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We move onto the 2nd leg of the PGA Tour Asia swing and a completely new addition to the Tour. The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges is being played in South Korea and features a deep 78-man field with no cut again in operation. Host course The Club at Nine Bridges is located on the holiday island of Jeju and was home to the CJ Nine Bridges Classic LPGA event between 2002-2005. With a $9.25 million purse this week, which is the biggest player fund outside of the Majors and WGCs this season, a number of players are using the CJ Cup as a convenient warm-up for the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai which is next week.
The CJ Cup field comprises 78 attendees including the top 60 available players from the closing 2017 FedEx Cup rankings, 5 PGA Tour sponsor's exemptions, the top-2 from the Asian Tour, plus of course a host of South Korean players - some familiar, some not. The course and the climate will be totally different from that we saw in Kuala Lumpur last week, with wind and temperatures way down on Malaysia.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Andalucia Valderrama Masters - you can read his preview for that event here.
Betfair Sportsbook stand out this week when it comes to offering additional places across both the CJ Cup and the Andalucía Masters. They are one of just a handful of bookmakers offering 6 places each-way at 1/5 odds in South Korea and are also offering 6 places each-way at 1/5 odds at Valderrama. Betfair have also just launched a brand new up to £100 of free bets promotion for new customers. You must be over 18, T&Cs apply:
Course Guide: A new course always provides a greater challenge for punters. The Club at Nine Bridges has ranked as the Number 1 golf course in South Korea for a number of years and has ranked in the world top 100 by a number of United States publications. The course is located at altitude on the lower slopes of Mount Halla, which is Korea's highest mountain. A prestigious and select members-only club, the countryside is described as having a real Scottish feel to it and those travelling directly from Malaysia will certainly feel a difference in conditions with 15 to 20 mph winds and temperatures only reaching the high teens Celsius. Described as an American design set in upper pineland countryside, it's going to be fascinating to see how the course plays this week.
The Club at Nine Bridges, Jeju Island, South Korea: Designer: Ronald Fream and David Dale 2001, with Dale and Wenzloff (2016) renovations; Course Type: Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,196 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 5; Fairways: Bentgrass; Rough: Bentgrass, overseeded with Kentucky Bluegrass 2"; Greens: Creeping Bentgrass; Tournament Stimp: 10.5ft.
Course Overview: The Club at Nine Bridges is located on Jeju Island, located in the Korea Straits. A tourist destination, Jeju is referred to as South Korea's Maui, a volcanic island, with Mount Halla at it's centre, which is the highest mountain in South Korea. The Nine Bridges Golf Club itself, which was built and owned by the tournament sponsors CJ Group, is positioned 3,500 ft up in the foothills of the mountain. So the course is exposed to wind, with the ball flying slightly further due to the altitude. Co-course designer describes the setting as "The Scottish Highland setting at Nine Bridges is utterly unique to Korea and Asia. Before we ever delivered design plans to our clients at Nine Bridges, I took them all to Perthshire, to Gleneagles. They made the connection immediately and that has informed our work ever since."
The course itself is made up of two distinct sets of nine holes, the Creek Course and Highland Course, and will play as a 7,196 yard, par 72 for the tournament. The opening nine, the Creek Course, features creeks, trees and stone walls. The back nine, the Highland Course, opens out featuring meadows, a lake and deeper bunkers. The course unsurprisingly as designed by California-based Golfplan has a real American feel to it, with many visitors stating that it does have a Gleneagles feel to it. For me it has slight associations with Kapalua on Maui. You can see pictures of the full course here.
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Jason Day, Pat Perez, Paul Casey, Keegan Bradley and Danny Lee.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the PGA Championship and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Jeju Island, South Korea is here. The island has had plenty of rain over the weekend and Monday so expect soft, receptive conditions. Light rain may spring up during the tournament, but the main weather feature that will affect scoring will be the wind. An exposed hillside course, north-easterly breezes gusting up to 20 mph will be a feature. Weather conditions will be pleasant enough, but temperatures will only reach a maximum of 18-19 degrees Celsius each day.
