Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, Martin Laird won his second Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at 250-1 by making a 22-foot birdie on the second playoff hole to defeat Austin Cook and Matthew Wolff. Laird earned his first PGA Tour win at the Shriners in 2009, also in a playoff, and got back into the winner’s circle last weekend for the first time since April 2013 at the Valero Texas Open. He now has a two-year PGA Tour exemption and entries into the Masters, PGA Championship, Players Championship and Sentry Tournament of Champions.
This week marks back-to-back weeks in Las Vegas with a smaller, elite field of 78 players for the CJ Cup. This event was moved from its annual spot in South Korea to Shadow Creek Golf Course due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The field will include 20 of the top 25 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Jon Rahm, world No. 2, is the favorite at 8-1. World No. 3 Justin Thomas, who has won the CJ Cup two of the last three years in South Korea, follows at 10-1. No. 4 Rory McIlroy and No. 8 Xander Schauffele are priced at 12-1. At No. 12, Wolff has been a popular choice early in the week at 18-1, but can he rebound after coming up short in last week’s playoff at TPC Summerlin? No. 14 Patrick Cantlay was the co-leader with Laird after 54 holes, but he started his round poorly and settled for an eighth-place tie. Cantlay is 25-1 along with No. 10 Tyrrell Hatton, last week’s BMW PGA Championship victor on the European Tour; No. 6 Collin Morikawa, a Vegas local; and No. 11 Brooks Koepka, who returns from two months off dealing with hip and knee injuries. Only five players ranked in the top 25 will not be in Las Vegas. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson was a Tuesday afternoon withdrawal due to a positive COVID-19 test. No. 5 Bryson DeChambeau, whose next start is scheduled to be at the Masters in November, No. 7 Webb Simpson, No. 9 Patrick Reed and No. 15 Adam Scott are also out.
The CJ Cup began in 2017 and has been held annually at Nine Bridges Golf Club on Jeju Island, South Korea, but was moved to Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas this year due to COVID-19. The field consists of 78 players and is a no-cut event. The field is built based on the following criteria:
• Top 60 available players from the previous season’s final FedEx Cup standings.
• Winners of the KPGA Championship and Genesis Championship on the Korean Tour.
• Top three available players from the Korean Tour order of merit.
• Top available player from the Asian Tour order of merit.
• Top available Korean player from the Asian Tour order of merit.
• Top next three available Korean players from the OWGR.
• Eight sponsor exemptions — five restricted to PGA Tour members, one to the winner of a Korean amateur qualifier and two unrestricted.
The sponsor exemptions this week include players who almost never have to use them such as Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth and Koepka.
Shadow Creek Golf Course sits on 350 acres of desert in North Las Vegas. It was built in 1989 by Steve Wynn as a club for high rollers who were registered guests at his properties, including the Bellagio, Mirage and Treasure Island. Wynn sold the course as part of his Mirage Resorts organization to MGM Resorts International in 2000. The course, ranked on Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses list, is open to guests at higher-end MGM properties or other dignitaries and celebrities, and the greens fee is a hefty $750. Wynn gave course designer Tom Fazio a blank checkbook to design the track, which opened in 1990. Fazio also redesigned the course in 2008 and added 300 yards. You would expect this to be a typical desert golf course; it is anything but. In fact, it is a flat, tree-lined design that resembles a Carolina pines track. Shadow Creek plays as a par-72 of 7,527 yards. Its course record on the renovated layout is a 66 shot by Dustin Johnson. Tiger Woods and Fred Couples shot 60 on the original course, and details of their rounds are listed on cards in the locker rooms. Water is in play on eight holes, and the course has 74 bunkers. The fairways are constructed with 419 Bermudagrass with Rye overseed. The greens are made of T-1 Bentgrass. The greens are on the smaller side, averaging about 5,500 square feet, and reach 12 on the Stimpmeter. The greens have an Augusta-type feel. Shadow Creek has never hosted an official PGA Tour event but was the venue for “The Match” with Woods vs. Phil Mickelson in 2018. It also serves as the home for celebrity and charity events, including the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational and Tiger Jam.
