WEEKEND AT CJ’S (ROUND 3 & 4)
By James Dalthorp
BEAST DOME NATION.
If you missed the first episode, you can find my picks here and the winning Monkey Knife Fight Pick. I got another free one for you on the bottom ;)
In a four round individual tournament in golf, much like multiple-day races and marathons, there’s a good chance your middle-of-the-pack picks who are going along slow and steady might just be pacing themselves for a great weekend. I used to have my own thoughts about this which I took to the extreme. Seeing more objectively how these greats attack the course, it’s just going to come down to who can be the most adaptable and score with their short game. I would argue most guys even shoot their best scores when their long game is worse than average because it forces them to focus so much on that aspect of their game – and therefore they will rely on a putter that won’t miss.
So far so good in South Korea. Justin Thomas, my #1 pick, has a 2 shot lead and I don’t see that changing. With the forecast expected to be slightly overcast with more sun tomorrow, I would expect the low scoring to continue. This is a fairly new event on the PGA Tour, which means it might seem a little hard to gauge where these first timers will finish. Because of the no-cut format, there’s definitely an opportunity for guys to get comfortable and go low on the weekend. But that shouldn’t deviate from our front runners.
Let’s briefly break down the conditions and scoring in rounds one and two.
One thing I noticed in the telecast that surprised me was how many groups were waiting to tee off on holes that normally wouldn’t slow down play. In a 78 man field, it’s a little unusual that they’re playing in threesomes. I think that pace of play has definitely shook a few players up. It’s a little more difficult to get in rhythm when that’s going on – and it tends to favor the patient, more deliberate approach. Over the weekend, I think the younger guys will enjoy playing at a faster pace – assuming the scoring continues to improve (as it seems to do here), and the conditions get sunnier. Keep in mind, they will still play in threesomes. That gives players in the top pairings an advantage at times and should aid the scoring (opposed to playing in two’s, which this small a field would generally be more suited for).
There was an interesting contrast between rounds one and two. In round one, the sun was out and the conditions were absolutely perfect. However, the scoring in round 2 yielded just as many low scores – and only a few players really backed up. An interesting note on the weather – a few players suggested that the course played easier with wind. I can see that to be true – very slight winds, again, on a landscape like this – can be just enough to make a player double think their numbers. A more obvious wind strength and direction can be a comfortable flow – especially for players who have played in this event before. The guys who play well in the wind made great moves on Friday. The Texans, for example, like Ryan Palmer and Jordan Spieth, made big jumps.
Here’s my 6 for the weekend.
1. Justin Thomas (1st, 2 shot lead)
He is who we thought he was. Thomas leads the FedEx Cup standings in points in Asia over the past five seasons and he made it look easy the first two rounds. He was my favorite to win, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t hold on. In fact, his second round 63 was an extremely ho-hum round considering he was close to breaking the course record. He’s in great control of his ball striking and he’s rolling the ball well. I would expect a few more putts to drop – and he should be extremely though to beat.
2. Byeong Hun An (position: T2, 2 back)
Props to An. I was very impressed with the array of shots he was playing from tee to green, as Frank Nobilo noted. He’s the hometown favorite this week and for good reason. He’s played quite a bit here and a Korean local with plenty of game. I think the big crowds will ignite his energy over the weekend and he should have a chance to compete for the trophy based on his position. I could see him putting together a low round tomorrow and then being in the hunt Sunday – and a final pairing with Justin Thomas would be a fitting finish for everyone. He’s thriving on the hometown pressure.
3. Cameron Smith (current position: T6, 5 back)
I’ve enjoyed watching Cameron Smith, the young Aussie over the years, when he plays during the Aussie summer in his home country (which is December, our winter here). As he’s began to play more internationally, I think he’s starting to figure things out. Consider that this course is set on a venue similar to something you might see in Australia. His past 5 rounds on this track are in the 60’s and his past two results on Tour were a T24, a missed cut where he shot 66 in round 2, and a T13 in Vegas, where he positioned himself nicely at 38th on the Fed Ex Cup standings. I’ve seen Smith play in some big events on difficult tracks. I think he’ll be a great dark horse pick over the weekend.
