It could be the strongest field remaining in men's golf this year, and Ben Coley believes Scottie Scheffler can rise to the challenge in the CJ Cup.
2pts e.w. Scottie Scheffler at 30/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
2pts e.w. Louis Oosthuizen at 30/1 (William Hill, Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Cameron Davis at 125/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Hudson Swafford at 250/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Byeong Hun An to lead after R1 at 125/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
Oh-oo-oh, you think you're special
Oh-oo-oh, you think you're something else
Okay, so you type out your name in capital letters
That don't impress me much
Shania Twain knows a thing or two about vacuousness, and she simply won't stand for it. It is safe to assume, if she's as good as the word of her 1997 hit, that Twain would refuse to type THE CJ CUP @ THE SUMMIT in capital letters, nor with an 'at' sign. The Canadian songstress would call it the CJ Cup and mention the course later on. We should all follow her lead.
Twain also knows a thing or two about Las Vegas residencies, her next one set to begin on December 2 at Zappos Theater. The CJ Cup on the other hand is a relative newcomer to this domain, set to enter its second year having found a temporary home of its own following the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. One day, it shall return to Korea, but for now it remains part of the package in Sin City, and the strip itself is the wallpaper as we get our first look at The Summit Club.
Designed by Tom Fazio, whose Shadow Creek hosted the event last year, Summit is an exclusive retreat where entry fees begin at $200,000, for which you get a pristine and presumably quiet course, plus some Haagen-Dazs and tequila. It doesn't sound like the best deal to me, but Las Vegas resident Collin Morikawa is based here and speaks highly of the world-class facilities you'd expect. He can also call Celine Dion a neighbour, which is nice.
The course is described in places as a curious mix of both desert and parkland, the former a reflection of the fact the grass is lush as much as anything. To me it looks pretty Fazio and unmistakably desert: big, bright bunkers, wide fairways, contoured greens, and nothing too troubling for the PGA Tour professional. It certainly appears to have fewer quirks than Shadow Creek, and perhaps even more in common with Caves Valley, another Fazio design which was torn apart in the BMW Championship recently.
Had golf's self-styled rocket scientist entered the CJ Cup, Bryson DeChambeau would've been seriously interesting, because I expect power will count for plenty. There are as many as three short, potentially driveable par-fours as well as four big par-fives here on a newly-built layout designed with hospitality rather than tournament golf in mind. It should be vulnerable to all-out attack and while thin, desert air means everyone can compete, those who take apart the scoring holes will have a head start towards the anticipated low winning total.
Back to Twain, and her upcoming residency is titled 'Let's Go!', which is also a sportspeak rallying cry (see: 'Allez!', 'Vamos!') you'll have heard throughout the Ryder Cup. It's three weeks now since Europe suffered that record defeat, and gradually members of both teams are getting back to work. So far, however, those returning to the PGA Tour have achieved very little, and it's a nagging doubt when it comes to those at the top of the market.
Brooks Koepka, Scottie Scheffler, Harris English, Viktor Hovland, Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia have between them mustered a best of 44th over the last couple of weeks. It must be said that Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry fared rather better in the Dunhill Links, but that was a comfortable space for all three. Jon Rahm meanwhile complained of tiredness when fading badly in the Open de Espana, and for some of the world's best, it might just be difficult to go again after seven majors in 11 months and a Ryder Cup on top of that.
Without that concern, Dustin Johnson would be my idea of the most likely winner, but with it, Rory McIlroy shades preference of those who are appearing for the first time since Whistling Straits. Only once before have I seen McIlroy as emotional as he was following his singles win over Xander Schauffele, and that was at the 2019 Open. He followed that spiritual awakening by winning the FedEx Cup weeks later, and more so than most has something to play for, something to prove.
