Most Star-Studded Field of the New PGA Tour Season Meets in Las Vegas for This Week’s 2021 CJ Cup at Summit Club
The CJ Cup, an invitation-only event that features a field of 78 players, is being held in Las Vegas for the second-straight year after the first three editions were in South Korea. Pandemic-related restrictions over travel have caused the event to remain in the United States for another year, taking place at The Summit Club in the Summerlin community of Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s the second-straight week that the PGA Tour will be in Las Vegas, as last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open was held at TPC Summerlin and won by Sungjae Im.
Im is part of the field here, which consists of the top 60 from last season’s final FedEx Cup standings, winners of the KPGA Championship and Genesis Championship on the Korean Tour, the top-three available players from the Korean Tour, the top player on the Asian Tour, the top Korean player on the Asian Tour, and the top-three available Korean players from the Official World Golf Ranking. The field is rounded out by eight sponsor exemptions, including a minimum of five from the PGA Tour, one to the winner of a Korean amateur qualifier, and two unrestricted exemptions.
Justin Thomas is a two-time winner of this event, having won at Nine Bridges in South Korea in the inaugural event in 2017 and again in 2019. Brooks Koepka was victorious in 2018, and Jason Kokrak won by two strokes over Xander Schauffele last year at Shadow Creek in Nevada.
The purse for the 2021 CJ Cup is a healthy $9.5 million, and it’s a no-cut event.
The Summit Club is another course in the Summerlin community that also is the location of TPC Summerlin, which is where the pros teed off last week. This will be the first PGA Tour event at the Summit Club. It’s a fairly new course, being designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 2017. It’s a par-72 course that measures 7,431 yards, but it plays a bit shorter than that since it’s situated at 3,000 feet above sea level. There is also 300-feet worth of elevation changes, making it a tough test. Fazio also designed Shadow Creek, which is where last year’s event was held, along with PGA courses Firestone and Quail Hollow.
There is water in play in seven of the 18 holes, but there the players will only truly be challenged if there is a lot of wind (which isn’t in the forecast). Otherwise, expect a winning score around -20.
The 17th and 18th holes will provide different challenges for those looking for a strong finish. The 154-yard, par-3 17th is downhill with a shallow green protected by water, so while it is short, players must be on-target here not to run into trouble. The 18th, meanwhile, is a par-5, 580-yard monster that has water in front, but if golfers play their cards right, they can reach in two and try for an eagle, which can make for some interesting end-of-round scenarios come late on Sunday.
After winning the 2020 FedEx Cup and then the 2020 Masters last November, it was a solid 2021 campaign for Dustin Johnson, who is a co-favorite here at +1200, but he really picked it up after missing the cut at The Northern Trust. He finished sixth at the BMW Championship then followed that with an eighth-place finish at the Tour Championship at East Lake. But Johnson really shined at the Ryder Cup, where we went a perfect 5-0-0 in four-team matches and one singles match, becoming the first American player to do so in nearly 40 years.
Johnson spoke about the experience this week and also mentioned that he wouldn’t mind being a Ryder Cup captain one day, which may not be that far down the road given that this year’s team was so young, and Johnson is now 37.
“I think I would be a good captain; it’s something that I definitely would like to do at some point,” DJ said. “The players are very good; I don’t need to tell them how to play a golf course or tell them what to do, but just put them in a situation where they can succeed. I feel like I’ve got a good relationship with most of the players out there, and hopefully, I’ll be out here long enough to where I’ll know the guys that are going to be on the team.”
There is a sense of urgency here for Johnson, as this is likely his last chance to get a win in the 2021 calendar year, which he needs to qualify for the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Maui—an event he has been in every year since 2015 and has won twice, in 2013 and ‘18.
“That’s definitely something that I’ll always shoot for, and it’s a golf tournament that I always love playing,” Johnson said. “I feel like that’s a good start to the year if you’re playing in Maui.”
Justin Thomas is also at +1200 and has won at the Fazio-designed courses we mentioned above—Firestone and Quail Hollow. His only win last year was at The Players Championship, but he did score a pair of top-five finishes in the FedEx Cup playoffs, finishing fourth at both The Northern Trust and the Tour Championship. He was also a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team three weeks ago, and this is his first tournament of the new PGA Tour season. He finished 12th in this event at Shadow Creek last year, which propelled him to a nice run of finishing in the top-15 in eight of nine events, including The Players Championship win, a fourth at the 2020 Masters, and a third at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Xander Schauffele is the final co-favorite at +1200. The first-time Ryder Cup participant shines in no-cut events, as proven by his gold-medal win at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in August. In statistics dating back to 2010, Schauffele ranks second over the course of his career in strokes gained at no-cut tournaments. First in that statistic? Justin Thomas, who is also a favorite here. Outside of the Olympics, Schauffele didn’t win last season, but he did finish second in this event at Shadow Creek last year along with finishing tied for runner-up at the Waste Management Open and Farmers Insurance Open.
Collin Morikawa, the 2021 Open Championship winner, is a member of the Summit Club and has played this course far more than anyone else in the field. Due to that and a 4-0-1 Ryder Cup performance, many are high on him at +1500. In addition to the home-course advantage, Summit Club is expected to reward second-shot players hitting onto Bentgrass greens, and that’s where Morikawa specializes.
“There is a sense of comfort,” Morikawa said earlier this week. “I go out on my off weeks, and I just tee it up out here. I’m comfortable with a lot of the tee shots; I’m comfortable with the approaches. I know where the greens break; I know where to miss the shots. There’s not the sense of urgency to figure out the golf course per se on Tuesday or during the pro-am. I’m ready.”
