This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE CJ CUP AT NINE BRIDGES
Winner's Share: $1.71M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Jeju Island, South Korea
Course: The Club at Nine Bridges
2017 champion: Justin Thomas
The three-event Asian Swing continues with the second go-round for the CJ Cup, played at one of the most spectacular venues in golf anywhere in the world. The Club at Nine Bridges is on everybody's top-100 list, with Golf Digest once calling it the "Taj Mahal of Golf." We'll see plenty of breathtaking Mount Halla, Korea's tallest mountain, which is 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. But don't be fooled. While last week's tournament at TPC Kuala Lumpur was a birdie-fest in every sense of the word, The Club at Nine Bridges played as the fourth toughest course on the PGA Tour last year, ranking behind only Shinnecock Hills (U.S. Open), PGA National (Honda Classic) and Carnoustie (Open Championship).
One aspect in particular likely played a part in that: the wind. Winner Justin Thomas shot an opening 9-under 63 in rather benign conditions, and after the wind freshened over the final three days, his winning score was still 9-under. 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 below.
For the second straight week, there's a limited, no-cut field of 78. For an event played at the beginning of the fall season, not to mention halfway around the world, there are a bunch of big names on hand. The enormous purse – bigger than in all but the majors/WGCs/Players – certainly helps. Thomas is joined by Brooks Koepka, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and last week's winner, Marc Leishman, who lost to Thomas in a playoff here last year. The field is made up of the top 60 available players from last season's FedExCup ranks, 10 players from the Korean and Asian Tours, and eight sponsor's exemptions, with at least five of them 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, James Hahn, Sangjae Im, Sung Kang, Michael Kim, Si-Woo Kim, Whee Kim and Kevin Na.
Since this course was unfamiliar to just about everyone last year, the 30-plus returnees should have at least some advantage over the newcomers, especially on the greens. There is a lot of water – the track features eight wooden walking bridges* – 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 looks at once gorgeous and diabolical. The 18th was the hole that did in Leishman last year, as he rinsed his approach on the second playoff hole.
Weather-wise, conditions will be nothing like we saw last week in hot and steamy Malaysia, which is some 3,000 miles away from Jeju Island. Instead, golfers will enjoy comfortable temperatures in the 60s with a little chance of rain and, importantly, breezes in the 10-15 mph range but nothing like we saw last year. The high elevation definitely will take some getting used to for the golfers.
*For those wondering why the course is called Nine Bridges since there are only eight on the course, 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 (putts per GIR)/strokes gained: putting
• Scrambling. strokes gained: around the green
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Bogey avoidance
2017: Justin Thomas
Last year, fairways were easy to hit and greens were pretty easy to hit. The problem for the golfers really surfaced on the greens. According to PGATour.com, Nine Bridges was the hardest course on Tour last season in a series of putting categories, namely putts per greens in regulation (1.873), one-putt percentage (31.04) and three-putt avoidance (6.90 percent). Scrambling success was also under 50 percent, as the greens feature run-offs. Even though all indications suggest the course will play easier than last year's 9-under winning score, we'll still consider guys who rank well in bogey avoidance. Players who played the tournament last year should have an advantage, especially when it comes to reading the tricky greens.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
DraftKings Tier 1 Values
Justin Thomas - $11,600 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 11-2)
Thomas was admittedly exhausted when he arrived in South Korea last year, yet somehow he mustered enough to win. Even though he's coming off the playoffs, the Ryder Cup and last week's appearance in Malaysia, he seems better positioned to play well this time around. Thomas has an underrated short game – he was 19th in strokes gained: around the green last year.
Jason Day - $10,600 (12-1)
Day should be well rested, having been idle since the Tour Championship. He didn't have a great postseason, but not a terrible one, either. When short-game play is paramount for success, Day is usually a good option. He tied for 11th here last year.
DraftKings Tier 2 Values
Billy Horschel - $9,700 (25-1)
Horschel did not play here last year, and he was not at his best last week in Malaysia (T33), but this course should be suited for his game. Horschel ranked third last season in greens in regulation and 23rd in putting. He even ranked 16th in strokes gained: off the tee. And he was tied for 10th in bogey avoidance. Horschel made a strong run in the playoffs for a second time, but he was unable to back that up the following season last time around.
Tyrrell Hatton - $9,500 (25-1)
Hatton overcame a rough patch earlier this year and has been playing quite well since the summer, including a top-10 at the PGA Championship and a runner-up two weeks ago at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Hatton is a terrific putter and was ranked 34th on the PGA Tour in bogey avoidance last season. He didn't play in The CJ Cup in 2017.
Gary Woodland - $9,100 (30-1)
Since the Canadian Open at the end of July, Woodland has finished top-25 in seven of his eight starts. Last week was his best of the bunch, a tie for fifth at the CIMB Classic that featured an 11-under 61. Woodland's short game is not his strength, but he has no real weakness right now. He tied for 40th here last year, with the appearance alone giving him a leg up on more than half the field.
Kevin Na - $8,100 (50-1)
Na tied for 47th here last year when his game was way off. Beginning with the PGA Championship, Na finished top-25 in five of his past six starts, including a T19 last week in Malaysia. Of course, Na's short game is elite – he was 10th in strokes gained: around the green and 11th in SG: putting last season.
DraftKings Tier 3 Values
Sungjae Im - $8,000 (40-1)
Talk about a home game. Im grew up on Jeju Island and Nine Bridges is his home track. Im is the 20-year-old Korean who won the Web.com Tour's regular-season money title in 2017-18. He debuted as a PGA Tour member with a tie for fourth two weeks ago at the season-opening Safeway Open.
Abraham Ancer - $7,700 (60-1)
Ancer has been playing well for some time now and is beginning to really make a name for himself on the PGA Tour. He tied for fifth last week at the CIMB. Ancer ranked 32nd on Tour last season in bogey avoidance.
Ian Poulter - $7,600 (50-1)
Poulter tied for 15th last year and, over the final three rounds, actually shot two strokes better than Thomas. He did not have a great playoff, and his Ryder Cup was good though not great, but we're counting on Poulter's short game to carry him this week. He ranked 25th in strokes gained: approach last season.
DraftKings Long-Shot Values
Chez Reavie - $7,000 (100-1)
We had a hard time finding someone to our liking in this range. We're not enamored with Reavie, but he's the best on this portion of the DraftKings board. He's had a couple of mediocre finishes so far – T33 at the Safeway, T43 at the CIMB – but last season, Reavie was accurate off the tee and with his approach shots, and he ranked 29th in scrambling and a decent 69th in SG: putting. He ranked 21st in bogey avoidance. Reavie should play well on this track, and last year he did, tying for 15th.
Whee Kim - $6,600 (100-1)
Kim tied for fourth last year at Nine Bridges, and it's easy to see why: he has a pretty good short game. Kim was ranked 23rd in strokes gained: around the green last season, as well as 53rd in putting. He was really good on SG: approach, ranking 20th. Kim's main trouble is off the tee, but that wasn't really an issue here last year.
Sang-hyun Park - $6,400 (200-1)
The 35-year-old Park looks like the best option among the Korean-born golfers who don't regularly play on the PGA Tour. He is ranked 124th in the world and coming off a tie for 50th at the CIMB Classic. Park has eight Korean Tour wins, including one last month and two more earlier this year. Park played his way into the tournament after missing out last year.