South Korea & East Asia Player Performances: With this being a rare visit to South Korea, below we've listed South Korean and East Asian player performance records for this week's inaugural CJ Cup:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bentgrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Nine Bridges with its fairly isolated position is renowned for being a very wind-affected course. North-easterly winds gusting up to 20 mph will be a factor this week and if we look at the results of the 4 LPGA events held here between 2002 and 2005 the winning scores look very different.
We can only make an educated guess around winning scores, but with relatively cold conditions and with a north-easterly wind in play, which will likely be hurting on 3 of the par-5s, personally I'm not expecting a CIMB Classic style all out, birdie-fest.
When it comes to scheduling, I've also taken a look at the last 4 years since the PGA Tour moved to the wrap-around season concept and have looked at tournament winners to see what trends, if any, there are:
2016 featured the WGC-HSBC Champions and the alternate Sanderson Farms Championship across the same week:
My selections are as follows:
You get the feeling that very un-American conditions this week may enhance the chances of those with international and Asian experience. That logically leads to the European Tour whose stars have globe-trotted for many years. On an exposed, island course with plenty of wind in play across all 4 days, I'm looking for an excellent ball-striker who can play in pretty cool, northern European conditions. Step forward Rafael Cabrera-Bello who makes plenty of sense this week. Cabrera-Bello's ability in the wind is easy to see with a CV that includes 3rd (2011), 3rd (2014) and 2nd (2016) at the Qatar Masters, 2nd at the 2015 Irish Open played at Royal County Down and of course his Scottish Open win this season which saw 10-20mph winds throughout. Indeed excellent European Tour results across Austria, France, Germany and Holland show a player who's more than adaptable. However I've been impressed with Rafael since he has become a 'world player,' plying his trade both sides of the Atlantic. The switch was made last year with RCB garnering 3rd at the Dell World Matchplay, 4th at the Houston Open, 5th at the Wyndham Championship and a starring role at the Ryder Cup. But 2017 has seen the Spaniard seemingly maturing on the world stage with 4th at The Players Championship, a much deserved win at the Rolex Series Scottish Open, a first ever Major top 5 at the Open Championship and a couple of reasonable performances in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Where many making the jump have seen their OWGR collapse, Cabrera-Bello's has improved. A PGA Tour victory really would be the icing on the cake.
Observers have linked Jeju Island and the pineland countryside that Nine Bridges sits within to Scotland and Perthshire in particular. We know that Rafael can win 'North of the Border' and his top-10 finish on the PGA Centenary Course could also be a great pointer for this week. The 33 year-old is also no stranger to Jeju and its tricky windy conditions, finishing 4th at the nearby Pinx Golf Club, behind winner Thongchai Jaidee in the 2009 Ballantine's Championship where a winning score of -4/284 was good enough for victory. 22 East Asia appearances have generated 8th at the 2013 BMW Masters, 8th at the 2014 Volvo China Open and 2nd last time Rafael visited the area at last year's Hong Kong Open at Fanling. RESULT: T11
Young Aussie sensation Cameron Smith has to be a danger this week. Equally adept at grinding or reeling off par-breakers, the 24 year-old from the Gold Coast must be full of confidence after his second top-5 finish at TPC Kuala Lumpur last week and at a course in South Korea that nobody has competitive knowledge of, his experience on the Asian Tour puts him in good stead. An excellent iron and wedge player whose experience of growing up in Australia will always mark him out as confident both in the wind and on Bentgrass putting surfaces, this course could be perfect. 2 top-10 finishes in Japan and Hong Kong highlight a player comfortable in East Asian climes and just a quick glance at his results CV shows that Smith can string together excellent finishes as a matter of course. A PGA Tour winner with Jonas Blixt at TPC Louisiana back in April, cementing a spot in the OWGR top 100 is a real possibility for the Queenslander whose putting in the last month across both the BMW Championship and CIMB Classic has been top-notch. RESULT: 3rd
