FIRST STOP ON PGA ASIAN TRIP ATTRACTS BIG NAMES

By Wes Reynolds  () 

The PGA Tour begins a three-week Asian swing at the CJ Cup in South Korea. This tournament is only three years old and has a smaller field of just 78 players, but a purse of nearly $10 million attracts many big names. This includes the two previous winners Justin Thomas (7/1) and world No. 1 Brooks Koepka (8/1), who are also the favorites. Hideki Matsuyama follows at 16/1, and Tommy Fleetwood, making his first appearance at Nine Bridges, checks in at 18/1. PGA Tour young guns Viktor Hovland (20/1) and Collin Morikawa (25/1) also are in this field. Several other recent major champions also are here, including Jordan Spieth (25/1), Jason Day (25/1), Gary Woodland (25/1), Sergio Garcia (30/1) and Danny Willett (40/1). Phil Mickelson (80/1) also will appear while trying to avoid falling out of the OWGR Top 50. Mickelson has been ranked in the Top 50 since November 1993, a streak of 1,351 weeks. The Asian swing will continue with the Zozo Championship in Japan and the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.

The Event

The CJ Cup at Nine Bridges began in 2017 and features a field composed of the following:

The top 60 available players from the previous season’s FedEx Cup standings.

Winners of the KPGA Championship and Genesis Championship on the Korean Tour.

The top 3 players from the Korean Tour Order of Merit.

The top available player from the Asian Tour Order of Merit.

The top next three available players from Korea based on the Official World Golf Ranking.

Eight sponsor exemptions.

The purse was also raised this year to $9.75 million, with the winner receiving $1.755 million.

The Course

The Club at Nine Bridges has hosted this event every year in its short history. The course is situated on Jeju Island in the Korea Straits. A

tourist destination, Jeju is referred to as South Korea’s Maui, a volcanic island, with the country’s highest mountain, Mount Hallasan, at the center. The track is positioned at 3,500 feet up in the foothills of the mountain, which exposes the course to wind but also allows the ball to travel farther at altitude. By and large, Nine Bridges is an American design set in upper pineland countryside. Grasses will be very familiar to players who play mostly stateside with Bentgrass across the whole course overseeded with Kentucky Bluegrass in terms of rough. Greens are Creeping Bentgrass. It plays only at slightly higher than a 7,200-yard par-72, with

a mix of relatively short par-4s and par-5s. The wind can depress the scoring a little, as it did in 2017.

Recent History/Winners

2018: Brooks Koepka (-21/267) 10/1

2017: Justin Thomas (-9/279) 8/1*

*Playoff win over Marc Leishman

Selections

Marc Leishman 25/1

Leishman finished third last time out at the Safeway Open, shooting 67-65 on the weekend. Of course he lost in the playoff to Justin Thomas in the inaugural edition of the CJ Cup.

Tyrrell Hatton 50/1

He’s capable of going low here, as scores of 68-66 on the weekend last year indicated. Hatton is slowly regaining his form with two top-20s in his last two starts, and this is too high a price in such a small field.

Ian Poulter 60/1

He has two top-15 finishes (15th in 2017, 10th in 2018) in this event’s short history and has always played well in Asia. He has wins in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and a WGC event in China to his credit.

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