Tiger looks the man to beat

Tiger Woods looks to be the man to beat when the US PGA Tour visits Kuala Lumpur this week.

This week’s CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur is not part of the US PGA Tour’s Fall Series, but it is a US Tour-sanctioned event, nevertheless, that has attracted the likes of Tiger Woods.

The Fall Series takes this week off and ends next week with the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at Lake Buena Vista in Florida, but in the meantime, the US Tour has headed east as it finally gets wise to a hard fact that the European Tour woke up to years ago.

And that’s the reality that Asia is increasingly growing as a golfing power, both in so far as the calibre of the players it is producing, and in the quality of the tournaments it is staging.

Reinforcing America’s new awareness of Asia is the fact that their strong US presence won’t end at The CIMB Classic.

Woods and a good few of the eight other 2012 PGA Tour winners in this week’s Cimb Classic field will go on from Kuala Lumpur to next week’s WGC-HSBC Champions at China’s imposing Mission Hills, which, with some 10 courses, is the largest golfing estate in the world.

Here they are set to be joined by Phil Mickelson and a host of other Americans including six members of the 2012 US Ryder Cup team.

But to get back to this week’s CIMB Classic, Woods, currently ranked World No 2, might well be the man to beat. After his resounding defeat of World No 1 Rory McIlroy in Turkey a fortnight ago, his confidence will be high.

But then again, so too will that of fellow American Bo van Pelt, who will not only be returning to Kuala Lumpur’s respected Mines Resort & Golf Club as the defending CIMB Classic champion – last year he closed with a sizzling 7-under 64 to win by six strokes and set a new tournament record at 23 under – he’ll also be doing so as last week’s winner of the PGA Tour’s McGladrey Classic at Sea Island in Georgia.

Yes, it true that back-to-back victories are rare, notably by anyone having to fly halfway around the world in the week in between, but the double wammy and the confidence it could instill in Van Pelt’s case might well have the opposite effect and put him right up there with the front runners heading down the final stretch on Sunday.

Other US winners along with Woods and Van Pelt in this week’s field in Kuala Lumpur are Johnson Wagner (Sony Open), Kyle Stanley (Phoenix Open), Bill Haas (Northern Trust Open), John Huh (Mayakoba Golf Classic), Carl Pettersson (RBC Heritage), Jason Dufner (Zurich Classic and HP Byron Nelson Classic), Marc Leishman (Travelers Championship), Scott Piercy (RBC Canadian Open) and Nick Watney (The Barclays).

And of all of them, wiggle-waggle Dufner whose straight, solid driving and reliable putter put him second behind Van Pelt at Sea Island last week, might be an even better bet to win this week than both Woods and Van Pelt.

Watney’s game seemed to slip a little after his Barclays victory in the FedEx Playoffs, but he is one of the younger, emerging Americans with a game that can win big and as is the case with some even younger guns like fellow Americans Kyle Stanley, Chris Kirk and Jeff Overton, South Africa’s Asian specialist Jbe Kruger, Scotland’s Martin Laird and Thailand’s Prom Meesawat, he can never be underestimated.

With Tiger these days you are never sure who will come out; a sullen, brooding Mr Average or the dynamic champion who seems to be able to sink winners whenever he needs them – yet when all is said and done about the upcoming week, some of Tiger’s roots – his mother is a Thai – might well inspire another one of the command performances that have already earned him 14 majors and more than 70 titles world wide.

Three of them, The Arnold Palmer, the Memorial and the AT&T National, were won this year and at the CIMB Classic there is certainly a strong possibility that he will make it make it four.