Usually at this time of year the PGA Tour would be heading over to Asia for the CJ Cup but with the restrictions that are in place in the world that tournament is taking place in Las Vegas this year as the best of the PGA Tour head to the desert for what should be a good week of golf.
Justin Thomas won this title last year and he’ll be defending in Las Vegas and will be looking to fight off a very strong field as the countdown to The Masters starts to begin. Thomas also tees it up for the first time since the US Open which is significant.
2019 – Justin Thomas
2018 – Brooks Koepka
2017 – Justin Thomas
We are at the Shadow Creek Golf Course in the northern part of Las Vegas this week. The course hosts a PGA Tour event for the first time but it was used for ‘The Match’ between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods a couple of years ago. The course is a par 72 which plays to a yardage of 7,527 yards but don’t forget we are at altitude for the second time in succession so the course isn’t going to play that long with the ball whizzing through the air.
There is an emphasis on hitting finding the fairways this week, as there should be, with the primary rough said to be four inches long. In firm and fast conditions that is likely to be significant as the course was designed by Tom Fazio with most of his best work involving a lot of course strategy. There is no cut in this tournament so all the players in the field will play four rounds so scoring should be good.
We lost the world number one Dustin Johnson earlier in the week when he returned a positive Covid-19 test so he is out of the event but there are a number of stars very much in it including the former champion Brooks Koepka who returns from injury this week. Defending champion Justin Thomas is also in the field as are European heavyweights Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy. The BMW PGA Championship winner Tyrrell Hatton has flown from Wentworth to Vegas to compete.
US PGA champion Collin Morikawa is in the field this week are is the man with a good record in the other Vegas tournament in Patrick Cantlay while Hideki Matsuyama will be eyeing up a win in the tournament despite it not being in Asia. Matthew Wolff, Tommy Fleetwood, Daniel Berger, Viktor Hovland, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Sungjae Im are just some of the other players teeing it up in this guaranteed four round hit.
Jon Rahm is the 17/2 favourite to land the first Shadow Creek title this week. He is appearing for the first time since the US Open so he will be nice and fresh but he wasn’t at his best at Winged Foot so it will be interesting to see if the confidence of the former world number one has been dented. Whether it has or it hasn’t I’m not really in a rush to be backing him at such a short price in a field that is absolutely loaded with quality, even allowing for how good he is right now.
Justin Thomas is the 10/1 second favourite to defend his title this week. Like Rahm, Thomas tees it up for the first time since the US Open so he’ll be very fresh as he looks to begin his preparation for The Masters next month. I think of all the top players Thomas has the best course strategy. The other leading lights in the main are whack it, find it and hit it again really. Thomas thinks his way around the course better than that but his price is pretty tight it must be said.
Xander Schauffele is a big time player and he is alongside Rory McIlroy as the third favourites to win here. Both men tee it up for the first time since the US Open and it will be interesting to see how they go about their business. On the face of it both should go pretty well here although Schauffele hasn’t been right at the top of his game for a while. McIlroy has been very hit and miss since lockdown but with Augusta looming large on the horizon it would be no surprise to see him slip into decent enough form.
The only other man in the field who is shorter than 20/1 is the man who was beaten in a play-off at TPC Summerlin last week in Matthew Wolff. The big thing for him there was how well he putted because that clearly held him back at both the USPGA Championship and the US Open. We know all about the long game skills of Wolff so if the putter stays hot for another week there is no reason why he can’t justify the 18/1 quotes next to his name. It is 22/1 bar those five.
Viktor Hovland has turned himself into a tee to green beast and with ball striking a real requirement this week I fancy the Norwegian can have a big week here. Important for someone so relatively new to the PGA Tour, he suffers no inexperience disadvantage because nobody has played this course in a competitive environment but the man who sat safely inside the top 25 for ball striking on the entire tour last year will be gaining strokes on the field with his impressive long game. Often what catches Hovland out is the short stick but nobody has any experience of these greens either so that will play into his hands. This will be his first start since the US Open where he was third in fairways and greens at Winged Foot. He ended last season in good nick and looks a solid bet this week.
When it comes to ball striking we can’t forget the absolute clinic that Sergio Garcia put on a couple of weeks ago when he won the Sanderson Farms Championship. Some of his iron play in that final round was up there with the best we’ve seen in quite some time and he backed it up with another solid effort last week. Garcia is clearly hitting the ball well and he has plenty of form in the Carolinas’ tournaments which it is said could be crucial here. Sergio won’t be disadvantaged on the greens this week and there is talk that the sights and playability of this track mirrors Augusta a little. He has already won there too so with the form he’s in I can’t ignore a little punt on Sergio either.
Kevin Na might take as long to hit the ball as he would to fly to Korea where this tournament should be played but the Las Vegas resident shouldn’t be written off out of hand. That isn’t to say he’ll have played this course very often as this is about as exclusive as it gets (a limo ride is included in the green fee which isn’t your average casino chip size it is fair to say), but what he will have plenty of experience in is the altitude and the desert and for that reason he has a decent record in the Shriners having won that event twice. He wasn’t out of contention in it last week but made a mess of the final round. Na has plenty of form in all the correlating tournaments to make me think that the home man can give us a decent run at 100s safe in the knowledge that he is very good with the long clubs.
Nobody was better for ball striking last season than Corey Conners and given that this is only the fifth week of the new season and so many in the field have only played in the US Open since then I think that statistic and form guide still carries a bit of weight. From tee to green he is quite splendid and while the Canadian usually comes unstuck on the greens, as I eluded to with Hovland, nobody has much experience of these greens so that disadvantage isn’t really there this week. Given that he’ll be gaining ground on the field off the tee and into the greens, I’ll pay to see if that translates into a big finish.
We saw a monster price win the Shriners last week and while I don’t expect to see one land the goods here I will just pay to see how well Andrew Landry fares. He shot 14 under at the Shriners which was only good enough for T27 but he shot those in his first three rounds when he was much closer to the lead. Landry has some good form at the CareerBuilder/American Express which although isn’t in the desert in California the air is still pretty dry there and he has had a couple of good spins around Sedgefield. He is rarely wayward off the tee or into the greens and if his putter stays hot for four rounds this two-time winner on the PGA Tour could be a massive price.
Back V.Hovland to win CJ Cup (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 31.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-7)
Back C.Conners to win CJ Cup (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-7)
Back K.Na to win CJ Cup (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-7)
Back him here:
Back A.Landry to win CJ Cup (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 301.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-7)
Back him here:
Back S.Garcia to win CJ Cup (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-7)