One of the big, long running topics in golf over the last few years is the idea that the PGA, European and other tours around the world will eventually merge to form a global tour. The PGA Tour has certainly been increasing its reach lately and now has a fully fledged Asian Swing which begins with this weeks’ CJ Cup.
Tommy Fleetwood and Danny Willett have played more golf in the Far East than many of their competitors in the CJ Cup. They are used to playing out of a suitcase in countries all around the world thanks to their exploits on the European Tour and both have a very good chance of ending the American dominance of this tournament.
Nine Bridges Golf Course was an instant hit when the CJ Cup was first held in 2017. Some of the more local players in the field already knew of the venue because it has a reputation as one of the most exclusive golf clubs in South Korea. Many of those who had never heard of it before could be forgiven for thinking they were playing in America.
The different grasses used throughout the course – including Kentucky Bluegrass and Bentgrass – are found at courses across the USA whilst the water hazards and trees around the property have an American look to them. The bigger hitters who regularly thrive on the PGA Tour also find they enjoy themselves at Nine Bridges as the venue is set at altitude which allows the ball to travel further through the air, effectively cutting down the yardage of the par 72 from the official 7,241 yards.
|Nine Bridges Golf Club||Jeju Island, South Korea||7,196 Yards||$9,500,000|
The CJ Cup includes players from the Asian Tour and the Korean Tour but the bulk of those in the field are PGA Tour regulars. Therefore, there is a very strong American contingent at the 2019 CJ Cup, each of whom are looking to follow in the footsteps of their fellow countrymen Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas. The big-hitting, major champions are the two men to have won this tournament which shows just how much of a home away from home Nine Bridges is to PGA Tour stars.
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2018||Brooks Koepka||-21||4 Strokes|
Analysis: Another Low Winning Score In Prospect
The two previous renewals of the CJ Cup are enough to pretty confidently come to the conclusion that conditions have a major impact on scoring at Nine Bridges. Justin Thomas was able to make the most of ideal golfing conditions on the first day of the 2017 tournament but then had to cling on as the weather took a turn for the worse over the following three days of play. Last year, Brooks Koepka similarly took his chances when the weather was ideal for golf.
There is little in the weather forecast this week to really worry the players. The slight bit of rain scheduled to fall may actually make the course even more scoreable as the greens become more receptive. Therefore, make sure to support players who have the skill and mental fortitude to hack the required pace to win this tournament.
Time for Fleetwood to Bag His Maiden PGA Tour Title
The names towards the top of the betting for the CJ Cup mark this out as a high quality tournament. Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka will rightly get a huge amount of support in the betting as will the likes of Rafael Cabrera Bello and Gary Woodland who have played well at this course before. The man who really catches the eye at 20/1 with BetVictor, however, is Tommy Fleetwood.
Fleetwood is the sort of golfer who would have no trouble thriving on a global tour. He knows what it is like to struggle on the European Tour, what it takes to contend in the biggest tournaments in golf and how to manage yourself to play world class golf in vastly different settings. Fleetwood is already a global golfer so it would be quite fitting for him to win his maiden PGA Tour title away from America.
His game is also a very good match for Nine Bridges. Fleetwood has ample power to take on some of the risk/reward holes including a couple of drivable par fours. He is also a sufficiently high class ball striker to plot his way around the tighter holes on the layout. After a couple of weeks off, a refreshed Fleetwood is a real danger at a tempting price.
Willett Chomping at the Bit
Some American golf fans may be unaware that Danny Willett is back. Everybody with an interest in the sport knows that Willett lost his game badly after his win at the Masters but some have missed the amount of hard work that he’s put in with his coach, Sean Foley, over the last couple of years. Some have even missed the fact that Willett has won two huge European Tour events – the DP World Tour Championship and the PGA Championship – since donning the green jacket.
