CJ Cup Preview, Picks & Analysis
SOMETHING strange happened at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. World No. 1 Brooks Koepka in his first start of the new PGA Tour season, missed the cut. It was only the second time it had happened in 12 months There is, of course, no need to panic. It wasn’t as if he had a nightmare - rounds of 70 and 71 simply weren’t good enough.
That won’t be happening as he defends the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in South Korea where, with a field of just 78, there is no halfway cut. Koepka leads a field comprising 53 PGA Tour winners, four FedExCup champions, nine major champions and eight 2019 Presidents Cup team members. Koepka and inaugural CJ Cup winner Justin Thomas will headline the field along with other stars including a slimline Phil Mickelson, a 44-time PGA TOUR winner, and 2015 FedExCup champion Jordan Spieth.
Koepka said he wasn’t too worried after missing his first cut since the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard in March. “I've worked on my wedges, trying to control yardages a lot, and they were spot on all week. And I was just a hair off putting… just kind of reverted back to some old things, but that's going to happen,” he said. “I'm not disappointed. I feel like I was very, very close. This golf course, you can shoot even par very quickly and you can shoot seven under. It's just a matter of inches.”
Korea’s lone PGA Tour showpiece, with a mouthwatering prize fund of nearly $10m, has attracted 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, Australia’s Marc Leishman, Matt Kuchar and European stars Tommy Fleetwood, Danny Willett, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell. Two other FedExCup champions, Brandt Snedeker (2012) and Billy Horschel (2014), will also be in the field for the tournament, which is the first of three successive PGA Tour events in Asia in October while recent BMW PGA Championship winner Willett will make his second appearance in Korea following a T23 finish in his debut last year.
Woodland, who finished runner-up in 2018, is looking forward to a return to Korea. “It’s a great golf course and I’m excited to get back there and get a jumpstart in a no-cut field. It’s exciting to go over there and put on a good show for the fans,” said Woodland, who claimed a popular victory at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June. It’s the start of a new season and I’ve had success there. It’s huge now with the new schedule … there are so many events before the end of the year and you’ve got to get off to a good start. It’s important to go to these events in Asia, with big money and no cuts. The fans love golf, they are golf hungry and it’s nice to get out of our norm and spread this game a little bit.”
Rookie Viktor Hovland tees it up for the first time since finishing in a tie for 10th place at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, while Koepka’s brother, Chase, is in the field on a sponsor’s exemption. They also played together at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open where the younger Koepka finished 67th. Patrick Reed, who finished ninth in the FedExCup standings last season, will make his 2019-20 PGA Tour debut after a stint in Europe.
A CJ Corporation spokesperson said: "We couldn't be more thrilled to welcome the world's best players to THE CJ CUP this year. Our team has been working tirelessly to prepare a world-class tournament and it's exciting to have a confirmed field to deliver an outstanding experience. Many superstars from the PGA Tour will be visiting Jeju for the first time and we are ready to showcase what CJ and Korea have to offer.”
Korean golf fans will also have the opportunity to watch up close eight Presidents Cup team members at THE CJ CUP. Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan, Australia’s Cameron Smith, Leishman and Matsuyama, who have qualified for the International Team, and U.S. Team members Koepka, Kuchar and Thomas have all answered their captains’ call to compete in the Asian swing as a means to keep their games sharp ahead of the Presidents Cup at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia from December 9-15, 2019.
With both captains, Ernie Els (International) and Tiger Woods (U.S.) set to announce their four captain’s picks each to round up their 12-man teams in early November, Korea’s Sungjae Im, Byeong Hun An, South Africa’s Branden Grace, Australia’s Jason Day and young Chilean Joaquin Niemann, recent winner at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, will be keen to catch Els’ attention with a strong performance. On the U.S. front, Patrick Reed, Mickelson, Snedeker, Woodland and young gun Matthew Wolff will be out to impress Woods.
Spieth had only four top-10 finishes last year, but all four came in his final 10 tournaments. He hasn’t won on tour since 2017 and is desperate to put that right soon.
Despite a sizzling 62 by Ryan Palmer in the final round last year, Koepka won by four shots. Koepka, and would go on to win twice more last season, shot an 8-under 64 in the final round. Woodland finished runner-up after a 9-under 63 to close out the championship. Woodland, who was five behind at the start of the final day, pulled even after going six-under through his first seven holes, but Koepka caught fire on the back nine and put some distance between himself and the chasing pack. An eagle on the par-five 18th saw him home in seven-under 29. Palmer ended up in a tie for third alongside Rafa Cabrera Bello.
Brooks Koepka. Who else?
Tommy Fleetwood. Looking to add a victory after a season in which he hasn’t missed a single cut
Ben An. Hugely underrated South Korean
Brooks Koepka. Obviously the man to beat
Tommy Fleetwood. Is there a more consistent golfer anywhere?
Ben An. Growing in confidence
Patrick Reed. Back to his very best
Gary Woodland. Brilliant driver of the ball
Jordan Spieth. Raring to go after a miserable season
Justin Thomas. Fit and ready to go
Marc Leishman. Just keeps grinding out top-10 finishes
Matt Kuchar. The money-making machine
Danny Willett. Enjoying a welcome resurgence. Good to see him back
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