Sung Kang must be looking forward to a return to his native South Korea. Buoyed by 3rd place last week at TPC Kuala Lumpur, Kang returns home where he has domestic form of 8-8-12-23-1-1. Yes domestic Korean action should be downgraded a little, but Kang won both the 2013 CJ Invitational and Korean Open in consecutive weeks and before that he finished 2nd in the 2009 Ballantine's Championship which naturally was a full European Tour tournament featuring the likes of Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Branden Grace, Graeme McDowell, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Chris Wood and winner Thongchai Jaidee. It was also played in windswept conditions, just down the road at the Pinx Golf Club. His Korean Open title is also interesting as he beat 2-time Major Champion (at the time) Rory McIlroy into second place. Kang can undoubtedly play and he's trending towards a prestigious first victory on the PGA Tour. 2017 has seen Sung-hoon finish 2nd in Houston, where he was pipped by Russell Henley and Kang was also in the heat of the battle at TPC Potomac (the other Steve Wenzloff renovation we have seen in 2017) when a rainstorm and no wet gear destroyed his momentum - he eventually finished 5th. Aaron Oberholser won the 2004 Shinhan Korean Golf Championship on a coastal course on Jeju Island and likens it to San Diego, California. So Kang's excellent top 10 finish at Riviera and his amazing round of 60 at Spyglass Hill in the 2016 AT&T Pebble Beach Invitational should be taken as positives - as should the fact that this really will be a home game for the 30 year-old as he was born on the island. RESULT: T54
One player who I think will enjoy the trip to Jeju Island is Russell Henley. Fresh off a great performance at East Lake where he finished 3rd at the Tour Championship, Henley has always been very comfortable in the wind. A University of Georgia graduate, the Georgia Bulldog always played plenty of collegiate golf on the eastern seaboard. Even today he's a member at Daniel Island Club and the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina and he lives on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, which is pretty chilly at this time of the year. So Russell is used to the elements and that can be seen across a results CV which includes a debut win by the coast in Honolulu at the Sony Open in 2013, plus a second triumph at the windswept PGA National in the 2014 Honda Classic. My first thoughts on the Nine Bridges course is that it looks very similar to Kapalua on Maui where the Tournament of Champions is played, so Henley's 3rd there on his last visit in 2015 ticks that box and results at Sea Island, home of the RSM Classic highlight a 4th (2014), 6th (2015) and 10th (2016). Being a top-level ball-striker always helps in both windy conditions and on new courses, so the fact that Russell sits 8th for both Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation in my 10-week skill tracker is also a positive. RESULT: T33
With a plethora of locals looking to capture an inaugural home PGA Tour title, there's definitely a case to be made for following the South Koreans. Kang has obvious chances, Jeunghun Wang is a classy 3-time European Tour winner who was 21st last week in Monza and Byeong Hun An, Si Woo Kim and Sang-moon Bae have all established themselves at the highest level. However the CJ Cup will undoubtedly bring pressure to the home contingent, and I like the chances of Chinese Taipai's C.T. Pan. Since he hit the Tour in his rookie season last year, I have always had him down as a grinder. The former World Amateur Number 1's first visit to the PGA Tour spotlight came at the windswept RSM Classic on Sea Island where in sometimes blustery conditions he went toe-to-toe with Billy Horschel, Camilo Villegas and eventual winner Mackenzie Hughes before slipping back to 6th. He then popped up again in San Diego at Torrey Pines, acquitting himself very well even coming down the stretch to finish 2nd to one Jon Rahm. A mid-season lull has recently seen a recovery of sorts with 8th at TPC River Highlands, 14th at Glen Abbey and last week's 17th at TPC Kuala Lumpur all coming on short tracks where the 287 yard averaging Pan has a chance to compete. So with tough conditions assured, I like the chances of the 25 year-old who grew up by the coast in Taiwan and who now bases himself out of Seattle, Washington. RESULT: T47
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