The CJ Cup moves from Korea to Las Vegas for this year's edition and Steve Rawlings fancies the in-form favourite Dustin Johnson ahead of Thursday's start...
"At 10/1 with seven places up for grabs, it’s very hard to knock Dustin Johnson’s credentials as the proverbial each-way chance to nothing with the Sportsbook. Provided he’s motivated from the off and he’s held his form OK, it’s very hard to see him not placing at least."
The first three editions of the CJ Cup were played at the Nine Bridges Golf Club on Jeju Island in South Korea but due to the pandemic, this year's edition will be staged at the Shadow Creek Golf Course in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
The CJ Cup is a restricted field event with only 78 starters and no halfway cut.
Shadow Creek Golf Course, North Las Vegas, Nevada
Par 72, 7,527 yards
The Shadow Creek Golf Course was designed by Tom Fazio in 1989 but it underwent a whole-scale renovation as recently as 2008.
Apart from the bentgrass grass greens, which are of an average size and set to run at 12 on the stimpmeter this week, the entire course is Bermuda, overseeded with rye. Water comes into play on eight holes, with hazards including a selection of ponds, as well as a creek which criss-crosses the course.
Shadow Creek is not a typical desert track despite its Vegas setting. A huge number of trees were imported to give it a unique look and it's certainly easy on the eye.
Shadow Creek was the venue for The Match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in November 2018 but that's all we have to go on.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 22:00 on Thursday. Featured Group coverage begins at 17:45.
First Three Tournament Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Justin Thomas -20 9.08/1
2018 - Brooks Koepka -21 13.012/1
2017 - Justin Thomas -9 9.617/2
What Will it Take to Win the CJ Cup?
I barely watched the Woods - Mickelson money match but I do remember thinking how fabulous the course looked and how many trees there were. Looking at various videos and flyovers, it looks as though trouble can be found off the tee and, with the Bermuda rough cut to four inches, finding fairways may be key come the end of the week.
It's unwise to give too much credence to anything given how little we know about the venue but I don't think anyone will prosper here if they just indiscriminately bomb it off the tee with a degree of disregard as to where it lands.
Is There an Angle In?
With so little to go on, form at Tom Fazio designed tracks and redesigns may be our best angle in. Only a handful of courses designed by Fazio have been used on the PGA Tour. They include the Corales Course, the host venue for the recent Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, Conway Farms, which hosted the BMW Championship in 2013, 2015 and 2017, and Eagle Point, the host venue for the Wells Fargo Championship in 2017. Going back even further there was also Atunyote Golf Course, which hosted the now defunct Turning Stone Resort Championship between 2007 and 2010, and Grayhawk Golf Club's Raptor Course in Scottsdale, Arizona, which hosted the Frys.com (now the Safeway Open).
Fazio has reworked plenty of famous tracks and they include Augusta National, home of the US Masters, Quail Hollow, the Wells Fargo Championship's venue, the Seaside Course at Sea Island, which hosts the RSM Classic and Riviera Country Club, home of the Genesis Invitational.
In addition to Augusta and Quail Hollow, Fazio has also worked on a number of recent major venues. He extensively renovated Oakmont prior to the 2007 US Open (also staged the 2016) and he's also been involved in reworks at the East Course at Oak Hill (home of the 2013 US PGA Championship), Winged Foot (last month's US Open), Merion (2013 US Open) and Pinehurst No2 (2014 US Open).
It's a little tricky to establish how much influence he's had on some of the reworks as he often worked alongside his uncle, George, but he's definitely had a heavy hand in changes to Augusta, Oakmont and Quail Hollow.
With a consistent week - weather wise - and a small field, a draw bias looks highly unlikely but we could witness some in-play drama.
Shadow Creek has an interesting par five-par three-par five finish so we could witness a fairly wide range of closing scores.
With form figures reading 2-1-2-1, Dustin Johnson went into last month's US Open as a warm favourite before an opening round 73 left him languishing in a tie for 71st. It looked like the run of red-hot form had caught up with him but to his credit, he battled back all week and eventually finished sixth.
The little break since may well have done him good and the venue suits him nicely (he holds the Shadow Creek redesign course record of 66). The first of DJ's 23 PGA Tour wins came a dozen years ago in the Turning Stone Resort Championship at a Fazio track and the world number one deserves to head the market.
Jon Rahm is another player who was in red-hot form before the US Open and the break will have done him good too. He beat DJ in a playoff at the BMW Championship at the end of August and that win was sandwiched by a sixth in The Northern trust and a fourth at the Tour Championship.
In contrast to Johnson, Rahm started nicely at Winged Foot but finished poorly and although he has to be respected, given he doesn't have the fillip of the Tom Fazio course form, he looks short in comparison to Johnson at just half a point bigger.
Justin Thomas may have won the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational in early August, finished second at the Tour Championship a month ago and led the US Open last time out after the opening round but he's still not playing anywhere near up to his best golf.
The win at TPC Southwind, the second at East Lake and the great start at Winged Foot are all testimony to his grit and determination. His fortitude may well see him return in better form than we saw him in when slipping to eighth place (beaten by 12) in the US Open.
The defending champ won the US PGA Championship at the Fazio re-worked Quail Hollow and I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see him win the title for a third time in four years. But if his form hasn't improved more than marginally, it's going to be one hell of a struggle.
Rory McIlroy loves Quail Hollow and, if I'm right about the importance of driving, with his long game, that's another plus - although he's said to be trialling a new driver this week. He lost his way in the US Open last time out to finish alongside Thomas at Winged Foot but a tie for eighth there was still his best finish since the restart. Other than the odd glimpse, we haven't seen the real Rory since the spring and I'm more than happy to swerve him here.
Xander Schauffele continues to play consistently good golf but he's rarely a value price and he certainly doesn't appear to be one this week. He shot the lowest score of the week at the Tour Championship a month ago so he's a recent winner of sorts but he hasn't actually lifted a trophy in 22 months.
I've backed Dustin Johnson on the Exchange at 12.011/1. For the more cautious, however, given he's finished inside the top six places in each of his last five starts (all majors and FedEx Cup Playoff events), at 10/1 with seven places up for grabs, it's very hard to knock DJ's credentials as the proverbial each-way chance to nothing with the Sportsbook. Provided he's motivated from the off and he's held his form OK, it's very hard to see him not placing at least.
Having finished second at the US Open and second at the Shriners on Sunday, it's impossible to pick holes in Matthew Wolff's current form and I was more than happy to play him at 26.025/1. He's just started to shorten up on the Exchange but anything north of 22.021/1 looks reasonable given his blistering current form and his no fear approach to the game.
Finally, the one player who kept springing up when looking at Fazio tracks and Fazio redesigns was Jason Day so I've thrown a few pounds his way at 90.089/1.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
Dustin Johnson @ 12.011/1
Matthew Wolff @ 26.025/1
Jason Day @ 90.089/1
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