CJ Cup at Nine Bridges Preview, Picks & Analysis
A STELLAR field assembles in South Korea for the $9.5m CJ Cup at Nine Bridges, where Justin Thomas will be defending his title. It is only the second staging of the tournament and features an elite field of 78, with no halfway cut.
Thomas won in sensational style 12 months ago, when he defeated Australia’s Marc Leishman in a playoff after opening the tournament with a glorious round of 63. It was one of three victories Thomas enjoyed in a season during which he also became world No1. He also won the Honda Classic and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and was one of the few successes in America’s Ryder Cup team. He has already won nine PGA Tour titles at the age of 25.
Unsurprisingly, he can’t wait to defend his title. “It’ll be fun to return to the CJ Cup. Any time you go back to defend a title, it’s always good. I’ve got good memories from my win there last year and hopefully I can create new memories,” he said. "The tournament was awesome. The first time you go out to play in a new event, you sometimes don’t know what you’re going to get but they treated us like rock stars. The golf course was great and the greens were perfect. With the conditions that we got over the four days, it was a really good test of golf. From the fans to the media, there was tremendous support and a lot of people came out to watch the event. The game is growing immensely around the world especially in Korea and you can definitely tell with the number of people who got out there to watch us play.”
Brooks Koepka is also in the field after completing a season he will never forget. He miss much of it because of a wrist injury but returned to action in sensational fashion. He made a successful defence of his US Open title, which would have represented a great season. But he then added the US PGA Championship with a record-equalling 16-under-par total of 264. Koepka didn’t play in this tournament last year and is looking forward to making his debut.
“A lot of the players who played last year told me how much they enjoyed the tournament and spoke about how well it was run, so I’m really looking forward to playing the CJ Cup,”he said. “It has been a phenomenal year and my wins at the US Open and PGA Championship are certainly the highlights. Hopefully, I will continue this good form and give the Korean fans something to enjoy. I am excited to make my first visit to Korea and I plan to take in some of the many attractions that Jeju island has to offer.”
Jason Day will be looking to kick on after finally returning to form in 2018, when he won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines - his first victory in 18 months - and then added the Wells Fargo Championship. Day has had a tough time coping with his mother’s long-term illness but the good news is that she is doing well, allowing the Australian to once again focus on doing what he does best. Day is one of the most frustrating golfers on the planet, taking an age to commit himself to shots. But it is usually worth the wait. He is a former world No1 and is determined to get back to the top of the rankings again.
Day will be delighted that Kevin Na has confirmed his participation because it means there is somebody in the field who is slower than he is. It is to be hoped that the organisers do not decide it might be a good idea to pair them together - if they do, the chances are that the tournament will not be completed in four days! Na is the first to admit that he has had real problems when it comes to pulling the trigger but the bottom line is that he is a world-class golfer. There have been times when he has infuriated spectators and fellow players alike because of the agony he seems to go through at times. But he won again in 2018 and has a new-found confidence.
Speaking of confidence, Ian Poulter will arrive in South Korea fresh from his exploits at the Ryder Cup. Less than 18 months ago Poulter faced an uncertain future. His world ranking had plummeted as a result of being sidelined because of an ankle injury and his continued participation on the PGA Tour was hanging by a thread. But Poulter is a cussed character and had made up his mind that there was no way that he was going to heading back to qualifying school or having to depend on sponsors’ invitations. He did what he had to do to retain his playing privileges in 2017 and, lo and behold, finally won again on the PGA Tour this year. He has played some brilliant golf on both sides of the Atlantic and defied the odds at the Ryder Cup when he saw off Dustin Johnson in the singles as he played his part in helping Europe regain the trophy.
It will also be interesting to see whether Adam Scott is able to continue the promising return to form he showed towards the end of the 2017-18 season. The Australian’s slump has been one of the great mysteries of recent times. Nobody swing s golf club better than the former Masters champion but he has spent a couple of years in the wilderness, tumbling down the world rankings, seemingly in freefall. He had always struggled on the greens and when the broom handle and belly putter was outlawed it had a a huge impact on a number of players, including Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley. But nobody suffered more than Scott. However, as his form from tee to green began to recover in the autumn so he seemed to find a way to get the ball in the hole. There would be no more popular winner among his peers than the tall Aussie.
Of course, the local fans would love nothing more than to see one of their own win, and there is a realistic chance that could happen. South Korea has dominated the women’s game for a number of years, and there are signs that their male counterparts could be ready to do the same thing. Among those trying to prevent one of the established PGA Tour stars from walking away with another big cheque are Is Woo Kim and Ben An, who have already proved they can hold their own against the very best.
Justin Thomas. Who else?
Ian Poulter. Confidence is sky high
Brooks Koepka. Can bring any course to its knees
Justin Thomas. Enough said.
Ian Poulter. On the crest of a wave
Brooks Koepka. Keen to prove he doesn’t just win majors!
Kevin Na. Everybody’s favourite Marmite golfer
Jason Day. Back to his best
Gary Woodland. Really should win a lot more often than he does
Ben An. Desperate to give home fans something to cheer
Jason Dufner. Come on Jason, give us a smile. PLEASE
Adam Scott. Back somewhere close to his best
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