The CJ Cup Preview, Picks & Analysis
NINE members of the victorious United States Ryder Cup Team will this week challenge Jason Kokrak for his title at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas, Nevada, where they will be joined by seven members of Padraig Harrington’s vanquished European Team at The Summit Club.
Kokrak claimed his maiden PGA Tour victory when the CJ Cup was played at Shadow Creek, also in Las Vegas, after being moved from its traditional home in Korea to the United States due to the pandemic. In his 10th season and in his 233rd start, Kokrak finally made the breakthrough, matching the best round of the tournament with an 8-under 64 to overcome a three-shot deficit at the start and hold off Xander Schauffele.
“I couldn't be happier," said Kokrak, who is an ambassador for MGM Resorts, which owns the Tom Fazio-designed Shadow Creek, where last year’s tournament was played. “It feels like home. I’ve played this golf course enough that I should know it by now.”
Kokrak began to pull away with four straight birdies on the front nine, and birdie putts from 20 feet and 18 feet to start the back nine stretched his lead to two shots. But Schauffele bounced back with three straight birdies, the last one a 45-footer on the 13th to draw level with Kokrak.
But Schauffele came to grief at the par-five 16th, when he only managed to advance his shot from deep rough left of the fairway some 85 yards into more rough. Swinging with all his might, his third shot peeled off to the right into more rough well below the green, and he made his only bogey in his round of 66.
Kokrak, who was also in the left rough, hacked out to the right rough and put his third shot in the bunker. But he splashed it out to four feet and made par for a one-shot lead.
Kokrak clinched the title when he found the fairway on the par-five 18th, leaving only a short iron to 25 feet. He two-putted for another birdie and then struggled to hold back the tears.
Russell Henley, who began the final round with a three-shot lead, fell behind when he bogeyed the par-5 seventh. And his hopes of victory ended on the reachable par-four 11th when he drove over the green into thick rough and, facing a downhill chip, left it in the rough short of the green and made bogey on the second-easiest scoring hole at Shadow Creek. That put him four shots behind. He closed with a 70 and tied for third with Tyrrell Hatton, who was coming off a victory in the previous week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Hatton closed with a 65.
Kokrak played bogey-free on a course where trouble was never too far away. Justin Thomas, within five shots of the lead, had two straight bogeys on the front nine and three more in a four-hole stretch on the back for a 74. Rory McIlroy was at least headed for a good finish until he had a pair of bogeys and two double bogeys over the last five holes for a 74.
Harris English, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa, Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler and Thomas, who were members of a dominant U.S. team which defeated Europe 19-9 at Whistling Straits have committed to compete in the tournament, which returns to the U.S. due to the ongoing challenges related to the pandemic.
Johnson, who is a 24-time PGA Tour winner and 2020 FedExCup champion, became only the fifth player in Ryder Cup history to go 5-0, joining Arnold Palmer (1967), Gardner Dickinson (1967), Larry Nelson (1979) and Francesco Molinari (2018) in the elite club with a perfect winning record.
Seven members of the European Team - Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter and McIlroy - will also compete in The CJ Cup which will be played for the first time at the Summit Club’s Tom Fazio-designed golf course.
Other notable names in the field include Australian stars Jason Day and Adam Scott, who hold a combined 26 PGA Tour victories, 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland and 2018 FedExCup winner Justin Rose.
Korea’s Sungjae Im, fresh from victory at the Shriners, and Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama will spearhead Asia’s challenge and seek to deliver the region’s first winner in this event, which was launched as Korea’s lone PGA TOUR tournament in 2017. Justin Thomas won the inaugural event at Jeju Island, Korea and repeated as champion in 2019 while Brooks Koepka was victorious in 2018.
Kevin Na (No. 3) and Abraham Ancer (No. 9) are amongst 22 players from the top-30 of last season’s FedExCup standings also committed to play.
It was first played in 2017, when Justin Thomas won. It was won in 2018 by Brooks Koepka, in 2019 by Thomas again and last year by Jason Kokrak.
The Summit Course has been carved out of the desert and was designed by Tom Fazio. It features plenty of water hazards, huge bunkers and measures 7,442 yards. An interesting footnote: membership here costs a cool $200,000 a year.
Justin Thomas has shown some excellent recent form, finishing in a tie for fourth at the Northern Trust and fourth on his own at the Tour Championship as he finished the 2020-21 season in fourth place in the FedEx Cup standings. There is a perception that Dustin Johnson has struggled for form this year, but he enjoyed nine top-10 finishes and claimed a maximum five points at the Ryder Cup. He is ready to win again. Norway’s Viktor Hovland continues to go from strength to strength. The 24-year-old is a model of consistency. In 24 starts last season he missed just one cut, and reeled off one victory, two runners-up finishes and two thirds.
Justin Thomas. Looking for a hat-trick of wins
Dustin Johnson. Star of the show at Whistling Straits
Viktor Hovland. As consistent as anybody in the world
Five to Follow:
Justin Thomas. Looking for a winning start with new caddie Bones Mackay
Dustin Johnson. Ready to win again
Viktor Hovland. Has no weaknesses
Kevin Na. Feisty competitor
Xander Schauffele. Full of confidence
Three Outsiders to Watch:
Ian Poulter. Looking to bounce back from a poor Ryder Cup
Justin Rose. Showing some signs of getting back to his best
Tommy Fleetwood. Desperate for a big week
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