Sobel’s 2019 CJ Cup Betting Guide: Target the Favorites at Nine Bridges?
Justin Thomas is as high as 18-1 to win the 2020 Masters. Butch Dill, USA Today Sports.
Put on an extra pot of coffee – and keep it going for the next three weeks.
The PGA Tour is about to embark on its annual Asia Swing, featuring events in South Korea, Japan and China. While the casual U.S. golf fan can lazily lounge through the broadcast of a Sunday afternoon back-nine, only the heartiest souls will set the alarms and, yes, pound a few cups of coffee to catch the proceedings from half-a-world away.
This three-week swing begins with the CJ Cup, which has already offered some big-name winners and big-time drama in just two years of existence.
The inaugural tournament saw Justin Thomas (+700 pre-tournament) survive a playoff with Marc Leishman, while last year’s event turned into a weekend coronation of Brooks Koepka (+1000 pre-tournament).
While it shouldn’t be shocking anytime elite players claim a title, the surprise here came in the overall discrepancies. Thomas and Leishman each finished at 9-under in tough conditions, while Koepka raced to a 21-under total, with 10 players posting scores of 65 or better in the final round alone.
This week’s weather calls for temperatures hovering around 70 degrees with a negligible light breeze throughout the four tournament rounds.
With that in mind, scores could be closer to what we saw last year than two years ago, so let’s give an extra bump to those who can make birdies in bunches.
One player to win the tournament.
Justin Thomas (+650)
In recent months, Thomas and Jon Rahm have separated themselves — not necessarily as the best players, but those who consistently show up on leaderboards. (And yes, we could probably throw Rory McIlroy on this list, as well.) JT hasn’t finished outside of the top-12 since June, a span of seven starts.
The winner of the CJ two years ago, he’ll have some good vibes this week. If you can eat the low odds — and that’s a big if — the tourney favorite tops the board for good reason.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Gary Woodland (+2500)
Since his breakthrough U.S. Open victory, Woodland hasn’t finished better than 15th, but the honeymoon period should be ending soon.
Runner-up at this event last year thanks to a final-round 63, his length remains an obvious advantage, even on a 7,196-yard track where he won’t have to bang driver all over the place.
One player to finish top-five.
Sungjae Im (+500)
A native of South Korea, Im has been barnstorming his way around the U.S. for the past few years, a nomad ironman who plays virtually every week without establishing a home base.
Well, he should enjoy the home cooking this week (perhaps literally for a guy who reportedly only feasts on Korean cuisine), perhaps to the point where he claims his first career PGA Tour win. After all, it’s coming soon. Might as well happen at home.
One player to finish top-10.
Marc Leishman (+197)
A month ago, Leishman opened with a 76 before withdrawing at the Greenbrier, perhaps a sign that something wasn’t right either physically or with his game.
That notion didn’t last long, as he finished solo third at the Safeway Open just two weeks later. He was on the losing end of a playoff with Thomas at this event two years ago and now that things are apparently fine in Camp Leishman, he should be a smart play once again.
One player to finish top-20.
Byeong Hun An (+130)
Perhaps it’s too myopic to list a second South Korean-born player based on the sheer fact that he’s from South Korea, but this time of year, we’ll take an additional motivational factor anywhere we can find it.
The truth is, An has been a frustrating target as a player who doesn’t seem to build on momentum. He finished solo third at the regular season-ending Wyndham Championship, then failed to post a top-25 in two playoff starts; he finished solo third again at the Sanderson Farms last month, then failed to make the cut in his next two starts. I do think that in a limited field, where he only needs to be in the top 25 percent, An makes for a solid play in this category.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
Corey Conners (DK $7,800; FD $8,500)
In a field littered with several big names, it might seem strange to see Conners as the “safe” play, but that’s exactly what he’s become – a solid ball-striker who owns a high floor every single week.
In his last seven starts, Conners has finished 27th-or-better on six occasions. He also won’t bust your budget at well below the average salary for both DK and FD.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
Soomin Lee (DK $6,300; FD $7,000)
This week’s field features plenty of fuzzy foreigners, as Carl Spackler politically incorrectly said, guys who don’t usually find themselves in star-studded PGA Tour fields. Since this is a no-cut event, though, there’s value in loading up on five of those stars and taking a cheaper unknown commodity. My money is on Lee, based on recent form.
He owns three straight top-10s on the Korean Tour, including a win at the K.J. Choi Invitational just two weeks ago. That’s nothing new, either; over much of the past decade, Lee has consistently posted strong results throughout all of Asia.
If you’re taking a flier on a low-cost option, this one could pay off nicely. Also keep an eye on sponsor’s exemption Chase Koepka, who bested his big bro by making the cut in Las Vegas and recently successfully advanced through the first stage of Korn Ferry Q School.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Ryan Palmer (+5500)
We all understand how difficult it is to put together back-to-back super-low rounds on the PGA Tour, but here’s hoping it’s a bit easier when those rounds come 52 weeks apart. Palmer closed at this tournament last year with a course-record 62. That obviously doesn’t mean history will repeat itself, but if you’re looking for a mid-range play who at least knows he can take it deep here, Palmer is a guy who should be brimming with confidence.
One player who should beat comparable players.
There’s a fairly small sample size, but Putnam has proven over the past year that his estimable game will travel. During these 12 months, he’s been T-21 at the BMW PGA Championship, T-32 at The Open Championship, T-4 at the Scottish Open, T-17 at the Dunlop Phoenix and T-4 at the WGC-HSBC Champions.
That’s a wide variety of courses at a wide variety of locations. What does that tell us? He obviously likes getting away from the usual U.S. setups and plying his craft in other places. As always, he fits a handful of different categories on this list, but I specifically like him against potential matchups – even facing An, whom I mentioned above as a top-20 pick.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Jordan Spieth (+2500)
Making his season debut after a second consecutive down year, the 38th(!)-ranked Spieth should be treated with a wait-and-see approach from bettors and fantasy owners for the time being.
I’m still bullish on him over the long haul and his late-summer results hinted at better things coming soon. If Spieth was a stock, he’s neither a buy nor a sell right now – just hold on to your shares and hope they climb back to somewhere near their long-ago top value.
My favorite non-PGA Tour play of the week.
Sam Horsfield – Open de France, top-five
How uninspiring is the field at Le Golf National, site of last year’s Ryder Cup? The co-favorites are a stumbling Alex Noren, who doesn’t own a top-10 this year, and Mike Lorenzo Vera, who hasn’t won a single professional tournament in a dozen years. All of which should tell us there’s some value in searching down the board in a field that also includes the likes of Erik Van Rooyen, Thomas Pieters and Martin Kaymer.
I’ve been cautiously playing Horsfield for the past month or so, because I believe the ultra-talented 23-year-old is ready to pop, especially against a weaker field. During that time, though, his results have been a whole bunch of “meh” with finishes of 34-34-31-49 in his last four starts. Even so, I don’t want to jump off too soon.
As we witnessed last year, this course suits accurate ball-strikers who keep the ball in play, which only partially fits Horsfield’s profile, as he ranks 79th on the European Tour in greens in regulation. For that reason, instead of continuing to jump with two feet, I’m simply dipping a toe in the water and recommending him for a top-five finish, with the caveat that even if you don’t like him this week, he’s a name we should keep firmly on our radars in the months to come.