After a handful of Stateside events, it's time to leave the country for a while.
The journey will begin with this week's CJ CUP on Jeju Island, South Korea but it will also include trips to Japan, China, and Mexico over the next month.
It's fun to have TV coverage at different hours of the day but it also means that ShotLink goes missing.
It also means a change to the field sizes and cut-line rules. This week there will be 78 golfers pegging it in South Korea with no cut-line to worry about. They will all play 72 holes barring any WDs.
The Club at Nine Bridges is hosting for the third straight year. It's a par 72 that now plays up to 7,241 yards. That's an increase of 45 yards since last year but it plays about 2,000 feet above sea level so golfers do get an extra 5 yards or so on most of their full shots.
The course features easy-to-find fairways with the field finding more than 72% of them in each of the first two years playing here. That will give the golfers a lot of approach shots from the short grass.
Even missed fairways yield GIR percentage of 64% which is not too tough. The problem is trying to finish the job (putting). The PGA TOUR average for 3-Putt Percentage typically sits just under 3 percent. Two years ago the field averaged 3-putts on 6.9 percent of their holes played and everyone in the field had at least one. There was a slight improvement last year but it still yielded a 5.4 3-putt percentage and just two golfers escaped without a 3-putt on their cards (Joel Dahmen and Tyrrell Hatton).
Despite the Fairways and Greens numbers lining up well, year-over-year, the field scoring average has been very different. The first year saw wind whip through and cause havoc (+1.19 RTP) while last year the winds were a bit gentler and the rough was down, leading to a field scoring average of -1.05 RTP. The weather truly will dictate whether this is a scorefest or a grind-it-out week.
For turf they will tackle pristine bentgrass greens. The grass almost looks like it's artificial or straight out of a video game.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Justin Thomas: "Yeah the greens have a lot of slope on them. The greens are very big as well, so the slope can play a big factor and a big role in how you are going to play the course. If you want to use some of the slopes to get close to the holes, or if you want use some to get into the spot where you want to putt from, but the hardest part is that you just have to play smart. You can’t be too aggressive and short sight yourself or have the putt above the hole. You want to try to leave it below the hole and have as many makeable putts with as little break as possible that you can out there."
Brooks Koepka: "I do think I'll be grabbing driver a bit. Felt like the fairways are wide enough where I can really take advantage of my length. The rough's down this year compared to what it was last year, so even if you are in the rough, you can stop it. It's not as penalizing if you're missing the fairways. So I would say if you can take out a few bunkers and make sure that we're a little bit closer to the hole, I'm planning on doing that this week"
Hideki Matsuyama: "It's a very difficult golf course, a lot of blind holes. The wind makes it play very, very difficult. I'm going to really have to be on the top of my game and hit some good quality shots. Course management is going to be very important this week."
Jason Day: "When you have an elevation change of about 2000 feet from sea level, you probably have 0-to-5 yards in distance change and in how much further you will hit it. That’s one thing that we have to tackle this week. There’s a lot of elevation change from tee to green, or second shot into the green, with that you will have to be wary of as well."
Overview: Golfers talk a lot about the difficulties on and around the greens here. Brooks and JT both say it's a course that benefits the long hitters. They are also the first two winners of this event so we should probably listen to them.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Augusta National (Masters)
Chapultepec (WGC Mexico)
Sheshan International (WGC HSBC)
The main theme is tricky greens this week. Sheshan will give you the closest comp in terms of traveling to Asia, climate, and turf conditions.
Thursday: Partly Cloudy with a high of 68 degrees. Winds around 6 to 12 MPH.
Friday: Patches of rain with a high of 68 degrees. Winds around 8 to 13 MPH.
It looks a bit like West Coast Swing weather with temps in the upper 60s most of the week and just a touch of rain here and there. Wind doesn't look to be a big concern as of now.
Golfers to Watch
Won the inaugural CJ CUP but finished T36 in his title defense last year. One of the best on TOUR in these no-cut events because he has that extra go-low gear so you can almost always expect to see him lapping the field during one of the four rounds played.
A fully-healthy Koepka announced that he's now able to practice ahead of the Shriners. He went on to miss the cut but him feeling 100% healthy again is a great sign for things to come in 2020. Heck, most of us didn't even realize he was playing injured. BK will be playing the role of defending champ this week.
The youngster grew up on Jeju Island so this is home for him. He's also arriving off a win last week on the Korean Tour. That combination should drum up a lot of interest this week.
Speaking of the Korean Tour, this Aussie started his career playing in Korea. He's very familiar with the type of course design out here. That showed with his runner-up finish two years ago and he settled for T18 last year.
Making his season debut, we haven't seen him in action for over two months. He should like the layout at Nine Bridges in that it doesn't overly punish errant drives and it's tricky around the greens. That being said, there is rust to be shaken off. I will wait until reinvesting.
The Englishman was the first man off my Top 20 this week but he arrives with a win and two other top 30s in his last three starts. Augusta National showed up as a potential correlated venue so if that's true then it'd be another reason to gravitate toward Willett this week. Finished T23 here last year.
Remarkable ball-striking consistency to start his pro career. He's gained strokes tee-to-green in eight straight measured events, gaining off-the-tee AND on approach in all eight of those starts.
The star from Japan will be looking forward to next week but his game has seemed so close to winning for a while now. Will he finally get back into the winner's circle? This three-week stretch in Asia might provide him some additional comfort needed to get over the hump.
Ranking the Field
1. Justin Thomas
2. Brooks Koepka
3. Viktor Hovland
4. Hideki Matsuyama
5. Collin Morikawa
6. Tommy Fleetwood
7. Sungjae Im
8. Jason Day
9. Rafa Cabrera Bello
10. Ian Poulter
11. Marc Leishman
12. Sergio Garcia
13. Gary Woodland
14. Chez Reavie
15. Lucas Glover
16. Charles Howell III
17. Andrew Putnam
18. Cameron Smith
19. Byeong Hun An
20. Matthew Wolff
Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our DFS Dish and Wednesday morning for the Expert Picks.