For the first time in the new 2021-22 PGA Tour season, an event welcomes an especially strong field for a stroke-play event, as 15 of the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking will be on hand for this week’s CJ CUP @ Summit.
For the second consecutive year, the tournament will be played in the U.S. rather than South Korea, as it was originally intended, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s emergency host venue turned out to be Nevada’s Summit Club, a course that boasts incredible views of the Las Vegas strip.
With many of the PGA Tour’s best players making their season debut in this event, this should be another great edition, with each of the past three winners finishing at least 20-under-par. The new course makes it an ultimate wild card.
Who do we like to contend? Our top 15 follows:
15. Jason Kokrak
What about the defending champ? Yes, it was at a different course, but Kokrak still played amazingly, running down Xander Schauffele on Sunday with an 8-under 64, snatching his first career victory after more than 230 Tour starts.
Kokrak became one of just a few multi-time winners on the 2021 Tour season, later taking the Charles Schwab Challenge in late-May. He was very hit-or-miss late in the year though, and did miss the cut at last week’s Shriners Children’s Open, his 2022 season debut.
Depending on what season you look at, the 36-year-old Xavier product has been either tremendous or horrific at this time of the year.
World Rank: 29
Odds To Win: 45-1
14. Sungjae Im
An absolutely dominant Sunday performance at last week’s Shriners Children’s Open gave the 23-year-old a second career victory in his 100th career Tour starts. His first victory came in his 50th start.
Could victory No. 3 come as early as his 101st? When he won the Honda Classic in 2020, he did chase it with a solo-third in his next start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, although he usually struggles the first start after his best results. He did not play well in any of his five starts last season that came after a top-10.
Although, if he plays Summit tee-to-green the way he did TPC Summerlin, it would be difficult to not see him in the mix. He noted after his round on Sunday that CJ is his sponsor, which gives him a little extra motivation to stay focused coming into this week.
World Rank: 21
Odds To Win: 25-1
13. Brooks Koepka
You can set your watch to Koepka when he plays majors, but has been a mixed bag in recent years otherwise. After a five-start stretch in the summer where he had four finishes inside the top-6, Brooks’ season stalled in August.
Koepka was forced to withdraw from the second-round of the Tour Championship with a wrist injury that threatened to take him out of the Ryder Cup. He did play Whistling Straits, however, and played it mostly well, going 2-2-0 and taking out a pesky Bernd Wiesberger in Sunday Singles.
If Koepka was feeling good enough about his wrist to play last week’s Shriners Children’s Open, it is a good sign that it will not be a problem, although he was 72-73 on the weekend and finished T67. He is really hard to predict in non-majors these days; he plays great sometimes and looks like he doesn’t care other times.
World Rank: 9
Odds To Win: 25-1
12. Viktor Hovland
The 24-year-old world No. 15 from Norway looks on the verge of becoming an every-week contender on Tour. If that is to happen in the 2022 season though, he will need to play better than he has recently, finishingT44 at last week’s Shriners Children’s Open in his first start after a T49 in an international event.
Hovland also went 0-3-2 at the Ryder Cup for the losing European side, although he did do well to tie a hot Collin Morikawa in Sunday singles. He has been phenomenal off the tees in his young career; he just needs his short game to take a step forward if he wants to join the world’s elite.
The Oklahoma State product had the Tour’s ninth-best scoring average last season, was sixth in birdie average, and eighth in strokes gained: tee-to-green. He was T12 in this event a year ago, an excellent result considering he opened with a 75.
World Rank: 15
Odds To Win: 22-1
11. Rory McIlroy
Rory is such a wild card these days. Even at the recent Ryder Cup, he was a disaster in all three of his matches before inexplicably putting it together in a comfortable Sunday singles win over Xander Schauffele.
The Northern Irishman had seven top 10s on the 2021 PGA Tour season, but was a no-show in a lot of the bigger events. Still, he led the Tour in birdie average, and the CJ Cup has been an event where the winners went very low in recent years. This week will mark his event, and season, debut.
World Rank: 14
Odds To Win: 18-1
10. Kevin Na
Na finished the 2021 is absolutely blazing form, throwing himself right into the Ryder Cup Captain’s Pick debate with four top-10s in his last six starts, including two runner-ups, and a T3 at the Tour Championship where he actually tied Xander Schauffele for the lowest 72-hole score.
The 38-year-old led the Tour this past season in strokes gained: around-the-green and was fourth in scrambling. He has had nearly a month to rest after a badly-missed cut at the season-opening Fortinet Championship, which we are not especially concerned about, since it was mostly the result of an uncharacteristically awful second-round (77) that is unlikely to become a trend.
World Rank: 27
Odds To Win: 50-1
9. Sam Burns
The current FedExCup points leader finished his 2021 season strong, and then won the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi two weeks ago.
Burns threatened to make it two in a row when he got to within two of the 54-hole lead at last week’s Shriners Children’s Open, before a difficult Sunday dropped him to a still-respectable T14.
The LSU product has been among the most improved players on Tour in the past year, going from 154th in the world rankings at the end of 2020 to his current position of 18th. He also had 15 birdies over his first two rounds a week ago at TPC Summerlin.