Given his form at the Fazio-influenced Quail Hollow, where he won again in May, as well as his staying-on effort at Caves Valley and desert wins in Dubai, McIlroy has to be on the shortlist. However I can't bring myself to trust anyone who will be playing for the first time since the Ryder Cup, and would rather chance SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER taking the necessary step forward on his second start back.
The Texan produced a brilliant display as the rookie with most to prove having been a surprise selection to some. Over the first two days he partnered DeChambeau and with some success, but it was in Sunday singles that he came of age. Scheffler destroyed Rahm and with it any lingering European hope; he did so not because the Spaniard played poorly, but because he was sensational.
Already a member of the PGA Tour's 59 club, Scheffler confirmed again at Whistling Straits that he's a prolific birdie-maker. He ranked seventh in birdie average during the 2020-21 season, the same position he'd filled as a rookie before that, and his aggressive game is built on a platform of strong driving. He's above average not just in distance but in accuracy, and he should be playing his approaches from good positions all week in this no-cut event.
Those approaches were very poor at times last week, but that's been the case on all three Summerlin starts now and in both 2019 and 2020, the Shriners was his worst tournament of the post-TOUR Championship part of the calendar. He simply doesn't appear to have a feel for the place, however much it ought to suit, yet on Friday carded nine birdies and to my count had 15 good looks only to make two costly mistakes.
That was an eye-catching second round after an understandable slow start, and unlike some of his teammates, the PGA Tour's best maiden has all the incentive in the world to use his Ryder Cup heroics as a springboard. He'll want to enter 2022 simply as a world-class major contender, not someone who still has to prove they have what it takes to win at this level, and a golf course like this might just help him to do that.
Summerlin aside, Scheffler has some strong desert form, having been third in The American Express and seventh in Phoenix. He's also won after a missed cut on the Korn Ferry Tour, and his results following a weekend off so far in 2021 read MC-7-2-3. No-cut shootouts should be ideal and two rounds in Las Vegas gives him a leg-up, too.
A year ago, those who prepared for Shadow Creek by playing the Shriners appeared to be at a distinct advantage, including winner Jason Kokrak. Indeed he arrived as Scheffler does now: arguably the best maiden on the circuit, and having done enough despite missing the cut at Summerlin to get ready for perhaps a more suitable event.
Of course, it later transpired Kokrak was a member at Shadow Creek, which perhaps explains career-best putting stats and a general ease which hadn't previously been evident. It may well be that Morikawa's course knowledge is similarly advantageous, but I'd be more interested in Maverick McNealy, also a member here and with a round of 61 to his name.
McNealy is another who played the Shriners and caught the eye with strong ball-striking undermined by a rare off-week with the putter. It's little wonder he's therefore been of interest since the betting opened, but in a strong field I can't see much left in prices around the 66/1 mark. This would be some event in which to break through.
At almost twice the price, CAMERON DAVIS has shown a greater aptitude for winning so far in his young career, even if he rode his luck a little when obliging for us in the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
That low-scoring event showed the ambidextrous Aussie at his best and I quite like how he's performed since, making the cut in all three events which had one and ending his season with 31st and 29th across two starts in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Only when returning from five weeks off did he really disappoint, missing the cut at the Sanderson Farms Championship, but he put that behind him with 27th place at Summerlin where his driving was the best it's been since April, and his iron play back close to the levels of his victory in Detroit.
Third in The American Express at the start of this year, building on signs of promise the previous week and demonstrating that he can turn things around on the greens, Davis has a bit of desert form which extends to a solid record at the Shriners. He also ranked 22nd in birdie average last year and hits the ball miles, so there's a good chance he takes to the Summit.
Most of this could also be said of Jhonattan Vegas, who played some really good golf throughout last season and will have eyes on the Presidents Cup, and the world's top 50, just as Davis will. However, the Venezuelan has been off since the BMW Championship and rust is a genuine concern. Just last week, Sungjae Im and Matt Wolff dominated having been in action already this season, and I'd prefer to back those of a similar profile.
