CJ Cup @ Shadow Creek: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Matthew Wolff reacts after his putt on the first hole playoff during the final round of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open golf tournament at TPC Summerlin. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The mystique of Shadow Creek will be uncovered somewhat this week when the strongest field this fall on the PGA Tour tees it up on a course we last saw in ‘The Match,’ two years ago.

It’s one of those clubs where the answer to the question is always “yes.” Let your imagination roam. The caddies are top-notch, providing excellent reads and a great experience for any guests. The course is immaculate, overseeded with rye grass this week for the CJ Cup, which has departed South Korea for one year and come to Vegas. It’s a Tom Fazio design, more penal than some of his other top-100 courses. I was there 20-some years ago and recall more about the decadent beauty of the place than the layout of the holes.

Photos on the interwebs bring those memories to life. There’s ample water and rocks and sand. Distance control will be important for the 78-player field this week. Many of the greens are shallow, defended by hazards front and back. Irons shots must come to rest on the proper segment of the green or 3 putts will be plentiful. Measuring a touch more than 7,500 yards at an altitude around 2,000 feet, the course isn’t long by modern standards. Playing from the fairway seems like an advantage. Then again, I’m not so sure anymore.

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The purse is $9.75 million and everybody gets a cut. The winner will slip out of town with $1.755 million. Well, maybe there’s time for a quick stop at the Baccarat table before heading onward.

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Because this is the first PGA Tour event played at Shadow Creek, I relied on recent performance, ballstriking stats, par-4 scoring and a hunch or two to devise this week’s rankings. It’s been a difficult to predict fall so far with feel-good, comeback stories like Stewart Cink, Hudson Swafford and Martin Laird hitting the winner’s circle. Now we’re in the cycle brewing toward the Masters. Expect the superstars to show their games are ready.

As always, good luck.

Golfer power rankings

21. Joohyung Kim​ – I would like to think, dear regular visitors to this space, that we’ve developed a relationship here, built some level of trust. As in, you trust me to poke around and find the weekly winners and I trust you won’t come burn down my house if I fall short of our shared lofty expectations. My occasional insomnia is your gain this week, friends. Late-night Asian Tour viewing revealed the talent of this 18-year-old with five pro victories. Made the cut at Safeway and Punta Cana.

20. Gary Woodland​ – Last fall, Woodland posted three consecutive top 10s. His best finish in his last six starts is a T-22 at the Memorial, way back in mid-July. So, I’m saying he’s due to start cashing those checks again. Hasn’t played since the U.S. Open, expecting him to be refreshed and ready to roll.

19. Russell Henley – ​Leads the field in SG: Approach over the last 36 rounds and is 13th in SG: Short Game. He’s been remarkably consistent in both areas since the restart. When he putted well (Wyndham, Northern Trust) he finished in the top 10.

18. Collin Morikawa​ – He’s missed three of five cuts since winning the PGA Championship, emerging from the shadows to the spotlight and being burdened with unreasonable comparisons. (Just stop with the Tiger Talk, forever). Drove it poorly and putted worse last week at TPC Summerlin. I believe the turnaround is coming.

17. Tyrrell Hatton​ – Won the BMW PGA Championship by four shots Sunday on a plush, soft Wentworth GC, relying on exquisite short game touch in the final round. That’s a good sign considering saving par when missing greens has been his lone weakness in the States.

16. Joaquin Niemann – ​Lost strokes on approach in his last three starts, which is uncharacteristic, but still finished 23rd at the U.S. Open and 13th at the Shriners. Driver, short game and putting are trending upward. Too pure not to find the groove with his irons soon.

15​. ​Viktor Hovland – ​Struck the ball beautifully in a T-13 at the U.S. Open and also showed significant improvement in his short game, which has been the glaring weakness in an otherwise strong start to his professional career. Should enjoy the challenge of Shadow Creek and has played four rounds in his last 13 tournaments.

14. Sungjae Im​ – You heard it here first, he’s back. Solid ballstriking has returned over the last four events and he’s finished no worse than 28th during that span. Thrived last fall with a pair of top-3 finishes.

