THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES
Winner's Share: $1.665M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Jeju Island, South Korea
Course: The Club at Nine Bridges
2016 champion: New event
The second stop on the three-pronged Asian Swing takes us to South Korea for the first time in the history of the PGA Tour with a brand new event on the calendar: the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges. It features an elite, 78-man field, lured in part because it awards the largest purse on Tour outside of majors/WGCs. The tournament will introduce the world to one of the best courses on the planet. The Club at Nine Bridges has consistently landed on various lists ranking the top 100 courses in the world (No. 41 at golf.com, for instance).
Nine Bridges is built on Jeju Island some 3,500 feet above sea level, and we surely will see plenty of Mount Halla, Korea's tallest mountain that's home to a now dormant volcano that formed the island. By all accounts it is a visually stunning course, referred to by Golf Digest as the "Taj Mahal of Golf." At under 7,200 yards, the track is short, with seven of the 10 par-4s at under 425 yards. Two of them are drivable at 353 yards, as might a third. Right off the bat we might see some drama, as No. 1 is 394 yards but downhill the entire way. The closing hole also potentially offers some real excitement as a par-5 568-yarder culminating on an island green -- and wait until you see what this looks like. From an aerial shot, the green looks at once gorgeous and diabolical. It's actually one of two island greens, along with the par-4, 471-yard 10th.
The course features many trees and thus has been compared to a stateside parkland course. You may read stories explaining what type of golfer is well-suited for Nine Bridges. Candidly, nobody knows. We haven't seen the course and we haven't seen how the professionals play it. We do know that there is a lot of sand and water and that the greens are bentgrass and well-protected by many and often-deep bunkers. When little is known about a course, we look at ball strikers -- succinctly, who's best at getting from Point A to Point B. We'll expand on that in the Champion's Profile below. The course could be familiar to older diehard golf fans who may recall it hosted an LPGA event for four years shortly after opening in 2001. More recently, we did see golf elsewhere in South Korea when the country hosted the 2015 Presidents Cup.
The field is made up of the top-60 available golfers from last season's top-125, then mostly golfers from the Korean and Asian tours. It's a strong field, with 10 of the top-30 in the OWGR on hand, led by Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Paul Casey and Patrick Reed. The Korean contingent includes K.J. Choi, Sangmoon Bae, Seung-Yul Noh, Sung Kang and Byeong-Hun An. The biggest absentee surely is Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, Asia's biggest star who surely had been heavily targeted by tournament organizers. But it's a smart, long-range move by Matsuyama, who played a very busy autumn season last year.
Weather-wise, conditions will be nothing like what we saw last week in hot and steamy Malaysia, which is some 3,000 miles away from Jeju Island. Instead, golfers will enjoy comfortable temperatures in the 60s with a little chance of rain but with rather windy conditions forecast for all four days. The wind and the high elevation definitely will take some getting used to for the golfers.
Lastly, for those wondering what "nine bridges" means, the course actually consists of eight wooden walking bridges, some that will be traveled by the golfers, with the ninth a metaphorical one linking the club with the golfers who play there.
Key Stats to Winning at Nine Bridges (in order of importance)
• Ball striking/strokes gained tee to green, with a focus on greens in regulation
• Strokes gained around the green (scrambling, sand saves)
• Putting average/strokes gained putting
As mentioned above, we don't know a whole lot about Nine Bridges. We are focusing on good ball strikers -- especially with strong wind expected throughout the tournament. Greens in regulation should be key. But there is plenty of peril (sand/water) around the greens, so a deft short game is important, too. With so many unknowns, you can only go so wrong with adding a great putter or two to your lineup.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Paul Casey - $11,600 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 10-1)
Even when Casey shoots 77 -- as he did in the first round last week in Malaysia -- he turns in a good finish. Casey tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic by shooting 19-under par over the final three rounds. This is a large price to pay for someone who never wins, and we're not saying Casey will win, just that he's usually a smart fantasy play. He was third in both ball striking and GIR on Tour last season.
Tony Finau - $10,200 (20-1)
Finau is another guy who doesn't win, and that's because of his putter. He was T18 in ball striking last season and 17th in GIR. He was runner-up at the season-opening Safeway, where he impressively was 16th in putting average.
Tier 2 Values
Marc Leishman - $9,900 (20-1)
Leishman was as hot as any player going at the end of last season. His season-long ball striking wasn't elite in 2016-17 (T57), but it was far better in the playoffs. Leishman also has remarkable touch on and around the greens for such a big man. This is his 2017-18 debut.
Keegan Bradley - $9,100 (30-1)
Bradley is coming off his best showing in 3.5 years, finishing runner-up at the CIMB Classic. The difference? He was 25th in the field in putting average. Now, 25th out of 78 is far from great, but in combination with his elite ball striking (fifth on Tour last season), it's a huge difference-maker. The courses in Asia don't tend to have treacherous greens, further enhancing Bradley's chances this week.
Russell Henley - $8,800 (40-1)
When we last saw Henley, he was tying for third in the Tour Championship. He was 14th on Tour last season in ball striking, 30th in GIR and 25th in strokes gained putting. Henley is a decent wind player, having won the Honda a few years back.
Tier 3 Values
Chez Reavie - $7,900 (40-1)
Reavie had the best season of his career in 2016-17 and has not missed a beat to start this season -- he has a pair of top-20s. He's third in ball striking through eight rounds and 17th in GIR. His scrambling has been off so far, but he finished last season 13th on Tour.
Lucas Glover - $7,800 (50-1)
The tee-to-green stalwart followed a T30 to open the season at the Safeway with a T7 in Malaysia. Another guy usually torpedoed by his putter, Glover was 27th in the CIMB field in putting average. He was second on Tour last season in ball striking and is fifth so far in 2017-18. And even though it's early, Glover is first in strokes gained around the green.
Graham DeLaet - $7,500 (60-1)
DeLaet was sixth last season in ball striking and 22nd in GIR. He had a solid season debut, tying for fifth at the Safeway before stumbling to a T54 in Malaysia last week, when he opened with a 77.
Ian Poulter - $7,500 (50-1)
Poulter for years has been among the most global of golfers. His strength is his short game -- first in scrambling last season, third in strokes gained around the green, 11th in sand saves. Poulter's biggest weakness is off the tee, but that shouldn't be a deal-breaker on a short par-72 course.
Kyle Stanley - $7,200 (60-1)
Mr. Straight-As-An-Arrow opened the season in predictable fashion: a tie for 21st at the CIMB Classic after finishing fifth in the field in GIR. He led the Tour in ball striking last season en route to his first appearance in the Tour Championship. In a lot of ways, his game is similar to Bradley's -- only he's even better tee-to-green while this week being almost $2,000 cheaper.
Seung-Yul Noh - $7,100 (100-1)
If Noh can temper his emotions about playing in the first PGA Tour event in his native South Korea, he stands a good chance of being the top Korean on the leaderboard. He'll certainly have the gallery on his side. Noh has a terrific short game, finishing sixth on Tour last season in strokes gained around the green and fourth in sand saves.
Adam Hadwin - $7,000 (80-1)
Hadwin did not have a great week in Malaysia with a tie for 51st. Curiously, his normally stout putting game was way off, as he ranked 65th in the 78-man field. But he was 16th in GIR. In long-shot picks, you'll rarely get the perfect golfer for the course, but Hadwin is a great putter (18th on Tour last season in strokes gained putting) and was seventh in sand saves. For a guy who's not among the best at GIR, good sand play should serve him well this week.