This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE CJ CUP AT NINE BRIDGES
Winner's Share: $1.755M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Jeju Island, South Korea
Course: The Club at Nine Bridges
2018 champion: Brooks Koepka
We now come to the portion of the fall season perfect for conflicted sports/golf fans. For those who have a hard time watching golf when college football and the NFL are on, you will love the next three weeks. The PGA Tour now embarks on its annual three-week Asian Swing; tournaments will be on at night or even overnight depending on your time zone – as they say, check your local listings! The highlight should be the inaugural ZOZO Championship in Japan because Tiger Woods is scheduled to play for the first time since the BMW Championship in mid-August and his subsequent left-knee arthroscopic procedure.
There will be no Tiger this week for the third edition of the CJ Cup, however. One of the reasons the Houston Open had such a weak field last week was because it immediately preceded this big-money stretch through Asia. The purse for the CJ Cup – which is the same for the ZOZO Championship – falls behind only the majors, THE PLAYERS and the WGC events. But still, the field is not great, only decent, especially for a select 78-player contingent. Just two of the top 10 in the world are on hand, and they happen to be the first two winners of the tournament: defending champion Brooks Koepka and 2017 victor Justin Thomas. There are just six of the top 25 from the OWGR entered, worse than even some regular Tour events. The field is comprised of the top 60 available players from last season's top 125 – the key word being "available" – plus 10 local golfers and eight sponsor exemptions, with at least five of them coming from the PGA Tour. In all, about 20 percent of the field is either Korean or of Korean descent, including familiar names Byeong-Hun An, K.J. Choi, Sungjae Im, Sung Kang, Michael Kim, Si Woo Kim, Whee Kim, Kyoung-Hoon Lee and Kevin Na. But perhaps no player will have more eyes on him than Jordan Spieth. Coming off the worst season of his young career, Spieth will be making his 2019-20 debut, having been idle since missing the Tour Championship for the second straight year.
The Club at Nine Bridges is one of most spectacular golf venues anywhere in the world and is on everybody's top-100 list. Golf Digest once called it the "Taj Mahal of Golf." We'll see breathtaking views of Mount Halla, Korea's tallest mountain and home to a now-dormant volcano. Jeju Island is a few thousand feet above sea level, so an already short track will play far shorter. There is some water, including on No. 18. The par-5, 568-yard closing hole offers some real excitement, as it culminates on an island green – wait until you see what this looks like. From an aerial shot, the green is at once gorgeous and diabolical. The 18th was where Marc Leishman saw his 2018 playoff chances come to a watery end, as he rinsed his approach on the second extra hole. Last year, there were 25 eagles on 18 but also 27 bogeys and even six double bogeys or worse. So if it comes down to the wire or a playoff, it very well could be decided on 18.
As for lineup construction, the first thing to know is that there is no cut. With only 78 players, finding those with low ownership will be challenging. Really, we need not consider all 78 options. There are a bunch of golfers in the field with little or no chance at a high finish. Last year, the top 40 finishers were all either PGA or European Tour players; in 2017, the top 25. Putting proved to be incredibly hard on the unfamiliar and undulating greens, something we'll take a closer look at in the Key Stats and Champion's Profile sections below.
Weather-wise, temperatures should be comfortable around 70 degrees all four days. There may be some showers, but not much. The wind could be the critical factor, and right now it is expected to be moderate all four days, around 10 mph.
Fun fact: The course is called Nine Bridges. But there are only eight wooden walking bridges on the course, not nine. The ninth is a metaphorical bridge linking the club with the golfers who play there.
Key Stats to Winning at Nine Bridges
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Birdie or better percentage
• 3-putt avoidance
The first year, 9-under-par was the winning score. But last year it jumped to 21-under. The Club at Nine Bridges played as the fourth toughest course on the PGA Tour in 2017, but 31st last year. Why the disparity? It's probably the wind. Thomas shot an opening 9-under 63 in rather benign conditions in 2017, but after the wind freshened over the final three days, that's exactly where he ended up – 9-under. Koepka's winning score was 12 strokes lower and included an 8-under 64 on Sunday, with a 29 on the back-nine to defeat Gary Woodland by four strokes – a victory that pushed Koepka to No. 1 in the world for the first time. The course is short and greens have have been easy to hit in regulation, even when missing the fairway. So we're focusing on putting. Not only making putts, but avoiding 3-putting on the undulating greens. The PGA Tour average for 3-putting is about three percent. In 2017 at Nine Bridges, it was more than double, at nearly seven percent. It improved last year but was still far higher than the Tour average, at almost 5.5 percent. With the greens being tricky, note that 22 golfers have played the track both years, while 28 have not yet played it. Of course, there's a chance some of the "newbies" are still familiar with the track, especially the Koreans in the field. We're also putting a bit of an emphasis on scrambling, which proved dicey thanks to the run-offs around the greens.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Justin Thomas - $11,700 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 7-1)
We wanted to take just one of the two top-10 golfers in the field, one of the two previous winners, one of the two top guys on the DraftKings board. Picking both does not really help you make a decision for your lineups. And while we wouldn't argue if you go with Brooks Koepka, we're going with Thomas. In his past seven starts worldwide, Thomas finished top-12 every time, including a win at the BMW Championship. He tied for fourth at the Safeway Open in his lone start of the new season, and that followed his announced melanoma scare.
