Back-to-back weeks in Asia, and two playoffs crowned the LPGA’s most recent winners. Take a small field of elite ladies, guarantee four rounds, and you’re setting up one extremely close contest. From Seoul, South Korea, the women are going to travel south to Malaysia. The Maybank Championship is a “new” event on the LPGA calendar.
Even though this is the inaugural edition, the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club’s West Course is no stranger to championship golf. The DP World Tour (European Tour) visited the course seven times between 2006-2015 for the Maybank Malaysian Open. I’ll bet many of you remember the PGA TOUR coming to Kuala Lumpur for the CIMB Classic held from 2013-2018. Justin Thomas won two years in a row (2015-16) on the West Course.
To round out the trifecta, even the LPGA has a history at KLGCC. From 2010-2017 they played the Sime Darby LPGA in Kuala Lumpur. When the original event scheduled for this week, the Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA was cancelled, Maybank stepped up and saw a tremendous opportunity to bring professional golf back to Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
Although the course will be set up different for the LPGA than the DP World Tour and PGA TOUR, the skill set required to win at the highest level remains the same. The women will be faced with a par 72 layout covering 6,596 yards. A traditional scorecard displays four par 3s, four par 5s, and 10 par 4s. Both par 3s on the back have water in play. In fact, 13 holes present water to the players. Eight of those watery graves are on the final nine holes.
Kuala Lumpur has a varied topography. The field of 78 players will face several elevation changes across 18 holes. That’s not the only challenge, as the design features 92 bunkers! This is a very entertaining test for all levels of players. Multiple tee boxes allow tournament officials the resources to create reachable par 4s (14 and 16) as well as stretch out the par 5s.
The weather in Kuala Lumpur for the Maybank will be wet. Prior to the start of the tournament they will receive over an inch of rain. With temperatures in the 90s predicted for all four rounds, more humid wet weather is expected. According to the forecast, each round has a better than 50% chance of more rain equaling another inch by Sunday afternoon. The wind will be calm which is helpful, but this will be a soft course.
This is a fun venue. It will provide plenty of entertainment while the PGA TOUR takes a break from the FedEx Cup Fall points race. After all, these women have a race of their own and are gearing up for the final month of their season. I cannot wait to see how they attack the West Course and continue to set themselves up for year ending tour championship.
Maybank Championship starts in...
What happens in Malaysia
Six of the top 10 (18 of the top 25) in the Rolex World rankings are in the group of 78 players competing for 72 holes with no cut. If history reveals anything from the former winners on the West Course across three tours, ball striking is key. Justin Thomas, Lee Westwood, and Hideki Matsuyama have all had considerable success here. Each of them are great approach players. Inbee Park, Cristie Kerr, Lexi Thompson, and Shanshan Feng (twice) won during the previous LPGA stint in Malaysia.
In the seven years the DP men played KLGCC’s West Course, the average winning score was 16 under par. The PGA TOUR raised the average winning score to 22 under par in their six trips to Malaysia. The women average 16 under par in their eight editions of the Sime Darby. That’s why this course is extremely attention grabbing. Players can make a bunch of birdies, but they can also find trouble. Normally, we would look at the field and compare the best birdie makers from the KPMG LPGA data.
I’m a little more interested in the players who have proven over the past two weeks they can score on this fall Asia swing. The Buick and BMW were both ball striking contests as well. I looked back at the available data for the CIMB Classic. T2G really separated the field and allowed them to score. The Sunday collection of contenders in this field will need to get past 15 under par to compete for the $3 million dollar purse and $450,000 first-place prize.
Ninety-two bunkers, elevation changes, and penalty areas will also cause some scrambling. Saving key pars over four days and maintaining momentum throughout all four rounds will prove to be another difference maker in the Maybank. We have seen it in the past across three tours and will again this week. The ladies never seem to miss as much as then men so sort game is usually less of a factor. This week at KLGCC it will be important.
Most of the approach shots are short. The average par 4 is only 385 yards and they will play shorter when they start moving tees forward. That’s another reason why I’m favoring short game play. The par 5s are reachable so a couple longer approaches will be needed along with three of the par 3s. It really is a well-rounded ball striker’s test. The par 5s are birdie opportunities along with many of the 4s. The best strokes gained players on those holes help us build a winning outright card. With the soft conditions, players who can hit it close will certainly have an advantage.
It's going to take a unique combination of fairways hit and target proximity to grab the trophy. Length always provides an advantage, but I believe accuracy around these links gives players the best chance for separation from the field. When you look at the history and analytics available, a couple names pop who have been playing great as of late and aren’t the elite favorites.
Outright winners - Maybank Championship
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