Thomas vies for 3-peat at CIMB Classic in Malaysia

The Associated Press

Erstwhile PGA Tour player of the year and two-time event defending champion Justin Thomas headlines a select field this week at the CIMB Classic, which tees off Thursday at the TPC Kuala Lumpur in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The CIMB Classic is a 72-hole stroke play event combining players from three official sanctioning bodies -- the PGA Tour, the Asian Tour and the Professional Golf Association of Malaysia (PGAM).

The field here is limited to 78 golfers (there will not be a cut) who will compete for a total purse of $7 million on the par-72, 7,005-yard course. The winner this week gets $1.26 million and earns 500 FedExCup points.

The tournament, in its eighth year, is the only official FedExCup event on the PGA Tour to be held in Southeast Asia. This is the fifth year that FedExCup points will be awarded at the event.

This year's field will feature four players in the top 20 of the Official World Golf Ranking: No. 3 Hideki Matusyama of Japan, fourth-ranked Thomas, No. 14 Paul Casey of England and No. 19 Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain. It will be the first time that two players from the world's top 5 will compete in the tournament.

The roster of players for the CIMB Classic also features five of the top 15 in last year's FedExCup standings, including Xander Schauffele and Pat Perez, and will sport eight players that competed in last month's Presidents Cup. Thomas is the lone player from the American team, while International team members Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, Canada's Adam Hadwin, South Korea's Si Woo Kim, Anirban Lahiri of India and Venezuela's Jhonattan Vegas will also play in the event.

Thomas won the first of his sixth PGA Tour titles here in 2015 and last year used a final-round bogey-free 8 under 64 to overcome a four-stroke deficit and successfully defend his title by three shots over Japan's Hideki Matsuyama.

The rest, as they say, was history.

Thomas ended up winning five times, including a major, on Tour in the 2016-17 season and joined Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth as the only players to do so before the age of 25. Thomas was able to cap off his season with the FedExCup title, becoming the fifth winner of the championship under the age of 30.

On his way to victory here in 2015, Thomas set the tournament-record low for 72-hole score (26-under-par). He also owns the course record at TPC Kuala Lumpur, a 61 shot in the second round of his 2015 win.

"I somehow have a comforting feeling out there, and I seem to do all right," Thomas said about TPC Kuala Lumpur. "There's not very much wind, and I end up with a lot of wedges and my wedge game is good. That's why I'm able to make so many birdies because I can roughly get a few kick-ins per day. It just seems to be a place where I play well."

Lahiri finished third in this event last year after leading after the third round and has won on the course (in 2015) when it hosted the Maybank Malaysian Open.

"I've played so many tournaments there, and I don't think there's a hole where I've not made birdie on that course," Lahiri said. "I know how to navigate the course and I know where you can be aggressive and cautious on. I've played in every weather condition and played when rough is high or low, greens are soft or hard. It'll make it easy for me to process my strategy.

"That's the advantage the PGA Tour pros have on the U.S. courses. So this is an event which I feel I have an advantage compared to the other events that I play in the U.S."

The CIMB Classic is the second event of the 2017-18 PGA Tour season and is one of eight events during the fall of 2017, all of which will award FedExCup points. After a seven-week break, the season will resume in January with the traditional swing through Hawaii before moving to the West Coast.

In addition to 500 FedExCup points and a two-year PGA Tour exemption, the winner this week (if not previously eligible) receives invitations to the 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions, a winners-only event in January, along with two major championships (Masters Tournament and PGA Championship) and The Players Championship. The winner would also earn exemptions into six additional invitational events on the PGA Tour.

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