13. Scottie Scheffler​ – Expected a big payout for Scheffler last week but 6 under wasn’t good enough to get a Saturday tee time at TPC Summerlin. So you wanna be a golf pro star … Anyway, that unfortunate development hasn’t shattered our confidence in the former Longhorn. Iron game went awry the last two weeks but isn’t likely to stay that way.

12. Patrick Cantlay​ – Strange Sunday for Cantlay at one of his favorite haunts, TPC Summerlin. Made a couple of early bogeys and fell out of contention. Hung around and finished T-8 though and should feel just as comfortable after the short trip over to Shadow Creek, which has a little California in it. Putts his best on bentgrass and touch was in tune last week.

11. Harris English – ​For only the second time in 16 tournaments in 2020, Harris English missed the cut last week at TPC Summerlin. His iron play, short game and putting were below the field average and that’s a surefire way to earn a weekend free. It says here, he’ll return to the form that also produced 11 top 25s.

10. Louis Oosthuizen​ – Things I enjoy more than watching Louis’ sweet swing: 1. My family. 2. Tap-in birdies. 3. L.A. Dodgers playoff victories. We’re going to keep riding Oosty until the wheels fall off the tractor. Four consecutive top 25s, gaining strokes on approach and putting in each start.

9. Kevin Kisner​ – May be distracted by his Georgia Bulldogs big football game at Alabama on Saturday night. Otherwise, we like the fit. He’s third in the field in SG: Putting and 23rd in SG: Approach over the last 36 rounds. Putts his best on bentgrass and had six consecutive top 25s before Winged Foot devoured him. It happens.

8. Rory McIlroy – ​Loves soft golf courses. Has three consecutive top-12 finishes since the birth of his daughter. Tee-to-green game has been strong the last five tournaments and he gained strokes on the greens in each of the last two starts. Making his first appearance since the U.S. Open.

7. Hideki Matsuyama​ – Long game was out of sync at the Shriners, ending his tournament after two rounds, but that can be attributed to a three-week break since the U.S. Open. What I like is the 2.5 SG: Putting, continuing a quiet trend from the summer. Feels like the best ballstrikers will emerge at Shadow Creek over four rounds.

6. Tony Finau​ – Was feeling a big week until a positive COVID-19 test forced Finau to withdraw from the Shriners. Bentgrass is his best putting surface. Has five top 10s in his last eight tournaments. Another guy who needs to figure out how to finish and start collecting trophies.

EDITOR’S NOTE: After this post was published, Finau withdrew from the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek. He did not cite a reason, but he also withdrew from last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open due to a positive COVID test.

5. Jon Rahm​ – Short game abandoned Rahm at the U.S. Open but his Tee-to-Green numbers have been strong since mid-July, producing two victories and two other top-6 finishes. Have to believe his focus will be razor sharp in the weeks leading up to Augusta.

4. Matthew Wolff​ – Also on the short list of golf’s best iron players. Gained 7.1 shots on approach at Winged Foot and 6.1 at Summerlin, finishing runner-up in both tournaments. Fearless and precise should be a useful combination on a course with shallow, tiered greens.

3. Justin Thomas​ – Might be the best iron player in golf. Putter has been fickle in recent tournaments but he gained 4.7 strokes on the greens last time out at the U.S. Open. Has a strong history in limited-field, no-cut events and top 10s in his last two starts.

2. Dustin Johnson​ – He has Shadow Creek vibes. His 65 was the post-renovation course record and may still be. (Unfortunately cannot confirm as we haven’t hung around the locker room at the Creek lately. Now accepting invitations, however). He was the hottest golfer on the planet, arrived at the U.S. Open running on fumes and still finished T-6. Also leads the field in SG: Ballstriking over the last 36 rounds. The betting favorite at 10-1.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Unfortunately, Johnson was forced to withdraw from the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek on Tuesday after this story published due to a positive COVID test. He was replaced in the field by first-alternate J.T. Poston.

1.Xander Schauffele​ – Eventually, he has to win a tournament. What’s held him back? Iron play, surprising enough. Schauffele is only 0.2 SG: Approach in his last five starts, yet has back-to-back top 5s, which only proves how strong he is through the bag. West coast guy should dig the Shadow Creek aura. Inside the top 25 in 14 of the last 15 starts.

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