We would be inclined to not read too much into his performance on Sunday.
World Rank: 18
Odds To Win: 25-1
8. Tony Finau
By winning The Northern Trust, the first event of the FedExCup playoffs, Finau emerged from a summer slump and ended one of golf’s most notable winless streaks.
With that monkey off his back, the bomber could be much more comfortable on Sundays. That was not the case at Whistling Straits, however, where Finau lost 3&2 in Sunday singles to European Ryder Cup legend Ian Poulter.
The 32-year-old has no glaring weaknesses in his game and has had at least one great fall result in each of the past four seasons.
World Rank: 10
Odds To Win: 25-1
7. Scottie Scheffler
Scheffler missed the cut by four strokes at last week’s Shriners Children’s Open, which was shocking, given that the last time we saw him, he refused to be an expected sacrificial lamb for world No. 1 Jon Rahm, destroying the world’s hottest golfer in Sunday singles.
It would be wrong to look too much into what happened at TPC Summerlin though. In just two full-time seasons on Tour, he has made 42 cuts in 52 starts, with 15 top 10s.
The first victory for the 25-year-old is inevitable, if not imminent. He is another player who can get hot and go on birdie runs.
World Rank: 23
Odds To Win: 28-1
6. Louis Oosthuizen
Despite failing to snag his first career victory on American soil, the 38-year-old South African had a phenomenal 2021 PGA Tour season, consistently placing high in the bigger events.
In a seven-start stretch from April to July, Oosthuizen had four runner-ups and a T3. For the season, he had the third best scoring average and led the Tour in strokes gained: putting.
Oosthuizen made his 2022 season debut at last week’s Shriners Children’s Open, shooting four rounds in the 60s to finish a respectable T14. He was third in the field at TPC Summerlin in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and carded five birdies over his final ten holes.
World Rank: 8
Odds To Win: 28-1
5. Jordan Spieth
Spieth’s emphatic return to the elites of the sport was one of the biggest storylines of the 2021 season. Falling outside the top 90 of the OWGR at one point, Spieth has rocketed himself back to 12th coming into the week, and seemed to regain his swagger with a win in April being the best among his 9 top-10s (second-most on Tour).
The Texan also had two runner-ups and two third-place finishes. He did finish outside the top 20 in his three finals starts of the season, and was nothing special at the Ryder Cup (1-2-1), but should be well-rested for his 2022 season debut, with that weekend at Whistling Straits being his only action in the past month-and-a-half.
Spieth was T8 in this event two years ago at Nine Bridges.
World Rank: 12
Odds To Win: 20-1
4. Justin Thomas
Thomas never quite re-gained form after his March victory at last year’s PLAYERS Championship, with just two top-10s in his final 14 starts. However, both of those top-10s were 4th place finishes at recent FedExCup playoff events, and he played well at the Ryder Cup, going 2-1-1, dominating his Sunday singles match against Tyrrell Hatton.
Thomas has been the winner in two of the four past editions in this event (2017, 2019), so if trends continue, he has an every-other-year thing going.
The world No. 6 has consistently played some of his best golf early in seasons. He finished last season third in strokes gained: tee-to-green.
World Rank: 6
Odds To Win: 12-1
3. Collin Morikawa
Morikawa’s phenomenal 2021 season, highlighted by a second-career major championship (Open Championship) and a victory at WGC event, had a bit of an underwhelming finish as injury issues prevented him from making any kind of dent in the FedExCup playoffs.
However, questions about his current condition were put to rest at Whistling Straits, where he and Dustin Johnson formed an incredible team, a team Morikawa went 3-0-1 for. His ball striking is so advanced that it is almost unfair to the rest of the field when he has his putter going.
Morikawa finished the season ranked first in strokes gained: approach-the-green, second in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and fifth in greens in regulation.
World Rank: 3
Odds To Win: 16-1
2. Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson has not looked like Dustin Johnson in 2021, but he might be rounding back into form, as he was unquestionably the American MVP at the Ryder Cup three weeks ago, going a perfect 5-0-0 for the winning side.
Now he comes back to stroke play, where he has three top 10s in his last four starts, all coming in high-profile events. He has shown the ability to get hot and stay hot; making it logical that he has the best betting odds of anyone in the field.
Even with his drop in results during the calendar year, he still finished the season with the Tour’s second-best scoring average.
World Rank: 2
Odds To Win: 12-1
1. Xander Schauffele
Schauffele makes his 2022 season debut this week, and is among the players most due for a major championship breakthrough. The CJ Cup is not a major, but Schauffele had the 36-hole lead at this event a year ago before finishing second.
The California native had zero wins and three runner-ups in a mostly-fantastic 2021, although he may have answered some questions about his ability to close by winning the gold medal at The Olympics.
Schauffele has played extremely well at this time of year in each of the past three seasons. The Olympics and the Ryder Cup, where Schauffele 3-1-0 for the winning American side, likely lessened his current pressure.
World Rank: 5
Odds To Win: 12-1
Next Five: Cameron Smith, Abraham Ancer, Harris English, Hideki Matsuyama, Shane Lowry