Viktor Hovland - $10,500 (20-1)
Hovland is the No. 4 guy on the DK board and, candidly, that comes as a bit of a shock. He doesn't have the advantage of playing this course before, but then again, just about every time out he's playing a new track. And he's done well at all of them, no matter the quality of the field, or what Tour the event is contested under. Over the past four months, Hovland made eight worldwide starts and finished top-16 every time, including a T11 in his most recent start in a loaded field at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Jordan Spieth - $10,000 (25-1)
Well, here we go again. This could be the latest installment of Lucy yanking the football from Charlie Brown at the last second. But we just can't quit you, Jordan Spieth. Here's why: For one, none of the other Tier 1 guys really catches our eye. Second, Spieth actually showed some signs of life in the second half of last season. In his last 10 events, beginning with the PGA Championship, half of them were top-12s, and he missed only one cut. He's never played Nine Bridges, but even if he hasn't sorted out his off-the-tee waywardness in the two months since we last saw him, this track is very forgiving and mandates a strong effort with the putter, which has been Spieth's savior.
Tier 2 Values
Cameron Smith - $9,000 (30-1)
Only two golfers have top-10s in both CJ Cups, and Smith is one of them – along with Pat Perez. But we would not be tabbing Smith if not for recent signs of life. He endured a largely brutal 2019 season, falling outside the top 50 in the world. Smith is still outside, but in his past seven worldwide events, beginning with the Open Championship, he notched four top-25s, including a T13 last time out at the Safeway Open. He's ranked 14th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting and is 13th in BOB percentage.
Danny Willett - $8,900 (40-1)
What a career turnaround. Willett won the prestigious BMW PGA Championship last month and has managed to keep it going, with ties for 26th and 18th in his previous two starts, the latter at the Italian Open last week. His recent run has propelled him back inside the top 30 of the OWGR, after he had cratered all the way into the 400s after his 2016 Masters win. Willett tied for 23rd last year at Nine Bridges, when he was only starting his career reversal. He won the DP World Tour Championship just a month later.
Andrew Putnam - $8,500 (50-1)
Putnam is showing signs of really taking the next step in his career, maybe taking a crack at the top 25 in the world rankings. He's currently 46th. Putnam hasn't missed a cut in six months – yes, we remember there's no cut this week – and he has four top-25s in his past six starts, two of them in quality European Tour fields. He ranked fifth on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting last season and now ranks first this season, albeit after only one start. Putnam tied for 23rd in his Nine Bridges debut last year.
Tier 3 Values
Tyrrell Hatton - $8,200 (50-1)
Hatton has always been a hard guy to figure out. He's great one week, awful the next, whining most of the time. But he is a darn good putter – when not blaming someone or something for missing one. He's been more cold than hot in 2019, which is why he fell out of the top 50 in the world. Hatton has finished top-20 in four of his past seven worldwide starts, including last week at the Italian Open, and is now back up to 49th in the OWGR. He tied for 14th last year at Nine Bridges.
Pat Perez - $7,500 (50-1)
Two years ago, Perez arrived on Jeju Island a week after winning the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. He tied for fifth. Last year, Perez arrived in a terrible slump, with nothing in the top 30 for three months. He tied for seventh. So current form or not, Perez has delivered at Nine Bridges. He was all set to arrive in poor form once again until finishing third two weeks ago in Las Vegas. Perez's quality putting was the key in his first two go-arounds, and it will be again.
Graeme McDowell - $7,200 (80-1)
McDowell has played in this event both years, improving from T64 in 2017 to T41 last year. He's playing far better this time around, ranked 112th in the world and coming off a tie for 15th last week at the Italian Open. He's actually fallen back after he re-entered the top 100 over the summer thanks to a T16 at the U.S. Open. This track suits McDowell, one of the shortest hitters but a good putter. He ranked fourth in strokes gained: putting on the PGA Tour last season.
Brian Stuard - $6,900 (125-1)
Stuard has some familiarity with Nine Bridges, having played the tournament last year, when he tied for 52nd. He's off to a good start this season. After missing the cut in the season-opening Greenbrier, Stuard has finished T28, then T17, then T4 at the Shriners event before making his way across the Pacific. Stuard is top-5 in 3-putt avoidance among golfers with at least 10 rounds so far this season, and he's T7 overall in bogey avoidance.
Nate Lashley - $6,700 (150-1)
This is more of a hunch than anything concrete. Lashley hasn't played Nine Bridges before, and he hasn't exactly been great in the run-up to this week, despite a tie for third in a terribly weak Greenbrier field last month. More recently, Lashley missed the cut at the Safeway Open and tied for 62nd at the Shriners tournament. But the weakness in Lashley's game is off the tee, something we are counting on being mitigated at a short course with forgiving fairways. Lashley is a pretty good putter who ranked 22nd in 3-putt avoidance last season. He also was a decent 66th in BOB percentage.
Sang-Hyun Park - $6,100 (300-1)
We're going to take a flyer on the 36-year-old who might be the best option among the locals. Park is ranked 111th in the world and won four times over the past two seasons, including just last month on the Japan Tour. He didn't do well last year at Nine Bridges, tying for 67th, but he more than held his own in a big field over the summer, tying for 16th at the Open Championship.