This week, the PGA Tour remains in Asia, moving from Malaysia to Jeju Island, South Korea where they will play the second renewal of the CJ Cup. Much like last week, the event will feature just 78 players and whilst many a top player will be absent, there are still some superstar names in the field.
Last year’s champion, Justin Thomas returns and will hope to build on his top-5 finish at last week’s CIMB Classic.
Thomas is also joined by the man directly above him in the World Rankings, PGA Tour Player of the Year, Brooks Koepka. Not many players can boast more major victories that regular PGA Tour wins, but Koepka is 3 to 1 in that department, and he will hope to add wins with more regularity. 7th last time out at the Alfred Dunhill Links, Koepka is the sort of player that can win any week, and will be keen to show that here.
Fresh off the back of four-straight top-15 finishes during the FedEx Cup playoffs, Hideki Matsuyama is the leading Asian player here, as he looks for his 7th PGA Tour victory.
Elsewhere Jason Day will be looking to find some form after a disappointing run during the FedEx Cup, after compatriot Marc Leishman won the CIMB Classic last week. Leishman pegs it up again here, at a course where he finished on debut 12 months ago.
The Course and what it will take to win here
The Club at Nine Bridges, 7,196 Yards, Par 72
This course was seen in action for the first time last season, and Thomas showed what can be done if the weather cooperates, with a 63 during the first round. He did however fail to break 70 for his next three rounds.
With -9 (279) the winning score last year, this was a very different test from the CIMB the week before.
The rough here is penal, and there is also a lot of bunkers on this course, so trouble is never too far away. Water is also in play on 4 holes, so if the wind is up like last year, there is going to be some horror scores once again.
Whilst the CJ Cup last year marked the first time the PGA Tour ventured to Jeju Island, the European Tour took the Ballantine’s Championship there from 2008-2009. For two years the event was held at Pinx Golf Club, before moving to Blackstone Golf Club in 2011 where it stayed in 2013. To highlight the severity of the weather at times in this island, in 2008 the winning score was -24 but just a year later it was -4, on the same golf course!
Play-off protagonists, Thomas and Leishman ranked 39th and 32nd in Driving Accuracy 12 months, so whilst there is trouble if wild off the tee, it was far from a big factor for the leading pair.
Thomas and Leishman also ranked 44th and 36th respectively in Greens in Regulation, so they both got away with a sub-par ball-striking week.
Leishman ranked 1st and Thomas 5th in Putting Average, so clearly what you do on the greens when you get there is a vital component to success at this course.
Weather was a huge factor last year, as the wind wreaked havoc and we saw some ugly scoring from those at the bottom of the leaderboard. Gyu Min Lee who finished dead-last finished on +37, whilst the next worst was Grayson Murray on +25. Other noteable scores include Xander Schauffele, who after finishing 3rd at the CIMB Classic, finished in 72nd place on +17, going 83-78-76 after opening with a round of 69.
After Thomas’ first-round 63, the next best score was a 66, shot by Patrick Reed, Gavin Green and Leishman, all of which were also shot on Thursday.
If the weather is less dramatic this week, we could see a lot better scoring, but this is a tougher layout than last week, and it will be interesting to see what prevails this time around.
Whilst Greens in Regulation and Scrambling were not two areas that Thomas and Leishman excelled in last year, they could well be more important this time around, and if the wind stays away the better ball-strikers should prevail.
With just one year of form to go by, it is hard to gauge what is required for success here, but Thomas and Leishman both took advantage of the scoring holes, with Leishman shooting -12 on the Par 5’s and Thomas -9. Their 72-hole score was 9-under-par in total.
Both struggled on the Par 3’s, as Thomas was +3 on the shorter holes and Leishman +2. Thomas shot -3 on the Par 4’s to rank 3rd whilst Leishman somewhat limited the damage on the intermediate holes, shooting +1 (20th).
In all, last year the spoils went to those who could putt the best and those who made their scores on the Par 5’s, so that should be a big consideration this week.
Given the toughness of the course last year (ranked 4/50), those that played here 12 months ago may well have an advantage, as they aware of what to expect, especially if the wind gets up. Look also to those who excel on Bentgrass greens, as well as the players who took advantage of the Par 5’s, not only at the start of this young season, but in 2018 in general.
As it stands the weather looks much better this week, so scoring should be better this time around.
Gary Woodland 40/1 (Betfair) 1pt e/w:
Gary Woodland was amongst the favourites last week, and rightly so given his current form and course history (two 2nd’s) but that is not the case this week.
Despite finishing T5 last week, thanks largely to a second-round 61, Woodland comes into the week double the price of last week, which I think is an overreaction.
