The CJ Cup is an annual event that is typically hosted in South Korea but due to the nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, it for the first time will be played in Las Vegas at the exclusive Shadow Creek Golf Club. Although the location is different, it will still offer a top tier field featuring all of the top five golfers in the World Golf Rankings as well as the other top 60 golfers from last year’s FedEx Cup. It will be the first time since the US Open that many of these golfers take to the course.
This is the first event that Shadow Creek will host but it made its television debut in 2018 during “The Match” which featured Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson going head to head in a high-stakes charity event. Neither of those two will be in the field competing this week but that round did give us a little insight into what sort of conditions we can expect heading into the event.
- Field: 78 golfers / no cut
- Course: Shadow Creek GC
- Greens: Bentgrass
- Length: 7,527
- Par: 72
Shadow Creek will play host for some of the premier golfers in the world. With a $9.75 million purse, 500 FedEx Cup points, and the Masters on the horizon, these golfers are more than incentivized to get back to the course and compete at the highest level this week. The field will consist of 78 golfers in a no-cut event, which means everyone will be playing all four rounds.
Leading the field at the top of the betting board is Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Right behind them are the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Xander Schauffele.
Tyrell Hatton won the BMW Championship last week in Europe and has made the trip across the Atlantic for this event. Matthew Wolff almost pulled out a win at the Shriners Open a few days ago and will remain in Vegas this week with hopes of making another run at a title.
A notable name in the field is Brooks Koepka. This will be the first time since mid-August that he takes to the course after multiple injuries forced him to pull out of the playoffs and US Open. I’m sure watching Bryson DeChambeau win the US Open has not been sitting easy with him and he is more than motivated to get back to competing at the highest level. Speaking of Bryson, he will be taking the week off and we most likely won’t see him again until the Masters.
It’s always fun to see a new course on the PGA Tour rotation. The unfortunate part is that there is not too much course information to go off of when looking to research the event. We will need to rely more on the course breakdown and current stats since we don’t have any course history to work with.
Shadow Creek, located about 30 minutes north of the Vegas Strip, is a 7,527 yard par-72 which, due to the elevation, plays slightly shorter than the yardage may suggest. Although the course is in the desert, it plays far from a typical desert course. Tom Fazio designed the course to be a bit of an oasis in the middle of the Vegas sands. It is lined with trees, has a number of large water hazards, and offers scenic waterfalls throughout the 18 holes. Fazio took a boring piece of desert land and turned it into a very picturesque golf course.
Typical with Tom Fazio designs, approach shots will often need to be carried over greenside bunkers or water which requires precise distance control and limits the ability to run up approaches. It appears as if some of the fairways will be narrow and will reward accurate drives but a large majority of the holes dog leg to either the right or left so always playing driver may not be the optimal play. Of course, as we’ve seen of late, the bomb and gouge approach can be taken advantage of at any course in today’s modern PGA Tour but a more precise and strategic game can also be rewarded this week.
The scorecard appears to offer a wide variety of holes for the golfers to face. There are four par-3s that average to right around 200 yards in length but one of them plays only 150 yards while another will stretch to over 250. The short 17th hole is the signature hole of the course and offers a waterfall backdrop that many wouldn’t believe they’d see in the heart of Nevada. The par-4s average out to a pretty standard 440 yards with two of them approaching 500 yards. This also includes the 324-yard 11th hole which some golfers will take driver in hopes of finding the green off the tee. The par-5s are a wide range of distances which includes the 18th hole at only 524 yards that should be reachable in two shots for most players in the field. A large lake is placed in front of the green and should lead to a dramatic finishing hole on Sunday.
It appears that a solid approach game with some extra distance off the tee should be key to success this week. There is not too much to worry about with slightly wayward drives so I expect the high end players to take an aggressive approach and hit drivers whenever possible. Bentgrass putting will factor in as well. I’ll be placing an extra emphasis on current form since we don’t have any course history to judge.
- Strokes gained: Approach
- Strokes gained: Off-the-Tee
- Bunker play
- Strokes gained: Putting (bentgrass)
Justin Thomas +1200
When looking at the top of the betting board, Justin Thomas looks like the best play for me. Of course Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm are in play every time they tee it up but Justin Thomas has been so consistent as of late. His worst finish since June has been 49th. That makes it eight straight events finishing inside the top 50. This stretch has included a win, two 2nds, and an 8th at the challenging US Open. He gained strokes on approach in 16 of his 17 events in 2020 which speaks to just how consistent his game is. He is also 2nd in this field at sand saves which, if approach shots are a little off, will certainly be important around Shadow Creek.
