CJ Cup at Nine Bridges betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Justin Thomas is favourite to retain the CJ Cup but is he in Ben Coley's staking plan?
Justin Thomas is favourite to retain the CJ Cup but is he in Ben Coley's staking plan?

Ben Coley is backing Byeong Hun An to secure his PGA Tour breakthrough on home soil in this week's CJ Cup.

Recommended bets

2pts e.w. Byeong Hun An at 40/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

2pts e.w. Cameron Smith at 28/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Si Woo Kim at 66/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Austin Cook at 125/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Jimmy Walker at 125/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

If ever wind changed the dynamics of a golf tournament, it was surely a year ago in the first edition of The CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Day one saw Justin Thomas come home in a scintillating 29 strokes to shoot nine-under and he'd go on to win the title despite signing for the very same score at the end of the tournament. It's testament to Thomas's class that while the conditions changed dramatically, the outcome was likely unaffected.

In total, 29 players broke 70 on day one of this event last year and while the 63 carded by Thomas was comfortably the best, it was clear through the other 28 that birdies and eagles were there to be had on an archetypal risk-reward course. Wide fairways posed little threat and it was more a case of accessing the right portion of undulating greens and then taking advantage of opportunities.

Then came that wind. From Friday to Sunday there were just 15 sub-70 rounds, little more than half the number produced on Thursday. Of those 29 players who did shoot 69 or less on day one, a whopping 23 failed to do so again during the week and there were two - Gavin Green and Xander Schauffele - who went from a score in the sixties to one in the eighties. If round one was night, round two was day.

Justin Thomas: CJ Cup winner
Justin Thomas will defend the title he won last year

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A year on, and the forecast hints at something of a reversal. Thursday's wind could be problematic, but thereafter things calm considerably and while it'll be cooler than the CIMB Classic - both in terms of temperature and scoring - we might just be looking at a winning score around the 15-under mark. That's a finger-in-the-air figure, but the point is to prepare you for a different test to that which Thomas overcame, beating Marc Leishman in a play-off.

Whatever the case, last week's event in Malaysia, won this time by Leishman, should prove an ideal way to prepare. Those involved have dealt with the jet-lag, which will have been a particular issue for those flying over from the Safeway Open in California, and it's telling that eight of last year's top-10 in the CJ Cup had played, to varying degrees of success, in the CIMB Classic.

Most had at least signed off on a high, including Thomas, and that's a pointer towards the prospects of Byeong Hun An.

He closed with a best-of-the-week 66 in Malaysia for 13th place, a continuation of the form he'd displayed back home in Korea with eighth place in the Shinhan Donghae Open, and that sets him up really well when it comes to improving on 11th here a year ago.

An carded a best-of-the-day 67 in round three to demonstrate that he can cope if the wind does blow here and that's encouraging when it comes to getting off to a solid start, which he's done just about every week since the Open Championship back in July.

In fact, An's overall form has been solid for some time now and includes two more near-misses on the PGA Tour, enough to suggest that his breakthrough should arrive soon. Given that his form in his native South Korea reads 1-15-11-8 since a low-key 54th in one of his first starts as a professional, home soil looks likely to help him over the line.

If we can draw anything from our first look at this course last year, it might just be that sharp short-games are needed. KJ Choi spoke beforehand of how that might just separate the field and of those in the mix, Thomas, Leishman, Luke List and Jamie Lovemark all ended the season inside the top 25 in strokes-gained around the green.

An wasn't far behind in 38th, well above average, while his biggest career success to date came at Wentworth where judging a changing wind - something Thomas said was an enormous challenge - is always required.

At 48th in the world, the 27-year-old is a big week away from locking up starts in next year's majors and having gone close to rewarding each-way faith in this event last year, he's worth another chance.

Those who got a competitive look at the course must be at an advantage and that undermines the prospects of Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka, while Jason Day has been off since the TOUR Championship where he didn't look to be at the top of his game.

