Believe it or not, it is already week three of the new wrap-around PGA Tour season, with a talented 78-man field heading to beautiful Jeju Island off the coast of South Korea, for the second annual edition of the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges.
Despite both being part of the Asian Swing, the CJ Cup and last week’s CIMB have very little in common. The Malaysian stop at TPC Lumis generally a score-fest, which was illustrated extremely well this year as champion Marc Leishman finished 26-under-par. The CJ Cup, in contrast, is much, much more difficult, rating as one of the toughest courses on Tour last season. The 2017-18 winner, Justin Thomas, was only 9-under par. These two courses require diametrically-opposed strategies.
This field is dense with players who have shown they are up to the challenge. Here are the 15 we believe are up to it the most:
15. Abraham Ancer
Nobody knew what to expect from the 27-year-old from Mexico at last week’s CIMB Classic, especially after he withdrew from the previous week’s Safeway Open with a hand injury, but if it was bothering him in Malaysia, he did an unbelievable job not showing it, as he looked exceptionally comfortable reaching 20-under-par in a T5 finish.
It showed that perhaps the 54-hole lead he held at the Dell Technologies Championship, the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs, was not a fluke. His tee-to-green game improved incredibly over the course of the season, and his start in Malaysia could be what propels him to become the next big thing from Mexico.
World Rank: 109th
Field Rank: 49th
Last Six: 5, 51, 7, MC, 24, 5
14. Emiliano Grillo
The 26-year-old from Argentina won his first career professional event as a PGA Tour member, but has been mostly inconsistent since, with no additional victories, but a handful of top-10 finishes. One of those came recently at the Dell Technologies Championship, the second leg of the FedExCup playoffs, where Grillo finished T7.
Grillo looked even better a week ago at the CIMB where a final-round 66 vaulted him into a runner-up finish to Marc Leishman. Grillo did not play well at Nine Bridges last year, finishing T40, but there is good reason to suspect that he has turned a corner as of late. He certainly has the talent to win on the big stage more often than he does.
World Rank: 49th
Field Rank: 24th
Last Six: 2, 41, 61, 7, 48, 31
13. Billy Horschel
There may be no player on Tour streakier than Billy Horschel, a former FedExCup Champion. When he is hot, you want him in any fantasy lineup or cash game you play. When he is not hot, he is barely worthy of consideration.
So, what kind of streak is he on now? The proud University of Florida product has left that open to interpretation. He was phenomenal in the FedExCup Playoffs, taking second or third in all three events he played (he withdrew from the second round with a sinus problem).
In his only event since, last week’s CIMB Classic, he stayed hot early, shooting 65-69 over the first two rounds, but a poor 73-70 weekend left him just 33rd in the 78-man field. Talentwise, he is one of the best in the CJ Cup field, but can he show the ability to bounce back after his weekend in Malaysia was a disappointment?
World Rank: 34th
Field Rank: 13th
Last Six: 33, 2, 3, 3, 11, 35
12. Paul Casey
For some time, it seemed as a tournament did not exist that Casey could not get into the mix in, even though he would very rarely come away with the victory. That changed over the second half of 2018, as his game turned sharply downward after a very, very poor Sunday in late June at the Travelers Championship.
The Brit may have figured things back out, however, as a respectable T11 finish at the Tour Championship led to a solid 1-1-1 week at the Ryder Cup, where he halved American big gun Brooks Koepka in Sunday singles. He was in Malaysia for the CIMB Classic last week, and again, lost momentum as the week continued, but a T13 finish should give him confidence heading to the event in South Korea.
World Rank: 21st
Field Rank: 7th
Last Six: 13, 11, 21, 60, MC, 31
11. Xander Schauffele
For the second straight season, Schauffele finished the season strong, finishing T3 at the BMW Championship, the third leg of the FedExCup Playoffs, and then T7 at the defense of his 2017 Tour Championship victory.
Much was expected from the 24-year-old heading into his third Tour season at last week’s CIMB Classic, but results were mixed; a 69-71 start put him well off the pace. He rebounded, though, on the weekend with a 65-68 finish to take solo-25th position.
Schauffele was abysmal in this event last year, chasing a strong opening-round 69 with an 82, which then snowballed into a 78-76 week for a T72 finish, but in his recent form, he is unlikely to implode like that in South Korea this year. Last year aside, this is the kind of course he usually plays well at.
World Rank: 19th
Field Rank: 5th
Last Six: 25, 7, 3, 49, MC, 35
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