting event and will showcase golf in our country to at least 700 million viewers worldwide.” Among those in the 70-player field are major champions Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover and Retief Goosen.
Others who have made the trip to Southeast Asia are defending champion Nick Watney, 2011 champion Bo Van Pelt, Brandt Snedeker, Sergio Garcia, Bill Haas, Boo Weekley, Rickie Fowler, K.J. Choi, Tim Clark, Rory Sabbatini and budding Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama. Tiger Woods tied for fourth in his only appearance in the tournament last year, shooting 8-under-par 63 at the Mines Resort and Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur, but is not in the field this week, even though he will be in China on Monday to play an exhibition match against Rory McIlroy. “I’ve heard great things about Kuala Lumpur and the CIMB Classic from the guys who played there,” said Mickelson, who has won twice in Asia, in the 2007 and 2009 WGC-HSBC Champions in China, in which he will play again next week. “This will be my first visit to Malaysia, I’m really excited and looking forward to the experience. “The CIMB Classic presents an excellent opportunity for PGA Tour players to compete in Asia, and it’s part and parcel of promoting the game globally. I think it’s fantastic that the CIMB Classic is part of the FedEx Cup. It certainly drives the tournament’s competitiveness and encourages the presence of American golfers in the region.”
The tournament will include 60 players from the PGA Tour and 10 from the Asian Tour, which co-sanctions the event, giving viewers in the United States a chance to see some of the rising stars and proven veterans from Asia in telecasts on the Golf Channel all four days. Included in the Asian Tour contingent are 24-year-old Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, who leads the circuit’s Order of Merit, or money list; 40-year-old Scott Hend of Australia, who recently captured the Mercuries Taiwan Masters for his 10th professional victory; 28-year-old Mohammad Siddikur, who in 2010 became the first player from Bangladesh to win on the Asian Tour when he captured the Brunei Open; 26-year-old Anirban Lahiri of India, who has won five times as a pro; 23-year-old Nicholas Fung, the top-ranked player in Malaysia, who has won seven times in his pro career, and 23-year-old Baek Seuk-Hyun of South Korea, who has finished sixth or better in four of his last five tournaments.
Also in the field is Berry Henson, the 34-year-old from Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the University of San Diego, who plays full-time on the Asian Tour and captured the 2011 ICTSI Philippine Open. Earlier this year, Henson returned home and won the Long Beach Open. “The CIMB Classic is a chance for me to get back onto the PGA Tour,” said the long-hitting Hend, who led the U.S. tour in driving distance in 2005 and posted his best finish on the circuit when he finished third in the 2004 BellSouth Classic. “All of us (from the Asian Tour) who are playing in that tournament have got through on our own merits. It only takes one good week for us to make it. We know the course pretty well as we’ve played there a lot. If we can have a good week, you’ll see one of us play over there (PGA Tour) every week.” At the very least, they will have a chance to see how they measure up.