Best bets for PGA Tour's CJ Cup

reynolds
Sungjae Im carded five straight birdies on holes 9-13 to shoot 62 on Sunday and win the Shriners Children's Open by four strokes over Matthew Wolff, who was tipped in this column last week. The 23-year-old Im won his first PGA Tour event in his 50th start (Honda Classic) and won his second at the Shriners in his 100th start at 33-1. Im will be part of a 78-player limited field this week in the CJ Cup at a price of 30-1.
 
The CJ Cup's $9.75 million prize fund, plus a trip to Las Vegas, has enticed an elite field. Dustin Johnson, two-time CJ Cup champion Justin Thomas, and 2020 CJ Cup runner-up Xander Schauffele return to competition for the first time since being part of the victorious USA Ryder Cup team three weeks ago and share the favorite role at 12-1. Collin Morikawa (17-1), also on that team, is a member of the Summit Club, which hosts this week's event. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy follow on the board at 22-1. In all, 24 of the top 30 players in the OWGR (Official World Golf Ranking) are playing this week, including defending champion Jason Kokrak (50-1), who won it at Shadow Creek. 
 
THE EVENT
 
The CJ Cup began in 2017 and had been annually held at Nine Bridges Golf Club in Jeju Island, South Korea, but last year was moved to Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas because of COVID-19. The field consists of only 78 players and is a no-cut event. The players in the field are 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 3 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 3 available Korean players from the Official World Golf Ranking
— 8 sponsor exemptions:
5 restricted to PGA Tour members
1 to the winner of a Korean amateur qualifier
2 unrestricted
 
 
THE COURSE
 
The Summit Club is a private gated community on 555 acres with residents who include Celine Dion and Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis. The property opened in 2017 and includes a Tom Fazio-designed golf course. The track is a par-72 of 7,431 yards with seven water hazards in play. While listed at 7,431 yards, the true distance is likely closer to 7,200 when factoring in thin desert air and elevation changes. The fairways and three-inch rough are Tifway II Bermudagrass overseeded with perennial ryegrass. Meanwhile, the greens average 6,580 square feet and feature Dominator Bentgrass.
 
The Summit Club is framed within a desert valley with views of the central Las Vegas Strip and Red Rock Canyon. Last year's venue at Shadow Creek resembled more of a "Carolina course" design. Summit is more of a true desert course. This course shares visual similarities with the Stadium Course at PGA West, which is the host course for the American Express. In fact, the director of agronomy at the Summit Club previously worked at the Stadium Course. 
 
The Summit Club is a Tom Fazio design. Fazio designs regularly feature on the PGA Tour. Recently, Caves Valley GC hosted the BMW Championship in August, Congaree GC hosted the Palmetto Championship in June, Shadow Creek hosted this tournament 12 months ago, and the Corales Championship is a regular alternate event, set by the coast in the Dominican Republic. Conway Farms GC, which hosted the 2013, 2015 and 2017 BMW Championships, is also a Fazio design.
 
The scorecard at Summit shows there should be a multitude of eagles and birdies across the opening seven holes. The first is a driveable par-4 as is the fifth. The third and sixth are reachable par-5s. The seventh is just a 138-yard par-3. Add a 430-yard par-4 (fourth) plus another moderate-length par-3 (second), and you have low scores starting out the round. 
 
The back nine is longer but still features a driveable par 4 (12th), and a couple of reachable par-5s (14th and 18th). This course should not pose much trouble for the world's best players. 
 
RECENT HISTORY/WINNERS
 
2020: Jason Kokrak (-20/268); 100-1*
2019: Justin Thomas (-20/268); 15-2
2018: Brooks Koepka (-21/267); 10-1
2017: Justin Thomas (-9/279); 8-1**
 
* played at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas
** playoff win over Marc Leishman
 
Note: The 2017-19 CJ Cup events were played at Nine Bridges Golf Club in Jeju Island, South Korea.
 
STATISTICAL ANGLES
 
This is the first PGA Tour event held at the Summit Club, so we have no course history. However, we know that the greens are larger than both the other Vegas courses — TPC Summerlin and Shadow Creek — on the PGA Tour. Therefore, players are not able to just pepper greens in regulation to score low. The approach shots must be close to the hole. 
 
Strokes Gained: Approach (Last 36 rounds)
Paul Casey 38.7
Collin Morikawa 37.5
Keegan Bradley 34.3
Viktor Hovland 33.8
Louis Oosthuizen 32.4
Shane Lowry 31.7
Russell Henley 31.5
Talor Gooch 26.6
Emiliano Grillo 26.4
Justin Thomas 25.1
 
The winning score should be in the 20-under range, so being able to put together birdie runs with a potential eagle mixed in is in order.
 
