CJ Cup betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Find out who we're backing for the CJ Cup...
Find out who we're backing for the CJ Cup...

Gary Woodland and Marc Leishman can both go well in the CJ Cup according to Ben Coley, who is also taking a chance on two at bigger prices.

Recommended bets

2pts e.w. Gary Woodland at 28/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

2pts e.w. Marc Leishman at 33/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Phil Mickelson at 80/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Keith Mitchell at 150/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

Two years and eight rounds of golf at Nine Bridges have so far given us the full spectrum of scoring, but if the forecast is right we're in for a calm week on Jeju Island and that should mean some incredibly low scoring in the CJ Cup.

In 2017, when the PGA Tour made its first visit to South Korea, Justin Thomas opened with a nine-under-par round of 63. Were it within the rules, he could've taken the next three rounds off to explore these spectacular surroundings and returned for Sunday's play-off, because nine-under was the winning score as breezy conditions gradually made things tougher as the week progressed.

A year later and the exact opposite was true: Brooks Koepka started with a 71 and ended on 21-under; just three players broke 70 on Thursday, but by Sunday everyone was doing it. Koepka's eight-under 64 - which included a back-nine 29 - was bettered by three players in the field, with Ryan Palmer shooting a 10-under 62 without the need for an eagle.

Palmer's round, along with the other 40 which were in the sixties, might give us the best indication as to what to expect because without wind, this short par-72 is cannon fodder. There are four par-fives which everyone can reach, some of them doing so with a wedge; there are a couple of par-fours which are driveable. Only a reasonably tough set of par-threes and the difficult par-four 10th can be called challenging in calm conditions, and we look set for a shootout.

Relying on the weather is always risky, but the good news is that even when things have been tough here, those who have piled up the birdies have fared best. That might sound blindingly obvious but actually it isn't: so often under difficult conditions, players are separated by their ability or otherwise to avoid mistakes, yet in 2017 Thomas made 19 birdies and two eagles and play-off victim Marc Leishman effectively did the same, with 21 birdies and an eagle.

As Thomas spoke of en route to that dramatic success, this is a risk-reward course where being aggressive is a must. It's also one where those who can fly bunkers and take the shortcut on 18 are at a potentially big advantage, especially so with just a gentle wind to help them. Last year's top six was exclusively powerful and those without such weaponry might need the going to get really tough to compete.

All of which leads me to Gary Woodland, runner-up last year having been level with the winner with nine to play, gone through those nine in 33 shots, and somehow been left for dead by an electric Koepka.

Since then, Woodland has of course taken revenge in the best possible fashion with that imperious US Open win, and there were signs towards the end of the 2019 season that he was ready to get back down to business and contend again.

He needs to if he's to convince Tiger Woods of his Presidents Cup credentials, and while a little disappointing in the Shriners on his seasonal return it was at least encouraging to see him drive the ball as well as he has since a brace of brilliant major performances in early summer.

Woodland's iron play was less impressive in Las Vegas, but at 20th in strokes-gained approach last season he should shake that off and return to something like his usual levels, and that ball-striking prowess looks the best route to success here at Nine Bridges.

Gary Woodland celebrates winning the US Open at Pebble Beach
Gary Woodland celebrates winning the US Open at Pebble Beach

In terms of courses which correlate well, the most obvious one from a visual perspective would be Kapalua, where Woodland was second at the start of the year, but there are also form ties with PGA National where he has also been runner-up.

The latter would be less significant a guide under calm conditions, but Woodland doesn't have to prove anything here anyway having made a whopping 27 birdies en route to second place 12 months ago.

His record in the CIMB Classic, where he's twice been second and was also fifth last year, further underlines that he's dangerous on these end-of-year trips to the Far East, and if he hits as many greens as he did in 2018 he shouldn't be far away.

Woodland is one of a select group of players who ranked inside the top 20 for both birdie average and strokes-gained approach on the PGA Tour last year - the top three in the market are the only others - and those stats could be the best guide in what's expected to be a second-shot score-fest.

Thomas and Koepka of course have to be respected along with Hideki Matsuyama, while Sungjae Im should better last year's performance which probably came a little too soon in his career.

Im in particular is tempting, as unlike most of these he's warmed up in the best possible fashion with victory in his homeland on Sunday. In previous years, many of the overseas party have shaken off the jet-lag in Malaysia but with the CIMB Classic off the schedule, there's a chance that Im is at a big advantage.

The fact he followed victory on the Korn Ferry Tour with second a week later is another nice pointer, but I can't quite shake the concern that there will again be a lot of focus on him here and the price doesn't exactly allow for any serious negatives.

He's clearly going places and should be featuring in the Presidents Cup regardless of how this week goes, but for now I'd rather side with the more proven credentials of Marc Leishman.

An unfortunate loser here in 2017, Leishman once again showed how good a traveller he is when winning the CIMB Classic last year and it was probably that which meant for a slow start to this tournament as he was three-over through four holes in round one.

After that, Leishman played beautifully, climbing inside the top 20 with weekend rounds of 68 and 66, and with his last two wins having been in scores of 23- and 26-under there's absolutely no doubt he's well suited to a shootout.