4. Jordan Spieth (current position: T4, 4 shots back)
There’s been a ton of talk about Spieth over the past year. It seems like ever since he quickly won those 3 majors, he’s made some changes that were criticized or went through small slumps that were certainly not from a lack of dedication. I think things are coming together for Jordan. If his bogey or worse holes this week were pars, he would have a 2 shot lead. He’s making plenty of birdies around this course. The Texans played well on Friday, suggesting the conditions might suit Spieth’s style. He’s steadily improved this year, with a few recent top 10’s and a strong PGA Championship.
5. Kevin Na (current position: T23, 7 shots back)
It’s really nice to see Na on top of the leaderboard lately. I think he’s having the best season of career in 2019 – and it’s really in mid swing. His play at Colonial proved that he has serious game – to win around a track that Hogan loved. His win in Vegas was a bit of a home game, but even so, he was able to win in a playoff and hit some great shots under pressure. I’m confident that Na won’t back up – and I like the way he’s swinging the club. His finish looks a bit more polished than usual. He’s more in balance and his distance control appears to be spot on. With a solid 68 on Friday, he’s a promising pick with 2 more rounds like that.
6. Phil Mickelson (current: T33, 9 back)
I‘m still optimistic that Phil Mickelson will have a great weekend. There were signs of brilliance in those first two rounds – and I think Phil is just getting the hang of things in South Korea. He seems a little out of place at this event – where there aren’t too many veterans making a move. I think the undulations and conditions are something that Phil can really capitalize on. I think he’s downplaying the fact that his ultimate goal is to make that Presidents Cup team – and I think he’ll make a charge on a course where he can make eagles and birdies in bunches. He nearly aced a par four in round 2 with a 350 yard drive. He’s still got it.
My early picks are still in the game: Thomas (1), Hovland (T12), Matsuyama (T18), Mickelson (T33), Perez (T33), and Piercy (T51).
Perez had a triple in his first round – so I’d imagine he’s figured things out, improving 6 spots since the blunder. Hovland just set a record for rounds in the 60’s. To do that at his age is an incredible accomplishment. If he finishes the event with that streak alive, he’ll be in the top 10 (would say that’s probably a lock). Matsuyama is in great position – while the other three players will need a 66 tomorrow to get back in the game. I wouldn’t put it past either of them. We’re halfway home.
I would look for one of the guys hovering around 4 or 5 under to make a big move. Some guys to watch for that are less known: Emiliano Grillo and Wyndham Clark are both within range and made eagles in their second rounds.
Kiradech Aphibarnat does well on the Asian swing and is positioned solidly after 69-69.
Tyrell Hatton tends to play his best in the no-cut format. He sits at T9, 7 under par.
Predicted playoff: -19
Outright winning score: -20
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Monkey Knife Fight Picks (ROUND 3)
RYAN MOORE 15.5 PAR OR BETTER / SPIETH 4.5 BIRDIE+
Well, we’ve got two world class Presidents Cup heroes on this one.
RYAN MOORE 15.5 PAR OR BETTER (OVER)
So far through 2 rounds, Ry Mo is bogey-free. In the past, he has been very consistent at this course. He’s been hovering right around par – and it’s nice to see that’s he’s 3 shots better on average since those previous years. I think Ryan is really in a groove. I only saw a few shots from the past few days – and I think he’s in good shape. He’s typically very consistent when his game is on. I think it’s safe to say that making 2 bogeys would be enough of an upset here to call this a lock. Moore tends to be a consistent guy and level headed.
Spieth- 4.5 BIRDIES or more (OVER)
Jordan’s been playing quite well over the past few days – in fact, I think he’s going to keep it going. He’s made 15 birdies through 2 rounds – that’s an average of 7.5 a round. Going off those stats and knowing he’s steadily improved over the 2019 season, I like the chance that’ll he’ll replicate that performance from the first two rounds over the Saturday moving day round. His putter is working quite well and I think he’s swinging well enough to make plenty more if he stays in control of his emotions.