Stat attack!: CIMB Classic review

By John AntoniniNovember 2, 2014, 10:53 pm

All it took for Ryan Moore to come up with a new nickname was another timely victory on the PGA Tour. With a successful defense of this 2013 title at the CIMB Classic, Moore won for the third time in his career during the Fall Series, which is enough to make the Tacoma News Tribune in Moore’s home state of Washington to refer to him as Mr. October.

We won’t quibble with the fact that this year’s CIMB Classic ended in November, while we point out that Moore’s CIMB Classic win at Kuala Lumpur G&CC’s West course makes him the first player to successfully defend a PGA Tour title since Tiger Woods at the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational. Moore beat Sergio Garcia, Kevin Na and Gary Woodland (last year’s runner-up) by three strokes. Moore and Woodland are the first players to finish first and second in the same event in consecutive years since Phil Mickelson beat Jose Maria Olazabal in the BellSouth Classic in 2005 and 2006.

Players with multiple PGA Tour victories during the Fall Series

 Player Total wins Tournaments
 Ryan Moore 3 2014 CIMB Classic, 2013 CIMB Classic, 2012 Shriners Las Vegas 
 Dustin Johnson 2 2013 WGC-HSBC Champions, 2008 Turning Stone Champ.
 Stephen Ames 2 2009 Disney, 2007 Disney

Players with consecutive wins in the same PGA Tour event: 2010-2014

 Player Tournaments
 Ryan Moore 2013 and 2014 CIMB Classic
 Tiger Woods   2012 and 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational
 Steve Stricker 2011 and 2010 John Deere Classic
 Geoff Ogilvy 2009 and 2010 Tournament of Champions 
 Dustin Johnson 2009 and 2010 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
 Steve Stricker 2009 and 2010 John Deere Classic

Similarity scores

Moore’s total of 17-under 271 last week was three strokes better than his 274 total in 2013 but he played remarkably similar on Kuala Lumpur’s West course both years. He was T-8 in the field GIR in 2013 and 2014 and he took 112 putts in each tournament. (Moore was also T-5 in 2010, when the CIMB Classic was an unofficial event held at The Mines.)

Moore was in the top 10 in the field in greens hit, total putts, putts per GIR and birdie-conversion percentage Sunday. He made 25 birdies for the week, including eight in a final-round 67 that saw him outpace 54-hole co-leader Kevin Na, who shot 70.

Ryan Moore in the CIMB Classic: 2013-2014

 Year Scores Fairways hit (Rank) GIR (rank) Putts (rank)
 2014 68-69-67-67—271 41 (T-15) 56 (T-8) 112 (6)
 2013 63-72-67-70—274 39 (T-12) 54 (T-8) 112 (T-9)

CIMB Classic leaders in putts per GIR

 Rank Player Putts per GIR Birdie conv. percentage Finish
 1 Charl Schwartzel 1.609 43.48 (1) T-19
 2  Luke Guthrie 1.640 33.64 (19) T-39
 3 Cameron Smith 1.042 37.74 (3) T-5
 4  Ryan Moore 1.643 37.35 (4) Won
 5 Jason Dufner 1.647 35.29 (11) T-26

Smith leads Asian contingent

Did you notice the name Cameron Smith just above Moore's name in the above list. You better get familiar with the 21-year-old Australian who finished T-5 in his PGA Tour debut. The youngster has been touted as the world’s next great Aussie golfer, and had six straight top-10 finishes world-wide from the end of August until early October. His strong finish in the CIMB gives him the opportunity to play another PGA Tour event, as the top-10 qualifies him for this week’s Sanderson Farms Classic in Mississippi.

Smith is the first player to finish in the top 10 in his PGA Tour debut since Chris Wood was T-5 at the 2008 British Open as an amateur. They are among the four players to accomplish this feat since 2000. Keep in mind, there are several players who were top-10 performers in their first PGA Tour start as a pro – Rory McIlroy, Russell Henley and Max Homa to name three - but they all played previously on Tour as amateurs.

Smith was one of three Asian Tour players with top-10s at the CIMB, with Thailand’s Prom Meesawat (nicknamed the Big Dolphin), and Angelo Que of The Philippines proving, once again, that Asian Tour players can be successful when competing against the world’s best.

Players with a top-10 finish in their first PGA Tour start: 2000-2014

 Player Finish Tournament
 Anthony Kim T-2 2006 Valero Texas Open
 Cameron Smith T-5 2014 CIMB Classic
 Chris Wood T-5 2008 British Open (as an amateur)
 Andres Romero T-8 2006 British Open

Asian Tour players with top-10 finishes at the CIMB Classic: 2010-2014

 Player Year Finish
 Cameron Smith 2014 T-5
 Prom Meesawat 2014 T-8
 Angelo Que 2014 T-8
 Kiradech Aphibarnrat 2013 T-3
 Jbe’ Kruger 2012 T-8
 Gangajeet Bhullar 2012 T-10
 Jeev Milkha Singh 2011 T-10
 Mardan Mamat 2010 T-5

Garcia’s year of almosts

Runner-up Sergio Garcia was one stroke off the lead entering Sunday’s final round, but couldn’t keep up with Moore Sunday, shooting a final-round 69 to finish three back. The Spaniard, who has won several times in Asia – he counts victories in Qatar, Thailand, China, Korea and Malaysia among his triumphs in the continent – hasn’t been so successful winning anywhere in the world in recent months. His last worldwide victory came in Qatar in January, and more recently he’s had six top-three finishes without winning since April.

Sergio Garcia’s near misses in 2014

 Tournament Finish Result
 CIMB Classic T-2 Two back of Ryan Moore
 WGC-Bridgestone Inv. 2 2 back of Rory McIlroy
 British Open T-2 2 back of Rory McIlroy
 Travelers Champ. T-2 1 back of Kevin Streelman
 Players 3 2 back of Martin Kaymer
 Shell Houston Open 3 2 back of Matt Jones 
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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”