CJ Cup Recent History
2019: Justin Thomas (-20/268), 15-2
2018: Brooks Koepka (-21/267), 10-1
2017: Justin Thomas (-9/279), 8-1*
* - playoff win over Marc Leishman
CJ Cup Trends and Angles
The CJ Cup has had only three events in its history, with none at Shadow Creek, so we have very little to go on in terms of course form or statistical analysis. However, we do know that Fazio designed the track, so that is one angle we can look at by examining original Fazio designs and some of his renovations, which have been featured on the PGA Tour in recent years.
Fazio original designs:
— Atunyote GC, Turning Stone Championship 2007-10 (Matt Kuchar, 2009 winner)
— Conway Farms GC, BMW Championship 2013, ’15, ’17 (Jason Day, 2015 winner and fourth in ’13 and ’17; Marc Leishman, ’17 winner)
— Eagle Point, Wells Fargo Championship 2017 (Brian Harman, winner; Rahm, fourth; Byeong Hun An, eighth)
— Raptor Course Grayhawk GC, Fry’s.com Open 2007-09 (Rickie Fowler, runner-up ’09)
Redesigns and renovations:
— Riviera Country Club, Genesis Invitational (Bubba Watson, 2016 and ’18 winner)
— Quail Hollow, Wells Fargo Championship 2003-16, ’18, 2017 and ’19 PGA Championship (Day, 2018; McIlroy, 2010 and ’15; Fowler, 2012; Thomas, 2017 PGA winner; Louis Oosthuizen, T2; Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama, T5; Day and Kuchar, T9)
— Merion, 2013 U.S. Open (Justin Rose, winner; Day, T2; Billy Horschel, T4; Fowler and Matusyama, T10)
— Oakmont, 2016 U.S. Open (Shane Lowry, T2; Garcia, T5; Kevin Na, seventh; Day, T8)
— Seaside Course at Sea Island, RSM Classic (Tyler Duncan, 2019 winner; Mackenzie Hughes, 2016 winner; Kevin Kisner, 2015 winner)
Of the courses listed, the layouts that look to have the best correlations to Shadow Creek include the Carolina courses, Eagle Point and Quail Hollow, along with Conway Farms, which has hosted the BMW Championship three times in the last eight years.
Xander Schauffele 14-1
In a no-cut event, X has marked the spot. Three of Schauffele's four PGA Tour wins have been in smaller, elite fields in no-cut events, including the Tour Championship, WGC: HSBC Champions and the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Just last month, Schauffele bested the Tour Championship field by three strokes but didn’t get a trophy for that due to the FedEx Cup points changes. He finished in the top 5 at yet another major in his last start at the U.S. Open. He has talked about moving to Las Vegas since his girlfriend's family lives there, and the CJ Cup trophy would be a great housewarming gift for his potential new abode.
Matthew Wolff 21-1
Typically a player the week after a near-miss would be one to fade, but Wolff seems to be in a good place mentally despite having runner-up finishes in his last two starts at the U.S. Open and Shriners. Just 21, he doesn’t have extensive experience with a particular course designer, but the Karsten course he played on at Oklahoma State for three years was designed by Fazio.
Wolff is typically high on the stat sheets for everything but putting. However, he was 15th for strokes gained putting last week. The tee-to-green game is in top shape, and he looks primed for a second PGA Tour win.
Collin Morikawa 25-1
Morikawa disappointed last week, missing the cut by one at the Shriners. The ball-striking game was good as usual, but the putter let him down. He lost a little under 3.5 strokes in the Thursday and Friday rounds.
It’s not as large a dip as we would like, but it is an odds dip nonetheless, and this looks like a good buy spot on the drift.
Jason Day 50-1
Day seemed to be returning to his form of three years ago when he was one of the best players in the world. He posted four straight finishes of seventh or better at the Workday, Memorial, WGC-FedEx St. Jude and PGA Championship. But he couldn’t keep that form and has missed two of his last four cuts, including last week on an easy course at TPC Summerlin.
Nevertheless, he’s worth a shot here, considering that he arguably has the best and most consistent record on Fazio designs. Day has a win at Conway Farms plus two other top-4s at the BMW Championship. He also has a victory at Quail Hollow and two high finishes at Merion and Oakmont, which were U.S. Open sites that were Fazio-influenced.
