After three thrilling weeks in the Middle East, the European Tour heads for Asia and the Maybank Malaysian Open at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club. England’s Lee Westwood is the defending champion and a strong field has assembled in the Malaysian capital.
There’s been a move in the European Tour schedule for the Malaysian Open this year. Last season it was contested the week after the U.S. Masters. That’s not the only thing that’s different in 2015; the purse has been upped to $3 million, with $500,000 going to the winner. That means significant points are available for the 2015 Race to Dubai so the event has attracted big name players including Graeme McDowell, Victor Dubuisson, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Y.E. Yang.
The Malaysian Open was the first tournament to be co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours, back in 1999. Since then, winners of the event have included Major champions Vijay Singh and Louis Oosthuizen.
Four things to watch for at The Maybank Malaysian Open this week:
1 – Lee Westwood.
In last year’s Maybank Malaysian Open, Westwood romped home to record a seven-stroke victory. He started the tournament in blistering form, opening with rounds of 65 and 66. “The way I played here last year, to win by seven was very satisfying,” he said. “I played very well in the first two rounds here and I think I was 13 under par. So I built a big lead that was always going to take some catching. I’m a pretty good frontrunner and nobody came out of the pack at me.” Westwood played well last week in Dubai and, at one stage in the final round, applied some pressure to Rory McIlroy’s lead. The Englishman finished poorly but still made the top-10. He’ll be the favourite this week.
2 – Graeme McDowell.
The Northern Irishman put in a solid performance in Dubai last week on his return to competitive action following an extended break. He finished tied for ninth (along with Westwood) on 14-under-par. McDowell has stated a key ambition for this year is to move back into the World’s top-10. He’s been outside the top-10 since September 2013.
“I need to take my focus off trying to make an impact on money lists both sides of the Atlantic and put my focus on the World Rankings,” he said. “I’d like to get back into the top-10 in the world this year - that’s one of the goals. By committing to my processes and trying my best every week, I know that’s something I can achieve.”
3 – The venue.
Followers of the PGA Tour should recognise the course here, as it’s the same one that’s been used in the CIMB Classic for the last two seasons, (both won by Ryan Moore.) Lee Westwood also contested the 2014 CIMB Classic last October so feels he’s getting to know the layout rather well. “I almost feel like I’m a member,” he joked. The course at Kuala Lumpur G&CC was originally designed by Nelson Howarth and opened for play in 1991. But, the track was totally reconstructed for the 2010 Malaysian Open.
4 – The form players.
Westwood might start as favourite this week but there are some great players who have been showing supremely solid form coming into this week. Bernd Wiesberger of Austria finished as runner-up to Westwood in this tournament last year. His last three European Tour starts are: T6 in Abu Dhabi, solo third in Qatar and T4 in Dubai. Frenchman Gary Stal has just been named European Tour Player of the Month for January. He won in Abu Dhabi and finished T4 in Dubai last week. England’s Andy Sullivan won in South Africa at the start of January and he too was T4 last week. Those three are definitely in with a shout in this tournament.