With that in mind the other I like towards the head of the market is LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN, despite a slight worry that an out-and-out birdie-making competition would reduce his chances somewhat.
The upside though is that he's one of the top five players in this field on form this year, during which he's played arguably the best golf of his career, yet he's down at 10th or 11th in the betting.
Of course, that's because Oosthuizen still seeks a first PGA Tour win outside of the Open Championship some 11 years ago, and for reasons self-evident is considered a threat only in majors. I don't necessarily see it that way. Yes, he's found a way to prepare for the four most important tournaments, his demeanour and adaptability both outstanding, but he's more likely to win this than he is the Masters in my mind.
Unlike most of those ahead of him in the market, he made his return in the Shriners where a cold putter (rare for him these days) limited him to 14th place. Still, it was an excellent start with his driving notably improved from the end of the 2020-21 season, likewise his approach play, and tee-to-green stats to match his performances in the 3M Open (2nd) and PGA Championship (2nd).
Any upturn on the greens therefore makes Oosthuizen dangerous and his desert record is excellent, with third and 11th from just two starts in Phoenix, 19th and 14th from two starts in the Shriners, and a dozen top-12 finishes under similar conditions on the European Tour.
Runner-up at Quail Hollow, he has some Fazio form to throw into the bargain but above all else this looks like a good opportunity to land an overdue success and confirm that he's in the form of his life.
It's tempting to fall for Russell Henley's latest field-leading approach play in the Shriners and he does look a slightly better 66/1 shot than McNealy to my eye, while Alex Noren has been playing so well that 80/1 has to be worth a second look. However he's not necessarily an ideal fit for this and with desert specialist Gary Woodland still working through issues with his new coach, there's nobody else who holds significant appeal in the outright market.
That said I will chance HUDSON SWAFFORD, who was tipped on these pages for the BMW Championship where he finished 17th having ended each of the first three rounds inside the top 10.
Part of the case was that Swafford seems particularly fond of Fazio courses, having won and finished sixth in the Dominican Republic, contended at Conway Farms, and earlier this year finished second at Congaree.
He enhanced that record at Caves Valley when under real pressure and ended the season in really good form, putting together finishes of 37th, 11th and 17th, and ending 10 of those 12 rounds inside the top 20 in really good company.
The new campaign started on a low note at the Fortinet Championship and he missed the cut on the number a week later at the Sanderson Farms, but three good rounds in four at the Shriners suggest all is not lost, especially as he gained strokes both off the tee and with his approaches.
Swafford will plainly need to improve again, but he's won in the desert at PGA West and contended in Phoenix, so with that Fazio form in mind there's enough to suggest he can do that. At 250/1 generally and bigger in places, he merits a speculative bet in this limited field.
Finally, BYEONG HUN AN is worth supporting in some way and I'll chance him for the first-round lead.
An has a strong record at Scottsdale (6-23-20-9-53), where he's ended round one in the top six on three occasions and so often been in contention at some point. Combine that with 11 top-15 finishes from just 13 starts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and you have something of a desert specialist.
Also eighth in The American Express, An might just love this course and he'll know he's lucky to be here, invited as one of the leading Korean players not otherwise exempt. Given that he's just lost his PGA Tour card, this is a big opportunity and one he'll be desperate to take.
It seems fanciful to suggest he could go on and win, given that he failed to fire at Korn Ferry Tour Finals and has looked a little lost since going to work with Sean Foley. But a strong start is not beyond him, having been inside the top 10 at the end of round one four times this year, including at the Open and on a Fazio course in the Palmetto Championship.
An led this tournament in Korea two years ago and was fourth at the equivalent stage in 2018. All told he's landed the place money or better in this market 10 times on the PGA Tour, leading here and in the Wyndham, and four of these were in the desert where he's perhaps most comfortable, another two in THE CJ CUP @ VARIOUS.
Okay, so you're a fast starter. That would impress me much.
Posted at 1200 BST on 12/10/21
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