Birdie Or Better Gained (Last 36 rounds)
Rory McIlroy 33.7
Aaron Wise 28.9
Cameron Smith 28.7
Dustin Johnson 26.8
Scottie Scheffler 25.5
Jhonattan Vegas 24.3
Shane Lowry 23.4
Sam Burns 23
Webb Simpson 22.9
Jordan Spieth 22
 
The players will be putting on larger Bentgrass greens this week.
 
Strokes Gained: Bentgrass Putting (Last 36 rounds)
Cameron Tringale 30.4 
Alex Noren 27.6
Jason Kokrak 26.2
Ian Poulter 26
Harris English 25.3
Adam Scott 21.8
Mackenzie Hughes 20.1
Cameron Davis 19.8
Rory McIlroy 19.2
Patton Kizzire 18.7
 
Holes 1, 5, and 12 all measure 350-400 yards.
 
Strokes Gained: Par 4s 350-400 Yards (Last 36 rounds)
Maverick McNealy 11.1
Webb Simpson 10.3 
Patton Kizzire 10.2
Harold Varner III 8.5
Xander Schauffele 8.2
Jhonattan Vegas 7.9
Max Homa 7.5
Sungjae Im 7.2
Sergio Garcia 6.9
Jason Kokrak 6.9
 
Three of the four par-5s will measure 550-600 yards.
 
Strokes Gained Par-5s 550-600 Yards (Last 36 Rounds)
Talor Gooch 13
Cameron Tringale 12.4
Scottie Scheffler 12.1
Louis Oosthuizen 10.9
Dustin Johnson 10.4
Hudson Swafford 9.3
Cameron Smith 8.5
Collin Morikawa 8.4
Stewart Cink 8.1
Max Homa 7.3
 
SELECTIONS
 
Collin Morikawa 16-1
 
As mentioned above, Morikawa is a member at the Summit Club and uses it as a regular practice facility. 
 
While he has yet to find the tournament form that he had in the summer when he won the British Open at Royal St. Georges, Morikawa played his four matches at 18 under par in just 66 holes. He was the best of the 24 players at the Ryder Cup with a 39 percent birdie-or-better conversion rate. 
 
Viktor Hovland 28-1
 
Hovland ranked fifth for SG: Off-The-Tee and 15th in SG: Approach on the PGA Tour last season. He ranked first in the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (+ 5.4) and eighth in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach (+ 5.3) last week at the Shriners.
 
Unlike all the players ahead of him on the odds board, except Sam Burns (T-14 last week), Hovland is playing back-to-back in Las Vegas. He was just 44th at TPC Summerlin because of a tough week around the greens (-8.9 shots). 
 
Tyrrell Hatton 45-1
 
After a tough Ryder Cup — although his 1-2-1 record was better than most on the team — Hatton went back to Europe and finished runner-up at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. 
 
Five of his six career worldwide wins have come in October or November, so he can get hot this time of year. 
 
Maverick McNealy 66-1
 
McNealy is another member and resident at the Summit Club. He also holds the purported course record at 61.
 
He started his 2021-2022 PGA Tour season with a T-2 at the Fortinet Championship in Napa Valley. Although he missed the cut on the number last week, McNealy is still in good form and this track seems to be a much better fit for him.
 
Talor Gooch 75-1
 
Gooch has gotten off to a terrific start in the fall series with a T-4 at Silverado four weeks ago and a T-11 last week at the Shriners, where he was third for SG: Around the Green, fourth for SG: Approach and fourth for SG: Tee-To-Green.
 
Harold Varner III 94-1
 
Let's walk down "Narrative Street" here. HV3 missed the event last week at TPC Summerlin because he and wife Amanda were welcoming HV4 (Harold Liam Varner IV) into the world. 
 
Varner also does carry solid form into this week with five finishes of 16th or better in his last six events. 
 
 
Andalucía Masters
 
Rafa Cabrera-Bello prevailed in an all-Spaniard playoff over Adri Arnaus to win the Acciona Open de España at 55-1. It was Cabrera-Bello's first victory in over four years (Scottish Open, July 2017). RCB (33-1) returns this week for the second of three consecutive events in his home country of Spain for the Andalucía Masters at Valderrama. 
 
World No. 1 Jon Rahm (3-1), a T-2 finisher here in 2019, returns as a short favorite once again in his native Spain after cooling off from a hot start last week to finish T-17 in Madrid. This week's field depth is very similar to last week but gets the addition of Matt Fitzpatrick (14-1) who returns to competitive play after another winless Ryder Cup three weeks ago. Bernd Wiesberger (20-1) shot 67-66 on the weekend, bettered by only three players, to finish T-12 in Madrid. Arnaus (28-1), who was part of that five-way tie for second in this event in 2019, lost in the playoff last weekend and is still seeking his first European Tour victory. 
 
