Sticking around Las Vegas for a second week in a row, the PGA TOUR travels 18 miles Northeast for THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event was relocated from South Korea for one year. They are expected to return to Jeju Island next fall.
The tournament is a no-cut event with just 78 golfers in the field. To primary criteria to crack the field is that you needed to have finished Top 60 in the FedExCup last season. Usually that brings out all of the stars but again, the pandemic put a dent in those plans. Due to the shortened season, a lot more stars fell outside of that top-60 bubble. As a result, the list of golfers that needed sponsor invites this week includes Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, and Keegan Bradley.
Shadow Creek Golf Course will host this week. Fans may remember this venue from the 2018 Match between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. The course is catered to high rollers in Vegas, costing you more than $500 for a round.
The Tom Fazio design is sculpted in the desert terrain but looks far from arid. It looks like someone crafted the course in a video game and then cut-and-pasted it into its current location. That was back in 1989 when this place was isolated but it's now surrounded by housing communities.
This week's setup shows a par 72 on the scorecard that will play around 7,527 yards according to the scorecard. That would be considered pretty long most weeks but they are playing at around 2,000 feet above sea level so the course gets shortened a touch with that added altitude boost.
Golfers will have water hazards in play on half the holes and greens are on the small side, just 5,500 square feet on average. That's about 1,000 less than the TOUR average.
For turf, golfers will see bermudagrass that has been overseeded with ryegrass from tee-to-green. The overseed was put down just five weeks ago. Once they reach the putting surfaces, they will see T1 Bentgrass with a target stimp rating of 12 feet. That is close to average TOUR speed, possibly a little quicker than average.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Tom Kite: "Leaving Las Vegas’ desert surroundings and entering the forested wilderness that is Shadow Creek is a shock to the senses. No matter how much you may have heard of it… the question that continues to run through your head while experiencing Shadow Creek is, how did it get here?"
Jerome Bettis: "It's North Carolina majesty in the middle of the desert."
Tiger Woods: "To go from a flat piece of property in a flat desert to creating something that you would find in the Carolinas, out in the mountains, I think it's just phenomenal. To be able to create something so utopian like this is a testament to the ownership and what their vision was for this property, and what they've done is just incredible."
Check back on Wednesday and I will add some additional quotes from the pre-tournament press conferences.
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:
TPC Scottsdale (Phoenix Open)
PGA WEST Rota
TPC Summerlin (Shriners)
We are looking at desert golf out West with some altitude involved. It's easy to see how all three of these might correlate by week's end.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 85 degrees. Winds at 7 to 10 MPH gusts up to 20 MPH.
Friday: Partly sunny with a high of 86 degrees. Winds around 5 MPH with gusts flirting with 15 MPH.
There isn't rain in the forecast but wind could present a challenge. As of Monday, it looks like round one will have some wind to deal with before things calm down on Friday. It's way too early to trust a wind forecast so keep an eye on things as the event draws nearer.
Golfers to Watch
Around the time of the 2018 Match between Tiger and Phil it was reported that DJ owns the post-renovation course record of 7-under 65. That seems surprisingly high so the course is either very difficult or the record will get shattered this week. What it tells us for Johnson is that he has course experience here at Shadow Creek. He's also been one of the top performers in golf since the restart. It's no wonder that he checks in as the 9/1 betting favorite.
There is something about limited-field events that bring out the best in Thomas. Of his 13 PGA TOUR wins, all but three of them have come in events with less than 100 golfers in the field. That includes this event last year (and 2017). He'll need to take his talents to a new venue this week but he should remain one of the favorites.
The X-Man has that same reputation of crushing in no-cut events. Of his four TOUR wins, two were against sub-40-man fields and one was a WGC event. As a San Diego native he should enjoy teeing it up on this part of the country, presumably for two straight weeks. He's bettered the field scoring average by at least 4.5 shots in eight of his last nine starts so form is not an issue.
Missed last week's Shriners due to a positie COVID-19 test but he is still in the listed field as of Monday which tells us that he was symptom-free and good this week or the field is just slow to update. Keep your eye on his status in the next few days to make sure he remains in the field.
He's had a few weeks off since the U.S. Open but he hasn't been sitting at home on his couch. McIlroy posted a video last week that showed him reaching 191 MPH ball speed. It's not like he needed the extra distance but if he's looking to improve on what is already a strength then it's probably a good sign that the rest of his game is feeling just fine. Should be fun to watch his off-the-tee numbers this season to see just how much he can improve, or if the chase for maximum distance will actually hurt him.
Flying straight from Wentworth after winning the Euro Tour's flagship event last week. The same can be said for names like Fitzpatrick, Fleetwood, Poulter, Rose, and Lowry. Will jet lag be a concern this week? It's surprising to see Poulter make the long journey after he was dealing with back spasms early in the week at the BMW PGA Championship. He battled through them to finish solo 5th but still a bit surprising.
Might be the hottest golfer on the planet right now, depending on what timeframe you look at. Wolff has gained 12+ strokes over the field in three of his last six starts, two of them being major championships. The Cali Kid gained 6 or more strokes on approach in all three of those events. Playing out West will only add to his comfort when it comes to dealing with turf conditions and climate. We saw that last week at TPC Summerlin were he looked very comfortable, gaining at least a stroke over the field in all four sub-categories of strokes gained.
Ranking the Field
1. Dustin Johnson
2. Justin Thomas
3. Jon Rahm
4. Xander Schauffele
5. Rory McIlroy
6. Daniel Berger
7. Collin Morikawa
8. Patrick Cantlay
9. Matthew Wolff
10. Hideki Matsuyama
11. Harris English
12. Tony Finau
13. Scottie Scheffler
14. Viktor Hovland
15. Abraham Ancer
16. Sungjae Im
17. Jason Day
18. Tyrrell Hatton
19. Matthew Fitzpatrick
20. Tommy Fleetwood