CJ CUP: Two weeks in Las Vegas in enough to get most folks in trouble, but since we’ve yet to hear any reports of PGA Tour players in the Clark County jail or having to pawn off clubs, trophies and the like, we can assume that the Tour’s decision to hold back-to-back tournaments in Vegas has gone smoothly so far. It’s certainly been a pleasant stay for Sungjae Im, who won last week’s Shriners Children’s Open and now has an extra $1.26 million to take to the tables, and there’s even more money at stake in this week’s CJ Cup, so Im and the rest of the guys in the 78-man field will attempt to focus on golf for the next four days– a task easier said than done in the world’s largest adult playground.
This is the second consecutive year that the CJ Cup has been held in Vegas after three years in South Korea, though the venue has changed– Steve Wynn’s Shadow Creek is out, and Summit Club, an exclusive private course built in the hills outside of town in 2017, is in. Both courses were designed by Tom Fazio, so there are bound to be some stylistic similarities, though the Summit Club is said to be more elevated and also a bit shorter, with a couple of drivable par-4s and four par-5s that will be reachable in two for most of the field. There has never been a professional event held on this course, so we’re a little in the dark as to what to expect, but given what we know– generous fairways, slightly larger than average greens, and pristine condition– a birdie-fest seems likely. It’s taken 20-under or better to win this event in each of the past three years, and we’re likely to have another winning score in that range.
There is no cut this week and only 78 players will be teeing it up, but the field is absolutely stacked, with 12 of the top 15 in the latest World Golf Rankings in attendance. Dustin Johnson heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 14.0 and four others are currently trading at 20/1 or shorter, so it’s crowded at the top of the market, but as is the case with any elite field, there are some world-class players with bigger prices next to their names, and the unpredictability that comes with a new venue could be reason enough to throw some darts at some of the longer-odds options this week. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Collin Morikawa (18.0)- Of the top-of-the-market choices I like Morikawa, who is a member at Summit Club and holds the course record with a 62. As far as I’m concerned, that factoid right there is enough to throw some money his way this week, especially since we’re sort of flying in the dark here both in terms of the course and with the recent form of some of these guys, many of whom, like Morikawa, haven’t teed it up in a stroke play event in six weeks. We did see Morikawa at the Ryder Cup, however, and he was certainly in fine form at Whistling Straits, earning 3.5 points for the U.S. and clinching the Cup with his singles victory over Viktor Hovland. It would be a shocker if he wasn’t in contention this week, and if he catches a little heat with the putter he’ll probably win (related- as a member, he surely knows the greens extremely well).
Maverick McNealy (80.0)- Since we’re dealing with a new venue, why not take our chances with another Summit Club member? McNealy is a California native who moved to Vegas and joined Summit Club shortly after turning pro, and though the official course record is Collin Morikawa’s 62, I found a recent SI article that claims McNealy has bested that with a 61. But the more important numbers are the ones he’s been posting lately: McNealy is 22-under in the six rounds he’s played in this new season, so he’s been in birdie-making mode, for sure. Now, you may observe that playing six rounds as opposed to eight means he’s missed a cut, and you’d be correct– he missed out on the weekend at the Shriners despite posting a two-day total of 4-under. He also finished runner-up at the Fortinet Championship in his previous start, so if that type of form concerns you– runner-up one week, MC at 4-under the next– then maybe you should look elsewhere this week. As for me, I’m happy to take my chances with McNealy at a price like 80.0.
Talor Gooch (100.0)- Gooch has yet to win on the PGA Tour, but with the way he’s been playing lately it’s only a matter of time. The Oklahoma native has been blazing hot to start this new season, shooting a combined 31-under in his past two starts, a T4 at the Fortinet Championship and a T11 at last week’s Shriners Children’s Open. The stats over those two weeks have been almost otherworldly, as he’s ranked 4th in strokes gained tee-to-green and 3rd in strokes gained around the green, meaning that as great as his ball-striking has been, his short game has been even better. He’ll look to keep the birdie train going at Summit Club, and he played well in this event last year, finishing 5th across town at Shadow Creek, so there’s a certain comfort level with the field, the format, and with playing golf in Vegas (T11 last week). Gooch is a terrific value here as a triple-digit longshot.