He did finish in 40th place here 12 months ago, but that was a week after finishing T28 on one of his favourite courses and a run of 16 events that had yielded just one top-10 finish.
This time, Woodland comes in after coming close to victory at the CIMB, and having some much better form behind him. Whilst top-10’s were still few and far between in 2018, Woodland did win the Phoenix Open in February, finished T6 at the PGA Championship, and also got progressively better during the FedEx playoffs, where a T11 finish at the Tour Championship doesn’t tell the full story. He finished just two shots shy of 4th place at East Lake, opening with a round of 66 to boot.
Talking of getting progressively better, Woodland shot his best round of the week on the final day here 12 months ago, shooting 69 on a day that just two other players (Pat Perez 68, Charles Howell III 69) broke 70. Perhaps that round gave Woodland the confidence to come back this week.
Given his steady current form and his efforts last week in Malaysia, Woodland is simply too big at 40/1.
Byeong Hun An 40/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Still searching for his first win on the PGA TOUR, Benny An has come close in recent years, losing in play-offs at both the 2016 Zurich Classic and the 2018 Memorial.
An also finished 2nd at the RBC Canadian Open, in July, falling three shots shy of Dustin Johnson.
Bookend 66’s were enough for him to finish T13 last week in Malaysia, and a 3rd round 68 meant it was only a second-round 70 that really cost him a chance at a top-5 finish.
His effort last week was encouraging enough, and this is also his third straight start in his home country so he’ll be more than acclimatised to the time zone and conditions here.
T13 and T8 in his last two starts, and a T11 finish on debut here 12 months ago, is enough for me to chance him in his home event.
A third round 67 was enough to solidify a good week for him here last year, but unlike many others, he didn’t have a blow up round all week, with a 73 (twice) his worst round. Better conditions this week will suit him.
Sungjae Im 50/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes, SkyBet) 1pt e/w:
I put up Sungjae Im at the season-opening, Safeway Open and he duly delivered finishing T4. This week, he not only returns to his home country, but the course he grew up on and honed him game.
Whilst he is half the odds he was two weeks ago, it still strikes me as logical to back him here, given his course knowledge and the fact the proved to play much better than expected in his debut as a PGA Tour member.
Accurate off the tee and into the greens, as well as someone who can make putts in abundance, this looks the perfect test for Im’s skill set. The obvious shortcoming in his game is his lack of distance off the tee, but that will once again not be an issue here.
Im only ranked 38th in SG: Approach at the Safeway but T4 in SG: Putting, and if he can improve evenslightly in the former, he could get over the line for his first PGA Tour victory this week. He also ranked 22nd in SG: Tee-to-Green, which was positive but allows room for improvement.
He was far too big at 100/1 two weeks ago, and still looks a decent price at 50/1, given his current skill level, undoubted potential ability and his confident showing at the Safeway. Add to that his course knowledge and suitability and he looks a no-brainer, even at 50/1.
Rafael Cabrera-Bello 60/1 (Bet365, Betfred) 1pt e/w:
Despite not being able to put four rounds together in his last two starts, Cabrera-Bello has still managed to end each week with a round of 66, to give reason for optimism.
Last year, Bello finished T11 here, two strokes shy of Whee Kim in 4th. This added to his T5 finish at the Ballentine’s Championship in 2009, which also came on Jeju Island suggests he likes this part of the world.
Bello loves playing in Asia and the Middle East in general, winning there and finishing in the top-5 on multiple occasions, so it would be no surprise to see him play well again this week
Despite finishing 50th and 41st in his last two, Bello has three top-11 finishes in his last six starts, including a T7 finish at the Dell Tech and a T10 finish at the PGA Championship.
A return to the form he had shown not so long ago, would see him go close this week, and he looks a decent price to do so at 60/1.
Abraham Ancer 80/1 (UniBet) 1pt e/w:
A T5 finish last week in Malaysia, was Abraham Ancer’s fourth top-7 finish in his last nine PGA Tour starts, showing his increasing comfortability at this level.
Amongst his four top-7 finishes was a T7 finish at the Dell Technologies Championship, which boasted a field much stronger than this.
Four rounds of 68 or better is no small feat, and that’s exactly what Ancer put together last week, including a final round 65 – his lowest of the week. Ancer achieved this despite a poor week hitting greens (53rd out of 78 players), saving himself by ranking T3 in Putting Average.
A better week with his approaches could see him improve on last week’s efforts, which would see him bang in contention once again.
Ancer will be hoping his strong form in recent months will not go unrewarded, and this event presents a great opportunity for him to get in the PGA TOUR winners’ circle.
80/1 about a player in his form, in a limited-field event strikes me as value.
Total Points Staked this week: 10
Profit/Loss for 2018: -92.95