Why There’s a CJ Cup Leaderboard Shakeup Coming — And What it Means for Live Outrights
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Thomas
I’ve always believed there are two ways of discerning the caliber of a golf course when hosting a big-time professional tournament.
The first is whether it suits all different types of players. If the leaderboard is only littered with the longest hitters or those with the best short games, then clearly it offers an advantage to a specific skillset.
The second is whether it can yield both low and high scores equitably. In other words: If a player is on his game, he can go several strokes deep into red figures; if he’s off his game, he can go backwards in a hurry.
In the first-ever PGA TOUR-sanctioned round at Shadow Creek, the famed oasis in the Las Vegas desert checked both of those boxes.
While many of the players on the current leaderboard can be classified as ball-strikers, there’s certainly a fairly even representation of bombers, wedge-game artists and deft putters. In my mind, TPC Sawgrass has always been a great example of an unbiased venue in this regard, but Shadow Creek fit the bill through the first day.
As for those equitable scores, well, Tyrrell Hatton continued his recent run of terrific form. He posted a 7-under 65, leading a baker’s dozen players with sub-70 totals and showing that such a number is possible on this course.
Conversely, Matthew Wolff — who was in pretty terrific form himself entering this week — never got it going in the right direction and posted the high score of the day with a 6-over 78. With 78 players in the CJ Cup field, the scoring average was just over par at 72.73, as the leader and last place were separated by a whopping 15 strokes.
That proves my earlier point: If you’re playing well, scoring is hardly impossible; if you’re not, it can be a tough day.
What does all of that mean from a betting perspective for the next three days?
It tells us to expect some big swings on both ends of the board, as players can greatly improve their position with a big round, but just as easily tumble way down if it all falls apart.
As such, my advice to look well past the current leaderboard to find some players with decent prices next to their names. Here are a few of ‘em:
Justin Thomas (+3000)
He’s even-par after the first round and while a seven-shot differential might not be optimal, I think it means even less this week than others. Thomas lost strokes off the tee, but I’m willing to bet that one of the game’s best drivers of the ball will shore up that part of his game, while hopefully continuing to post positive numbers in approach shots and around the greens. Considering he was 10-1 pre-tourney, you’re getting a bargain here.
Daniel Berger (+7000)
Another value play here, as Berger posted a 1-under 71, but his price increased. In the opener, he gained strokes off the tee, on approach shots and putting.
Let’s try to chalk up three bogeys on the first six holes of his back-nine as just a poor stretch of golf and focus on those positives instead. He has the talent to win in this type of field.
Joaquin Niemann (+10000)
I really liked Niemann coming into this week and he was cruising along Thursday with three birdies and 12 pars in his first 15 holes before finishing with a bogey and a double on two of his last three — and both par-5s, no less.
That’s one way to ensure your Vegas strip steak tastes terrible that night, but it’s also a couple of outliers that we should assume won’t happen again. Maybe it’s a little ambitious, but that round wasn’t too far from being in the 67-68 range, so at 100/1 — up from 66/1 pre-tourney — I don’t mind the play.
Round 2 Matchups
Kevin Streelman (-109) over Mackenzie Hughes
Prior to the first round, I would’ve had this as a pretty even matchup between two guys who are underrated and can go low on any given day. On Thursday, Streelman posted a score (68) five strokes better than Hughes, had much better numbers across the board — and he’s still the ‘dog here.
I get the “law of averages” and positive/negative regression, but at some point, there’s nothing wrong with riding a hot hand.
Matthew Fitzpatrick (+110) over Patrick Cantlay
Same premise here, really. Cantlay is probably a bit more talented, all things considered, but a plus-money play on Fitz is still smart, as his overall game looked strong with Thursday’s opening 69.
Joaquin Niemann (+106) over Hideki Matsuyama
Nothing against Hideki, who posted a solid 2-under 70, but I stated my Niemann lean above and I’ll play it here, as well. Let’s hope he comes out mad and playing aggressively after that poor finish.