The continent-hopping European Tour heads from Africa to Asia this week for the Maybank Championship in Malaysia.
Co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour, this is just the fourth year it’s had European Tour status.
The tournament first appeared on the schedule in 2016 when Aussie Marcus Fraser won at Royal Selangor CC but it’s back for a third straight visit to Saujana G&CC so gamers have a little bit of course form to peruse now.
There’s also a decent purse (nearly three times as much as the Kenya Open) although it’s place on the calendar means it can’t turn the heads of the big-name Europeans so the field is a modest one.
Two years ago at this course, Bernd Wiesberger (R2) made history by becoming the first player in European Tour history to card nine consecutive birdies so it’s a case of go low or go home.
2018 Top Four
-19 Shubhankar Sharma (Ind) DD: 46, DA: 27, GIR: 5, Scr: 54, PA: 21, AA: 17
-18 Jorge Campillo (Spa) DD: 26, DA: 46, GIR: 32, Scr: 6, PA: 16, AA: 9
-17 Ryan Fox (NZ) DD: 1, DA: 27, GIR: 5, Scr: 54, PA: 16, AA: 6
-16 Pablo Larrazabal (Spa) DD: 30, DA: 27, GIR: 4, Scr: 16, PA: 12, AA: 1
2017 Top Four
-19 Fabrizio Zanotti (Par) DD: 50, DA: 21, GIR: 31, Scr: 1, PA: 30, AA: 15
-18 David Lipsky (USA) DD: 33, DA: 37, GIR: 31, Scr: 3, PA: 4, AA: 7
-17 Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) DD: 29, DA: 47, GIR: 19, Scr: 50, PA: 8, AA: 24
-16 Alexander Levy (Fra) DD: 45, DA: 53, GIR: 19, Scr: 6, PA: 12, AA: 16
Notes: Hitting greens was the standout skill last year although Scrambling seemed key in 2017 so we have some mixed evidence. Solid putting is required but what you do off the tee less so.
Sajuana Golf and Country Club yields plenty of birdies and the two winning scores average 20-under. That’s no surprise looking at the scorecard which shows it as a par 72 measuring just 7,135 yards with five of the par 4s between 370 and 394 yards. Opened in 1986, the host Palm Course (sometimes referred to as The Cobra), has had its green enhanced this year to cope better with the heavy annual rainfall. They’re small and undulating featuring grainy Bermuda TifEagle and are expected to run about 10.5 feet on the Stimpmeter. The fairways are tree-lined although the none of the top five finishers in either year here ranked in the top 20 for Driving Accuracy. There’s water on seven holes.
We’ve seen electrical activity cause delays and stoppages in this event before and that could be the case this week with potential storms for Wednesday’s pro-am as well as Thursday and Sunday. Temperatures are pushing 100 degrees all week and there’s only a gentle breeze to cool everyone down.
Danny Willett (2017): “If you want to take on the golf course from the tee, it gets pretty tight from around 300 to 330 yards. If you want to lay it back you need to avoid a few of the fairway bunkers or else you can lay it short of them. It gives you loads of options, whether or not you want to hit a wedge into the green or an eight iron into the green or a six iron into the green. That then determines whether or not you want to hit driver, three wood or five wood. That for us golfers is fun to play.”
David Lipsky (2017): “There was a lot of slope and grain on these greens and late in the day they get a little bit bumpy so it was hard for me to hold the line and all you can do is put a good stroke on it.”
Fabrizio Zanotti (2018): “You need to be very patient here, all the guys are going to make a lot of birdies, so you are going to have plenty of opportunities and you won’t make all of the birdies so to stay patient is very important for this week.”
Chris Paisley (2018): “It's very hot and not much wind, so scoring wise it is quite easy but to keep your focus is quite difficult with how tiring the heat is but it is good fun."
The Leading Contenders
Luiten deserves his place at the front of the betting as he brings just about everything to the table. There’s 2019 form of 12-10-6-MC-3, a T11 at Saujana last year when he closed 68-66-68, a T15 when this event was held at Selangor in 2016 and strong form in Asia which was the scene of his first European Tour win. 11th in Stroke Average this season and third for SG: Approach. Edit: Luiten withdrew from the field on Monday; his reasons are as yet unclear but at No. 67 in the world rankings he may have an eye on the WGC Dell Match Play.
The Belgian must be casting envious eyes to Florida where some of his former Ryder Cup teammates are making hay. For now, he needs to boost his world ranking (78th) and confidence in events like these and before MC in Qatar he’d gone 6-11-22-29-16 this season. New to the course but has played plenty of golf in Malaysia and bagged a couple of top 20s while he ranks 21st for Birdies so looks a great fit here.
Spaniards have done well at Saujana (hot and tree-lined will offer familiarity) and Campillo built upon a T55 on debut with second place last year. Talking of which, he’s also finished runner-up in his last two European Tour starts (Oman and Qatar) so is getting closer and closer to that first win. He’s something of a tournament specialist too having taken T4 at Selangor in 2016. 23rd on the Race to Dubai after a career-best 26th last season.
The Kiwi had an albatross last year on the way to tied third (three 68s and a closing 66) so clearly enjoys Saujana. It’s been a great start to 2019 too thanks to a first European Tour win (World Super 6 Perth), backed up by T6 in Saudi and T11 in his home Open a couple of weeks ago. Ranks 3rd for GIR and 10th for Par 5s so will enjoy having four to go at here.
While Fox finally got it done, MLV still chases an elusive first win at this level. He had another close brush last time when runner-up in Qatar and before that he’d taken T27 in Oman and T13 in Saudi so his game looks sharp. The Frenchman brings course form too after T17 and T7 the last two years here. Sits 29th in the season-long GIR stats.
The winner here two years ago thanks to a closing 63. Started his defense with 68-69 but repeat hopes ended with a Saturday 65 and an eventual T60. He’ll return on a bit of a high after taking second place in the Oman Open followed by T11 in Qatar. His irons and putting were strong and the Paraguayan lies 12th in SG: Tee to Green.
Another seeking a first win. Detry ended 2018 with some hot play (3rd Turkey, 7th Nedbank) in the Final Series and is starting to show good form again this year after building on some solid play with T11 in Qatar (1st for Putting Average). The Belgian had a first look at Saujana last year, taking T23, and his 7th place in this season’s Par 5 stats suggests he can show up well again.
Enjoyed a hot burst of 3-6-16-7-5 from Hong Kong to the Victorian Open before not quite hitting the same heights in the World Super 6 Perth (T26) and New Zealand Open (T39). Not surprisingly, he has some eye-catching stats: 8th Stroke Average, 4th Bogeys, 9th Par 5s, 4th GIR, 7th SG: Tee to Green. MC last year with rounds of 71-70.
Played all four rounds last year despite slipping down the field on the weekend. Owns a perfect 6-for-6 slate this season, peaking with T11 in Abu Dhabi and T12 in Oman. Excellent GIR figures in recent times (23rd on season list) so just needs the putter to heat up to reward his approach play with more birdies (161st).
Hasn’t quite got it going this season but is 4-for-4 and T20 in Dubai was a fair effort. Has ranked in the top 20 for greens hit in three of his four starts in 2019 so that bodes well for this course even though he missed the cut last year after a pair of 71s.