Champions parade at CIMB Classic

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Justin Thomas

KUALA LUMPUR: World number four and two-time champion Justin Thomas will return for another title run at the CIMB Classic from October 11 to 14 alongside Keegan Bradley, Ryder Cup star Paul Casey, Japanese ace Hideki Matsuyama, Xander Schauffele and World Golf Hall of Famers Ernie Els and Davis Love III.

Thomas has a close affinity with the US$7 million CIMB Classic as it was at the prestigious event here that he claimed his maiden PGA Tour victory in 2015. The long-hitting American successfully defended his title in 2016 and has since won nine PGA Tour tournaments, including the 2017 FedExCup title, a major victory and Player of the Year honours in 2017.

In the current 2017-18 season, the talented 25-year-old has won three times and also became the top-ranked player in the world for four weeks in May. When Thomas returns to the TPC Kuala Lumpur’s newly upgraded West Course, he will be amongst the favourites as he is 60-under-par in 12 rounds at the venue.

In-form Bradley, who finished runner-up at the CIMB Classic last year, will return to Malaysia in winning mood after claiming the BMW Championship in a playoff for his fourth Tour title. It snapped a six-year title drought and saw him qualify for next week’s FedExCup finale, the Tour Championship, in sixth place on the points standing.

Rising star and world No. 18 Xander Schauffele has also committed to take another crack at the CIMB Classic after his impressive equal third finish in his debut last year. The 2017-18 Rookie of the Year has five top-10s on the PGA Tour this season, including a tied third on Monday which helped him qualify for the Tour Championship which he won in style last year.

Thomas is looking forward to his return to Malaysia. He said: “I’m really excited to be heading back for the CIMB Classic. I have very fond memories of Kuala Lumpur, as it was where I had my first PGA Tour victory in 2015, and then to successfully defend the title in 2016 was truly special. I look forward to the opportunity to become the first player to win the CIMB Classic three times!

“It will be fun to play on the newly renovated West Course at TPC Kuala Lumpur. The golf course suits my game as I can take advantage of my length from off the tees, attack the pins and hopefully make a bunch of birdies. I can’t wait to get back to Malaysia and see all the fans who have supported me so well over the years.”

Other big names tipped to contend for the CIMB Classic title include world number 19 Casey, who is enjoying another stellar season on the PGA Tour where he won the Valspar Championship in May.

The Englishman, holder of 19 international titles, was also picked recently to represent Europe in the Ryder Cup later this month. He will be making his fifth successive appearance at the CIMB Classic, with a T7 last year being his best result at TPC Kuala Lumpur.

Matsuyama, 26, is a five-time PGA Tour winner and currently ranked 20th in the world. Since making his debut at the CIMB Classic in 2013, the Japanese top dog has thrilled local fans with top-five finishes over the past three editions including being runner-up to Thomas in 2016.

Veteran stars Els and Love III need little introduction as they hold a combined 119 international victories, including 19 and 21 PGA Tour wins respectively. Els was appointed captain of the International team for the 2019 Presidents Cup earlier this year, an event he has played on eight previous occasions.

The seven headliners will be joined by defending champion Pat Perez, who had earlier announced his intention to defend his CIMB Classic title where he won by four strokes over Bradley last year.