Martin Kaymer (30-1) was runner-up last year to John Catlin (66-1). Kaymer is priced at 30-1 along with Thomas Pieters, who has two top-10s in his last three starts. Matthias Schwab and Thomas Detry (both 35-1) continue their respective pursuits of the maiden European Tour win. Andrew Johnston won the Open de España here in 2016 and shares a 40-1 tag with Aaron Rai and Richard Bland. 
 
THE EVENT
 
The Andalucia Masters began in 2010 as a replacement for the Volvo Masters and was held at the same Valderrama Golf Club venue. The tournament was canceled in 2012 due to the economic crisis in Spain as the local government withdrew its support. The event returned in 2017 and was hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation with Estrella Damm, a beer brewed in Barcelona, as its sponsor. The 2020 event was originally scheduled to be held the first weekend in May but was moved to the first weekend in September because of COVID-19 schedule changes. The 2021 event now remains in the same portion of the calendar as the second of three straight events in Spain. 
 
THE COURSE
 
Valderrama, one of the world's great golf courses, plays host this week. The course is located on the southeast coast of Spain in San Roque within the resort of Sotogrande. It was designed in 1975 by legendary designer Robert Trent Jones Sr. Valderrama holds the distinction of being the first course in continental Europe to host the Ryder Cup in 1997. It is one of the more challenging courses at any level of professional touring golf despite measuring just a bit over 7,000 yards (par 71). The fairways are Bermuda, and the greens are faster than normal Bentgrass (12.5 stimpmeter). The fairways are more narrow than normal, and the greens are tiny. The rough is not all that challenging, but there are 2,000 cork trees on the layout that will force players to chop out into the fairway if they have errant tee shots. 
 
As you will see below with the winning score variance, pay attention to the weather, particularly to the wind, as it can play a major factor and make an already difficult Valderrama layout even more arduous. 
 
RECENT HISTORY/WINNERS
 
2020: John Catlin (+ 2/286); 125-1
2019: Christiaan Bezuidenhout (-10/274); 80-1
2018: Sergio Garcia (-12/201); 9-2*
2017: Sergio Garcia (-12/272); 5-1
2016: Andrew Johnston (+ 1/281); 100-1**
 
* weather-shortened event to 54 holes
** 2016 Open de España event
 
TRENDS AND ANGLES
 
Dating to Graeme McDowell's 2010 victory at Valderrama, each winner here had at least one top-10 finish or better within four events leading up to this tournament. 
 
SELECTIONS
 
Thomas Pieters 33-1
 
Pieters has been consistent in 2021 with 15 made cuts in 18 events, posting nine top-20 finishes. 
 
It is a bit surprising that he has yet to win this year considering he ranks third on the European Tour in SG: Tee-To-Green. 
 
Aaron Rai 40-1
 
Rai earned his PGA Tour card at the Korn Ferry Tour finals several weeks ago and subsequently missed the cut in his first three fall starts on that tour. Perhaps a return to Europe could jump-start what was previously excellent form.
 
In his four starts before the missed cuts, Rai had field rankings of fifth, first, second and seventh for Driving Accuracy and fourth, 14th, eighth and eighth for GIR.
 
Andrew Johnston 41-1
 
"Beef" won on this course back in 2016. 
 
Johnston was fourth on Spanish soil earlier this season at the Canary Islands Championship, which marked his best finish of the season. His ninth at the Irish Open and sixth at the BMW PGA Championship were against better fields. Last week he posted a solid 24th-place finish in Madrid, where he ranked 13th for SG: Off-The-Tee, 10th for SG: Tee-To-Green and 10th for SG: Around the Green.
 
Adrian Otaegui 50-1
 
Otaegui finished a solid 17th last week in Madrid but ranked fourth in the field for SG: Approach. 
 
Valderrama is more suited for his game that puts more of a premium on accuracy and scrambling.
 
Pablo Larrazábal 80-1
 
Larrazábal finished 20th last week in Madrid and was eighth just last month in Italy. 
 
The Spaniard's strength is around the green, though, where he ranks seventh and 12th for scrambling on the season.
 
Santiago Tarrio 100-1
 
Spaniard Tarrio finished 24th last week in Madrid, but this shorter and tighter course at Valderrama may be a better fit for him where he will not lose as much ground off the tee. 
 
Tarrio ranked third in last week's field for SG: Around The Green. Catlin, last year's victor here, ranked second in the field in that category, and 2019 winner Bezuidenhout led the field. 
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