In other words, Thomas is comfortably the man to beat but the next wave are not at all convincing, which is why I'm prepared to take 33/1 about Cameron Smith.

The Australian was one shot off last year's play-off after failing to birdie the par-five 18th hole, third place scant reward for some quality ball-striking as the two in front of him eked everything out of their play in a way he did not.

Still, from there he went back home to land his first solo professional title at the Australian PGA Championship and a pair of top-three finishes in the FedEx Cup Playoffs hint that the next step in his career - winning a PGA Tour event which isn't the two-man Zurich Classic - should be forthcoming.

Smith was one place above An in the around-the-green stats last season and if he can marry that tidiness with the long-game control which saw him rank third for greens here, then there's another contending performance in him.

He warmed up with four sub-70 rounds in the CIMB Classic, 25 birdies demonstrating that he's close to his best, and looks one of the chief threats to the favourite.

Cameron Smith
Cameron Smith is fancied to go well at a course he likes

Si Woo Kim remains something of an enigma but I'm prepared to stick with the Korean after he missed a place for us by a single shot last week.

Having carded 26 birdies and an eagle at TPC Kuala Lumpur, Kim ought to have hit the frame but a sloppy second-round ultimately did too much damage. Still, he closed out the event with 66-65, similar to the performance of Thomas a year ago, and can kick on here.

Kim was 21st in strokes-gained around the green last season but at his best can also boast an exemplary long-game, one which took him to victory at the Wyndham Championship before he went on to dominate the PLAYERS in the fashion of a world-class talent.

So far he's yet to really build on either of those successes but at just 23 years old there's still time, and he's fancied to improve upon a modest effort here last year which came when his game was in poor shape.

This time around he's shown distinct signs of promise on a fairly consistent basis since mid-summer, finally erasing the memory of his play-off defeat at Harbour Town, and he's fancied to tackle this coastal test and contend once more.

Stewart Cink should go well at 100/1, the former Open champion having played well last weekend and in this event last year, but it's difficult to envisage the 45-year-old getting the job done and the same goes for Ernie Els, who I truly believe is overpriced at 500/1 yet is best considered in the sub-markets.

Els is 33/1 for a top-10 finish and that'd have been a bet were there more wind in the forecast, as he's been striking the ball with real authority again recently. He's been rewarded, too, third place in Fiji his best finish in three years, and while this is tougher he was 27th entering the final round of last week's CIMB Classic after a Saturday 66.

That birdie-making competition was never likely to reward Els' long-game in the way this might and he could significantly outrun his odds if the wind does stick around for the weekend, however with that appearing unlikely I'm happy enough to let this particular hunch pass.

Instead, I'll sign off with two speculative, each-way plays, starting with Austin Cook.

Although not in the field last year, that's reflected in prices around the 125/1 mark as there's been plenty to like about Cook's form lately, which includes a nice 13th place in Malaysia last week.

It seems clear he's embracing what may well be his first trip to the Far East and he should enjoy this intermediate test, where coping with the wind will remain an asset even if it's steady rather than severe. That was the case when he won his first PGA Tour title at Sea Island at around this time last year.

Cook went on to contend a couple of times in summer and at 25th in birdie average, 37th in putting and 52nd around the green, he looks to have the ideal game to enjoy his debut here having carded rounds of 63 and 64 in his last couple of starts.

Finally, Jimmy Walker's weekend progress at the CIMB Classic appears to have gone unnoticed and he's a smashing bet at three-figure prices, despite also making his debut in the event.

Walker shot 73-71-68-66 last week, despite bogeying his 72nd hole, and there's no reason he can't build on that encouraging performance at a golf course which should prove ideal for his game.

The Texan won his home open in a gale a couple of years ago and has also been successful by the coast in Hawaii and California, performances which count for something here on Jeju Island, where another former Pebble Beach winner - Graeme McDowell - has been successful in the past.

Walker's short-game remained strong last year and, with his 40th birthday looming, everything looks in place for something of a second wind.

Posted at 1200 BST on 16/10/18.

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