Joaquin Niemann 66-1
A bogey at the last hole cost Niemann a top-10 finish last weekend, and he tied for 13th. The Chilean was third for driving distance, fourth for ball striking and sixth for total driving at the Shriners.
Niemann also performs better on Bentgrass greens and won on them at the Old White TPC at the Greenbrier, which is another Carolina-type course played in the Appalachians at altitude.
Tyrrell Hatton (16-1) won last week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth by four strokes (-19/269) over Victor Perez. Hatton led the field in strokes gained tee to green (+ 14.7 strokes over four rounds), and half the strokes (+ 7.31) were gained around the green. With that victory, Hatton entered the top 10 in the OWGR for the first time, and he entered the top 10 in the Race to Dubai standings on the European Tour. Hatton is stateside to play in the CJ Cup, as are many other top European players, but this week’s Scottish Championship is not without quality atop the odds board. Lee Westwood has five top-20 finishes in the last seven weeks and shares the 12-1 favorite role with Matt Wallace. Aaron Rai missed the cut last week at Wentworth but did win the Scottish Open the week before after finishing second at the Irish Open seven days earlier. Rai is priced at 16-1 with Eddie Pepperell, who has posted top-10 finishes in back-to-back weeks, and Scotsman Robert MacIntyre. Sam Horsfield has two victories (Hero Open and Celtic Classic) this summer on the European Tour and is listed at 25-1 along with Renato Paratore, a winner at the British Masters this summer; Matthew Jordan, who won the St. Andrews Links Trophy as an amateur at the nearby Old Course in 2017; and Gavin Green.
The Scottish Championship is intended as a one-time event and is the final leg of a second four-leg UK swing on the European Tour.
The Torrance Course at Fairmont St. Andrews, as part of the Fairmont St. Andrews Bay five-star hotel, is named after former European Tour player and course designer Sam Torrance. He ranks 10th on the European Tour all-time wins list with 21 and is an eight-time European Ryder Cup member, including a win as captain in 2002. Torrance carved out a links course in 2001 on agricultural land in Fife, Scotland. It is a par-72 of 7,230 yards and was redesigned by Gary Stephenson in 2009. The course has links characteristics but is not considered a true links by purists. The clifftop track overlooks the North Sea. The fairways are wide and generous, with a fair amount of undulation within the Bentgrass and Fescue surface overseeded with Rye. The Bentgrass and Fescue greens are relatively large and fast but well protected by pot bunkers. A composite of the Torrance and Kittoch courses have hosted numerous British Open qualifiers, and the Torrance course has hosted the Senior Scottish Open from 2009-14.
Eddie Pepperell 16-1
Pepperell is a shorter price than we would like, but he did finish ninth at the Scottish Open two weeks ago and followed it up with a sixth last week at Wentworth against stronger fields.
He led the field for strokes gained: approach last week in the BMW PGA Championship and was second for strokes gained putting on similar Bent/Fescue greens at the Scottish Open two weeks ago.
Renato Paratore 25-1
The Italian, 23, already has a win this summer at the British Masters and finished T7 last week at the BMW Championship with a lot of quality at the top.
Matthew Jordan 25-1
Jordan posted his career-best European Tour finish of third several weeks ago at Wales. Just 24, he’s a European Tour rookie but has a distinguished amateur career in the UK, especially on links courses, having won the St. Andrews Links Trophy and the Lytham Trophy.
Connor Syme 30-1
Aside from the Old Course at St. Andrews, what better place for a Scotsman to earn his first win on the European Tour than right down the road?
Syme rates fourth on the European Tour for greens in regulation, fifth for driving accuracy and eighth for strokes gained off the tee.
Matthew Southgate 37-1
Southgate is a links specialist but has made 10 of his last 11 cuts since the restart, so he has shown more consistency of late.
He was ninth two weeks ago at Renaissance, which is also a manufactured links course like Fairmont St. Andrews. In that appearance he led the field in ball striking, and he finished second for GIR, second for total driving and third for strokes gained tee to green. Like Jordan, Southgate is a former winner of the St. Andrews Links Trophy as an amateur.