CJ CUP: After a couple of relatively minor events in what has been a roller-coaster of a year on the PGA Tour, the big names are back in action this week, as a limited 78-man field will divvy up $9.75 million in the CJ Cup, a tournament that has been held in South Korea for all three years of its existence but is now being staged in Las Vegas at the famous Shadow Creek Golf Course, long regarded as one of the most exclusive properties in Sin City.
Originally built by casino magnate Steve Wynn in 1989, Shadow Creek essentially functioned as a private playground for Wynn and his friends in the early years, rarely admitting new members and never allowing outside play. It’s always been known for an exorbitant maintenance budget and pristine condition– an Eden-like oasis in the middle of the desert. The course was opened to resort play a few years ago, so if you’re staying at the MGM and willing to fork over $500 green fees, you can experience it for yourself. Many of us may have different ideas on the best way to spend $500 in Vegas, however, so the television set might well be the closest we ever get to Shadow Creek.
Designed by Tom Fazio, the course measures just over 7,500 yards from the tips, but at an altitude of more than 2,000 feet, it should play rather short by Tour standards. I say “should” because this is the first time the PGA Tour has ever stopped at Shadow Creek, so unless you watched the made-for-TV match between Tiger and Phil a couple of years ago, this week will likely be your first time seeing the course. And given that it will be new to most of the field as well, we may see some unexpected results.
As mentioned, the field is stout, with Jon Rahm (10.0), Justin Thomas (12.5), and Rory McIlroy (13.5) heading BETDAQ’s Win Market. Dustin Johnson had to withdraw after testing positive for COVID on Tuesday, and Tony Finau won’t play for the same reason, but those look like the only unexpected absences, so there’s plenty of red meat for us to choose from this week. We nearly struck gold at last week’s Shriners Open, but Matthew Wolff, tipped at 23.0, fell short in a playoff. I’m tempted to get right back on the horse with Wolff– the guy is just hitting it so good right now– but after giving it some thought, I’ve decided to go with these three instead:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Patrick Cantlay (25.0)- After a 6-week stretch over the summer that was disappointing by his standards, Cantlay has found his form again, logging top-15s in two of his past three starts and looking especially sharp at the Shriners last week, where he opened with 63-65-65 and finished T8 despite a disappointing final round. Though it’s a bit of a crapshoot since no one in the field has ever played the course in competition, Shadow Creek seems like it should fit Cantlay nicely– it’s not particularly long, it obviously has West Coast/desert stylings (Cantlay traditionally does his best work out West), and the greens are bentgrass, his favorite surface. Coming off a big week across town at TPC Summerlin, Cantlay seems well-positioned to take advantage of another week in Sin City, making him a nice value at a price like 25.0.
Joaquin Niemann (46.0)- It’s been an unusual year for Niemann– just over 12 months ago he picked up his first PGA Tour win at the Greenbrier, and he followed that up with two top-15s over his next 5 starts. But then he hit a rough patch, missing six cuts over the summer and finding the top-10 just once. Over the last six weeks, however, he’s quietly turned it around, finishing 3rd at the BMW Championship, 23rd at the U.S. Open despite a Sunday 77, and 13th at the Shriners last week, where he shot 68 or better in all four rounds to post 17-under. Given his current trajectory and his tee-to-green brilliance, Niemann is a fairly safe bet to contend this week, and if he putts as well as he did at Summerlin last week, he’s got a great chance to win. He’s worth serious consideration at better than 40/1.
Sebastian Munoz (92.0)- Though he’s not yet a household name, Munoz has made a mark on the PGA Tour over the past couple of years, finding the top-10 five times last season alone and picking up his first career victory at the 2019 Sanderson Farms Championship. He’s been playing exceptionally well since August, making seven consecutive cuts and logging four top-25s in that span (and a pair of top-10s), and he was solid at the Shriners last week, breaking 70 in all four rounds and finishing 27th. Like the rest of the field, it remains to be seen whether Shadow Creek is a good fit for Munoz, but his game is extremely well-rounded– last season he finished 34th in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green, 31st in Scrambling, and 36th in total putting. If he has a weakness, it’s not readily apparent. As longshots go, Munoz is a live one this week.