Those who have missed out Willett’s return to form will be surprised to see him as short as 33/1 with Coral. In truth, that is a more than fair price about Willett’s chances in this event. He finished a credible 23rd on his debut at Nine Bridges and returns with his game in much better shape so an each way bet is very much in order.
Final Verdict: Tommy Fleetwood to Win
It’s been a bit of a strange year for Tommy Fleetwood. He would be delighted with his 2019 were it to follow any year but 2018. Despite some excellent results, his lack of wins is bordering on the disappointing which is crazy given where he was just a few short years ago. A major championship is the ultimate goal for Fleetwood but a PGA Tour win is also a very big target, one that he can tick off his list this week in South Korea at 20/1 with BetVictor.
About the CJ Cup
The CJ Cup, which is officially known as the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges, is a relatively new tournament on the PGA Tour, with the first edition having being played in October 2017.
The event is held at Nine Bridges Golf Club on the picturesque Jeju Island in South Korea, a highly rated course that is both beautiful to look at and rewarding from a playing perspective. The island features fascinating and beguiling volcanic features, including the Manjanggul Lava Tube – the 12th longest in the world.
Thomas Wins Two of the First Three
CJ Group – a South Korean holding company – have sponsored the tournament since the start. The first three CJ Cups each had an American winner. The first edition of any new tournament on the PGA Tour is one to remember, with the inaugural CJ Cup in October 2017 being no exception. Kentucky ace, Justin Thomas, moved to third in the world after a thrilling playoff win on Jeju Island.
The new event attracted plenty of interest worldwide, and Thomas put on a show for the South Korean fans at Nine Bridges, and indeed those who had made the trip there from further afield. Thomas was pushed close by Australian Marc Leishman, eventually getting the better of the former Rookie of the Year in a playoff.
Two years later, Thomas sealed his second win in three years in South Korea. However, he did not need a playoff this time around, as Thomas finished two strokes ahead of New Zealander Danny Lee – who was born in Incheon, South Korea – to win his second CJ Cup. That was the 11th PGA Tour win of his career, and though at the time of writing Thomas has only one major to his name (the 2017 US PGA Championship), it’s surely only a matter of time before he adds to that.
Koepka Runs Out Winner in 2018
In between Justin Thomas’s two triumphs, Brooks Koepka was crowned the 2018 CJ Cup champion with an impressive victory on Jeju Island. After the triumph, Koepka moved to the top of the World Golf Rankings.
Koepka had a superb tournament in South Korea, hitting 21-under to win his first CJ Cup. Gary Woodland tried his best to make life difficult for Koepka, but the Florida man pulled clear to take the win by four shots. “Everything I’ve done this year has been working. So I don’t want to change anything, just keep improving. I’m so excited right now, you have no idea – I can’t wait to play again,” said Koepka after his impressive victory in South Korea.
At the time of writing, Brooks has added two more PGA Tour titles to his list of honours since. In May 2019, Koepka beat Dustin Johnson by two strokes to win the US PGA Championship. A couple of months later, the American won the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational, seeing off Webb Simpson by three strokes in Memphis, Tennessee.
Nine Bridges – A Top 100 Course
Regarded by many as competing with Japan’s Hirona Golf Club to be the top golf course in Asia, Nine Bridges certainly punches above its weight on the world stage too. Consistently picked as one of the world’s top 100 courses by golf magazines and websites, it is up there with the likes of Royal Troon, Sunningdale and even Royal Birkdale in many lists.
The course is split into two sections, with nine holes making up the Highland Course, and nine holes being designated the Creek Course. Both nine-hole courses are very picturesque, with volcanic features, with the Creek Course featuring dry stream and volcanic walls, contrasting with the wide grasslands of the “Scottish style” Highland course.
There are plenty of challenges for players, with at least 110 bunkers scattered through the 18 holes, many of which are particularly steep. Though in general there is plenty of space in which to play an attacking game on the course, hence the low scores this tournament has produced in its short history.