Marc Leishman with the CIMB Classic trophy
Marc Leishman with the CIMB Classic trophy

The only real negative is that he withdrew from the Greenbrier after an opening 76, but with his family in tow at a resort where entertainment is everywhere, I'm not sure we need to read much into that. Indeed, he bounced back with third place in the Safeway Open, improving throughout the tournament, so it's all systems go for another strong end to the year.

Leishman has just two events left on the schedule before the Presidents Cup and is eager to capitalise on them and build a platform for 2020, when he's desperate to represent Australia in the Olympics having decided not to risk playing in Brazil.

The affable Aussie has an outstanding end-of-year record regardless of what's motivating him and having flushed his way to third in California last time, he has everything in his favour in the type of event where he's really dangerous.

Leishman's compatriot and World Cup team-mate Cameron Smith is interesting enough, but the strength of his course form is such that he looks awfully short for a player without a top-10 finish since February and without solo success on a major golf tour.

His experience in Asia and the fact he's desperate to impress Ernie Els are both notable factors, but he simply isn't quite as good a player as those he's surrounded by in the market. I find it hard to believe he should be the same price as Leishman, who is in fact bigger with one firm, and it's debatable whether he should be so close to Jason Day despite his own form struggles.

In truth the only players I like at the front of the market are Woodland, Leishman and Im, so there's room to roll the dice and that's the only way to describe an advised bet on Phil Mickelson.

The negatives here are obvious: he's without a top-40 finish since the Masters and, at 49 years old, it's absolutely possible that this is the start of the decline which will mean he's finished representing the USA in team golf and will have to wait for the Champions Tour, where he could win every week, for further silverware.

However, those are factored in whereas I'm not entirely sure quotes of 80/1 in a reduced field account for the very definite signs of promise in his performance at the Shriners, where he was third after an opening 65 and remained within sight of the leaders until a difficult Saturday ended his challenge.

That Thursday 65 was his best round since Mexico in February, but it's beneath the bonnet that the real encouragement can be found. Mickelson ranked 19th in strokes-gained off the tee - again, his best figures since Mexico - and 29th with his approach shots, and it was only an abject display of putting which cost him a much higher finish.

Mickelson hasn't been at his best on the greens for a while, but Vegas was still an anomaly - his worst putting figure in over a year - and he'll have left the event feeling as positive about his game as he has in several months.

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Go through the transcripts, and you'll see confirmation of that. First, on the eve of the tournament, he maintained that a missed cut in Napa was not a bad performance at all - he made a nine on a par-five but otherwise scored well, only missing the cut by two having effectively given away four or five shots with a couple of swipes of the driver.

After shooting 65 he went into a little more detail, stressing: "I feel like my game is a lot better again than the scores have been showing. I'm excited to play - and play some good golf."

On Friday, after a two-under 69, he felt ought to have been four or five shots better, he added: "I feel like I'm playing well enough to shoot 62 or 63 out here, and I just need to get a little bit better performance on the greens. I know I'm playing well."

These aren't the words of a man low on confidence and come the end of the week, it was no surprise he was able to reflect on the positives and not dwell too heavily on those struggles with the putter.

"I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of stock cut drivers in play; iron play was sharp," he said. "Flew a lot of wedges and short irons the right number. My short irons have not been sharp the last six, eight months. They were really good this week. They were much, much better.

"I hit a lot of good putts the first and fourth rounds, online. Didn't make a ton, but I hit a lot of good putts. I had a rough putting week the second and third rounds. I'll work on that.

"My iron play, my chipping was much better. I hit a lot more fairways, too."

Relying on the self-assessment of golfers comes with risks, but all of that is built into the price and then some, and the wide-open nature of what should be a low-scoring test might just allow Mickelson to really build some momentum with his long game.

If that's the case and we're only left needing some putting improvement, even if that improvement needs to be dramatic, then there will be no regrets about taking a chance.

And when it comes to motivation, consider this: Mickelson is on the verge of falling out of the world's top 50 for the first time in more than a quarter of a century, and he's on the verge of missing out on the Presidents Cup for the first time since his 1994 debut.

When last the former was a serious issue, he finished fifth in Phoenix and won in Mexico shortly after. One day there will be nothing he can do to arrest the slide, but those glimmers of promise in Las Vegas offer hope, however slim, that the day has not yet come.

Palmer's 62 here last year for a place on the podium marks him out as a contender, but solo success for the Texan is a distant memory and there are more upwardly mobile players with more eye-catching credentials at bigger prices.

They include Jazz Janewattananond, who has contended for the CIMB Classic and the PGA Championship to show he can mix it with the big boys and is very much one for the shortlist.

Jazz arrives on back-to-back top-five finishes, he won the Korean Open earlier in the year and he's improving all the time, but whether he's quite ready for this is another matter and for all that he played well at Bethpage, he'd be better suited to a less power-friendly course.

That's not the case with Keith Mitchell and he completes the staking plan.

Mitchell won the Honda Classic in February, holding off Koepka, and if that event is to continue to point towards success in this one then he's one of those we should expect to see faring well.

Last year, he made 23 birdies and an eagle here to finish 14th, defying a slow start, and the way he played over those calmer final three rounds suggests he very much took to the challenge.

Mitchell can cope with a breeze should it arrive, as demonstrated by his PGA National win, and in a small field I'm happy to take a chance despite obvious concerns around his form, with a second-round 68 in Vegas a step in the right direction at least.

Posted at 1120 BST on 15/10/19.

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