There is no arguing with his success at no-cut events either. He most recently finished 2nd at the Tour Championship, 1st at the last WGC, and was last year’s winner of this exact event, the CJ Cup. Thomas seems primed to make a run this weekend in Vegas and I have no issues starting my outrights card with him at 12/1.
Viktor Hovland +3300
Hovland has been flying under the radar as of late but has still been playing some pretty solid golf. Like most of the golfers in the field, he hasn’t played since the US Open where he finished 13th. Prior to that, he certainly had an up and down summer by his standards but he hasn’t missed a cut on tour since March 1st at the Honda. His best finish during this stretch is a 3rd place finish but he has been in the top 20 six times since June. Due to the popular names that have been finding the winner’s circle, Hovland is one of the golfers who has seemingly fallen through the cracks for the public. His stats have still been great.
When compared to this field over the past 50 rounds, he is 5th in approach, 15th off-the-tee, and 7th in ball striking. His putting has been getting more consistent lately as well and bentgrass is by far his best surface historically. The former Oklahoma State Cowboy was a college teammate of Matthew Wolff, who finds his outright odds at almost half of what Hovland’s are. This is just too big of a gap between two golfers who have a similar PGA Tour resume. I’ll side with the longer odds of Hovland this week at 33/1.
Joaquin Niemann +5500
Joaquin Niemann will remain in Las Vegas after posting a solid 13th place finish at the Shriners last week. He is known for his all-around consistent game and that has been no different through the past few events. Other than the 13th last week, he has had results of 23rd / 27th / 3rd in his past three starts. Prior to that, it was a rough stretch in the middle of summer but he seems to have turned a corner to get back to the solid play that we saw in June. Over his past five events, he has gained strokes in all key categories other than around the green, which, if the irons are dialed in, won’t be too crucial this week.
When compared to the rest of the field, Niemann is in the top-20 in both approach and off-the-tee over the past 50 rounds. He is also 5th in driving distance which will certainly help to successfully navigate around Shadow Creek. Typically, Niemann is known for being inconsistent with his putting but the only surface that he gains positive strokes on is bentgrass. The Chilean finished 12th at this event last year and hopefully he can improve upon that as he looks for his 2nd career victory at odds of 55/1.
Collin Morikawa +100 vs Hideki Matsuyama -120
Both golfers are coming off a disappointing missed cut at last week’s Shriners Open but both did so in very different ways. Morikawa continues to be one of the best golfers in the world with his irons. His strokes gained: approach numbers are always near the top of the field. His putting continues to be his downfall as he lost 3.3 strokes on the greens last week and missed the cut by one shot. Other than the Northern Trust in August, he has gained strokes on approach in eight straight events. This stretch saw him win two titles including the PGA Championship. A missed cut at the US Open and at the Shriners has bettors worried about going back to him but the game is still solid and the putting just needs to turn around.
Hideki on the other hand was all over the place last week. The usually reliable ball striking took a turn for the worse as he lost strokes in approach, off-the-tee, and tee-to-green. Many bettors (like myself) were on his last week and it was a disappointing result to say the least. I don’t see him being able to turn his whole game around in a matter of days. I will happily side with the reigning PGA champ at even money for this event.
The pick: Collin Morikawa +100
Matthew Wolff +145 vs Xander Schauffele (-1.5) -125
I personally feel that Matthew Wolff is getting too much love this week. I am as big a fan as anyone and his personality is great for the game but this hot run that he is currently on will regress back to the mean eventually. He has back-to-back runner up finishes at the US Open and the Shriners. He has always been dominant with the driver but it has been his approach game that is carrying him as of late. The past two events he has gained 6.1 and 7.1 strokes on approach. Those are numbers that have lapped the fields. Historically he hasn’t been that solid with the irons so either he has figured something out or he is due for some negative regression.
Xander is the no-cut event king. This is well documented as he typically dominates events that allow everyone to play all four rounds. It certainly doesn’t hurt that his form has been as good if not better than anyone in the field. Dating back to late June, he hasn’t finished outside the top 25 in his last nine events. He doesn’t often find the winners circle but when it comes to piecing together an all-around game, there is almost no one better than Xander Schauffele. I’m siding with the long term results over the very recent form here. Lay the 1.5 strokes as well.
The pick: Xander Schauffele (-1.5) -125