If you’re into coincidences, all five of Morikawa’s wins have come in events where he was unable to defend his title at the same course due to various circumstances, including the fact that the two majors that he won rotate courses. With the 2022 CJ Cup potentially returning back to South Korea, that would be the case if he were to win here, and he may not have many opportunities to win a PGA Tour event on his home course.
Rory McIlroy is the top non-American favorite at +1800. He had a rough showing at the Ryder Cup but finished strong by beating Schauffele in a singles match on the final day. He’s also been able to relax the past three weeks after a grueling finish to the 2021 PGA Tour season.
He did win at the Fazio Quail Hollow course at the Wells Fargo Championship last year but only has three top-10 finishes in 11 starts since. He was the world’s top-ranked golfer in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and it’s been a bit of a struggle since for the Northern Irishman.
“I think when I play my best, I’m the best player in the world. [I] haven’t played like that for a while, though,” McIlroy said. “obviously the last 18 months haven’t been what I’ve wanted them to be, but if you keep it in perspective, I’m not that far away. [Fourteenth in the Official World Golf Rankings] is not where I want to be, but I realize the competition gets tougher and tougher every year, and you just have to try to not just keep up with that, but try to become better.”
McIlroy is also one win away from his 20th-career PGA Tour win, which would give him lifetime status on the tour.
Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau, two more Ryder Cup participants on the winning U.S. side, are next on the odds board at +2200. Spieth had a scorching run from a win at the Valero Texas Open in April (his first since 2017) to his runner-up finish at The Open Championship in July, as he had a third at the Masters and a runner-up at the Charles Schwab Challenge in that stretch as well. He was average during the three FedEx Cup playoff events, but he did perform well at the Ryder Cup. He may be slightly overvalued here due to his name, but his game appears to be back where he can be a contender in any given week.
Finau’s length off the tee plays to his advantage, and the altitude should give him even more of an upper hand here. Add to that the confidence he has after breaking a six-year losing streak by winning The Northern Trust in August and then contributing to the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s win, and it wouldn’t be a surprise here to see him in contention. He’s also among the best players in strokes gained: approach in this field.
Sungjae Im, last week’s winner, is somewhat of a value pick at +2500. While this event isn’t being played in his home country of South Korea, he is the top-ranked countryman in what is an event that represents that nation. After his first win at the Honda Classic in 2020, he finished third in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, so a drop-off after last week’s win isn’t expected this time around either. He shot a 62 last week to win by four strokes, and he was the leader in the PGA Tour last year in total birdies, so he may be heating up to what could be a big run in 2021-22.
Viktor Hovland is another popular pick at +2500. He doesn’t have to worry about the cut here, but Hovland has still missed just one cut since the PGA Tour resumed play in the summer of 2020 after the COVID-19 break. He was great at TPC Summerlin last week off the tee and on approach, but he was just as bad around the green. If he can get that part of his game cleaned up, the Summit Club should play well to his strengths in the first two shots. He also tied for third at Quail Hollow in May. If he’s as strong as he was off the tee and on approach as he was in the Shriners and is just average around the green, he should be towards the top of the leaderboard this weekend.
Brooks Koepka, Sam Burns, and Louis Oosthuizen round out the list of potential favorites at +3000. Koepka played well on Thursday and Friday last week, but wasn’t in contention on the weekend and didn’t appear to be fully motivated. If he can use his length to his advantage here and get off to a hot start on Thursday and Friday, he could be a force to deal with. Burns won two weeks ago at the Sanderson Farms Championship and followed that up with a 14th at the Shriner’s last week, so he appears to be in the midst of a hot streak. Oosthuizen did everything but win last year, logging four runner-up finishes and two third-place results. He, like Burns, was also tied for 14th at the Shriner’s a week ago, and not having to travel between events this week means the South African should be rested and ready to go.
Marc Leishman is worth backing at +4000 based on his start to the 2021-22 PGA Tour campaign. He started with a fourth-place finish at the Fortinet Championship and was third at TPC Summerlin last week. He’s also a six-time winner on the tour, so he knows how to close things out if he’s towards the front on Sunday.
Last year’s winner, Jason Kokrak, is +4500, and this is being contested on a different course, so there’s not much to draw from there. He’s attempting to become the first golfer since Jim Furyk to win the same event back-to-back on different courses; Furyk accomplished the feat at the RBC Canadian Open in 2006 and ’07.
Max Homa, the winner of the Fortinet Championship in Napa, California last month to open the new PGA Tour season, is +6000. He hasn’t played since that win, and he averaged over 310 yards off the tee at Silverado, so if he can continue to boom his drives this weekend, he should be a name worth following.
Talor Gooch, +6600, is another golfer who appears to be rounding into form. He’s always been an excellent striker since coming on tour, but he’s rounding into a fine all-around player, ranking fourth this season in strokes gained: tee-to-green thanks to fourth and 11th-place finishes in his first two events of the new season.
The CJ Cup is committed to growing the game of golf in South Korea. The tournament’s Bridge Kids program supports young Korean golfers. The program is also aimed to increase involvement in the sport among young men, as many South Korean golfers dominate the LPGA Tour, but the country isn’t as well represented on the men’s side, though Sungjae Im winning last week certainly will help his visibility going into this tournament.
|GOLFER||ODDS TO WIN THE 2021 CJ CUP at Summit Club|
|Sam Burns / Louis Oosthuizen / Brooks Koepka||+3000|
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