The LPGA Tour has spent the last two weeks in Asia and has needed two playoffs to crown the most recent winners. Take a small field of elite players and guarantee four rounds, and you’re setting up one extremely close contest after another. From the Republic of Korea, the world’s best have traveled south to Malaysia for the Maybank Championship, a new event on the LPGA Tour calendar.
Even though this is the inaugural edition, Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club’s West Course is no stranger to championship golf. The DP World Tour visited the course seven times between 2006 and 2015 for the Maybank Malaysian Open. Many of you will remember the PGA Tour coming to Kuala Lumpur for the CIMB Classic held from 2013 to 2018, an event that Justin Thomas won two years in a row on the West Course.
To round out the trifecta, even the LPGA Tour has a history at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. From 2010 to 2017, there was an annual Tour stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and when the Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA was canceled earlier this season, Maybank stepped up, seeing a tremendous opportunity to bring professional golf back to Malaysia.
Although the course will be set up differently for the LPGA than the DP World Tour and PGA Tour, the skill set required to win at the highest level remains the same. The 78-player field will face a par-72 layout covering 6,596 yards. A traditional scorecard displays four par 3s, four par 5s and 10 par 4s. Both par 3s on the back have water in play, with a total of 13 holes on the West Course presenting water to the players. Eight of those watery graves are on the final nine holes.
Kuala Lumpur has a varied topography. The field of 78 players will face several elevation changes across 18 holes, and that’s not the only challenge, as the design features a whopping 92 bunkers. This is a very entertaining test for all levels of golf. Multiple tee boxes allow tournament officials to create reachable par 4s, like holes 14 and 16, as well as stretch out the par 5s. In the seven years the DP World Tour played Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club’s West Course, the average winning score was 16-under.
The PGA Tour raised the average winning score to 22-under in their six trips to Malaysia. The LPGA Tour saw an average of 16-under in the eight years they played at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. That’s why this course is extremely attention-grabbing. Players can make a bunch of birdies, but they can also find trouble.
As we often do, let’s look at the field and compare the best birdie-makers according to the data provided by KPMG Performance Insights. Let’s also dig deeper and compare those players who made birdies at the Buick LPGA Shanghai and the BMW Ladies Championship. Angel Yin, who has a win and a top-five finish the last two weeks, as well as Hae Ran Ryu and Hye Jin Choi, who both earned top-25 finishes the previous two weeks, all have a ton of scoring momentum coming into this week. The Sunday collection of contenders should need to get past 15-under to compete for the $3 million purse and $450,000 first-place prize, one of the largest non-major championships purses this season and one that has drawn an incredible field.
Six of the top 10 and 18 of the top 25 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings are in the field of 78 players competing for 72 holes with no cut. If history reveals anything from the former winners on the West Course across all three tours, ball striking is key. Justin Thomas, Lee Westwood and Ryan Moore have all had considerable success here, as each of them are great approach players. Inbee Park, Cristie Kerr, Lexi Thompson and Shanshan Feng are all past champions in Malaysia.
It's going to take a unique combination of fairways hit and target proximity to grab the trophy. Length always gives players an advantage, but accuracy around this course should give players the best chance for separation from the field. When you look at both analytics, Ashleigh Buhai, Ayaka Furue and Megan Khang are the best current ball strikers in those two categories.
Elevation changes, 92 bunkers and plentiful penalty areas will cause some scrambling. Celine Boutier, Ruoning Yin and Furue are the players who have the most success saving par. Saving key pars over 72 holes and maintaining momentum throughout all four rounds will prove to be another difference-maker at the Maybank Championship.
This event is one of the final few events before the CME Group Tour Championship, which will see the top 60 in the Race to the CME Globe qualify for the season-ending event. Keep an on Lydia Ko who is playing as a sponsor invite this week. She won the CME Group Tour Championship last year and still has not qualified for the season’s final championship, sitting at 101st in the Race to the CME Globe standings. She made a nice push toward winning at the BMW last week – something she would have to do to earn CME points as a sponsor invite – and looks to have found something in her game that she can build upon in Kuala Lumpur.
Enjoy a week of entertaining golf as the LPGA Tour’s Asian swing rolls on. This golf course is impeccable and will present the players with a variety of obstacles throughout the four days of competition. With the final month of their season on tap, it will be fun to see how they attack the West Course this week in Kuala Lumpur.
Keith Stewart is an award-winning PGA Professional. He covers the LPGA and PGA Tour for Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, LPGA, and PGA TOUR. If you are looking to raise your golf acumen and love inside information about the game, check out his weekly newsletter called Read The Line.