Korea's best head to Las Vegas in bid to bring CJ Cup home
A competitive field including Korean golfers like Im Sung-jae, Lee Kyoung-hoon and Kim Si-woo, will gather for the CJ CUP @ SUMMIT at the Summit Club in Las Vegas, starting Thursday.
Instead of the PGA Tour making its way out to the Nine Bridges course on Korea's Jeju Island, the original home of the CJ Cup, the tournament will be in Las Vegas for a second year, this time at the Summit Club, allowing the event to go ahead as planned without quarantine and travel issues.
With the change of venue, the CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, reborn last year as the CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK, becomes the CJ CUP @ SUMMIT.
There are a total of 12 Korean golfers at the CJ Cup, with a number of KPGA players joining the event. Im, Lee and Kim all qualified as three of the top 60 players on the 2020 season Fedex Cup Points list.
Im leads the charge to become the first Korean winner of the CJ Cup, which was launched as Korea’s lone PGA TOUR tournament in 2017. Justin Thomas won the inaugural event on Jeju Island and returned as champion in 2019, while Brooks Koepka was victorious in 2018 and Jason Kokrak one the first Las Vegas edition in 2020.
Im enters his main sponsor event as the PGA Tour's most recent winner, after pulling off an incredible nine-under, 62, on Sunday, the last round of the Shriners Children's Open, to clinch a four-shot victory at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas for his second PGA Tour title.
Im earned his first-ever title on the PGA Tour last March at The Honda Classic, becoming the second-youngest winner of the tournament after the 1996 champion, Tiger Woods, who won at 20 years old, nine months and six days. The Honda Classic was Im’s 50th tournament since he joined the PGA Tour in 2019, with his second title coming last week at his 100th start.
Of the 78 golfers at the CJ Cup, 46 competed in the Shriners Open including Lee Kyoung-hoon, who finished tied for 15th and joins Im in Korea’s hunt for a CJ title.
“I played two events at the start of the season and I think I could have played them better,” Lee said in an interview on Wednesday.
“But I am playing better and better. The second tournament was better than my first, despite struggling in the third round.”
The Summit has wide fairways, possibly benefiting golfers with a longer driving distance. But like last weeks’ TPC Summerlin, golf courses in Las Vegas are often windy. Lee seems to think he has a way around the wind.
“All players find it hard when it's windy,” said Lee. “I mostly try not to fight the wind. Instead, I try to use the current to my advantage and try to sort of waft the ball on air currents.”
The players have now examined the 72-hole, 7,400-yard course during their practice round. The greens average more than 6,500 square feet, making them above average PGA Tour greens in size.
“The green here is big,” said Lee. “There seems to be some undulation on the greens. But the fairway is not too narrow so landing a tee shot on the fairway is not going to be too hard. To birdie, the second shot needs to land near the hole. That’s why we always say playing irons and wedges well is so important.”
“My strength is, I think, the driver. I can comfortably find the fairway because I’m confident in my tee shots. But my putting form fluctuates and I think that putting will be important this week, especially at the Summit.”
The third Korean to have qualified for the CJ Cup as one of the top 60 golfers is No. 15 Kim Si-woo. Kim finished tied for eighth at the season opener Sanderson Farms Championship, then tied for 11th at the Fortinet Championship, but failed to make the cut last week at the Shriners Open.
“The new season began almost immediately after the last season,” said Kim. “I felt that I didn’t have much time to recover because I had to compete right away. The first two tournaments were okay, the last tournament was not so much. But I’m not particularly worried because I think my shots and putts are on point.”
Unlike other four-day tournaments with a cut off after the first two rounds, no golfers will be cut at the CJ Cup, with everybody competing until the final round.
“When I was a rookie, my goal was to make the cut in every tournament. But this week, there is no cut to pass and my goal for every match is to win. My aim for this season is to at least win one title.”
In addition to Im, Lee and Kim, eight exemptions were reserved specifically for KPGA golfers from Korea as the tournament originally was scheduled to be in Korea.
Kim Han-byeol, Kim Joo-hyung, Lee Jae-kyeong, Seo Yo-seop and Shin Sang-hun qualified via the money list on the KPGA, while An Byeong-hun, Sung Kang and Kim Seong-hyeon qualified via the prior season’s Fedex cup points list on Oct. 4. Kim Min-kyu rounds off the 12-man list, as he enters the field as a sponsor exemption.
Kokrak of the United States enters the field as defending champion, having claimed his maiden PGA Tour victory when the CJ Cup was at Shadow Creek last year.
The nine members of the victorious United States Ryder Cup team, Daniel Berger, Harris English, Tony Finau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler and Justin Thomas, will all also challenge Kokrak for the title.
Johnson, who is a 24-time PGA TOUR winner and 2020 FedExCup champion, comes on the field not only as the highest-ranked golfer, world No. 2 by the official world golf ranking, but also after pulling off one of the best performances that the Ryder Cup has ever seen. He took all five points against the European team, birdying one after another.
Johnson tees off with countryman Xander Schauffele and Viktor Hovland of Norway. Kokrak tees off with countryman Justin Thomas and Rory Mcllory of Ireland. Im tees off with Collin Morikawa of the United States and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan. Kim Si-woo tees off with Sam Burns of the United States and Tyrrell Hatton of England. Lee Kyoung-hoon tees off with Justin Rose of England and Tony Finau of the United States.
The CJ Cup will start on Thursday morning in Las Vegas, or at 11 p.m. in Korea.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]