2019 CJ Cup picks: The five stats that point to a Justin Thomas win this week
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
If you haven't been paying attention to the fall portion of the PGA Tour schedule, now would be the time. The tour's Asian Swing begins this week with the 2019 CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges, and all the stars are out. Twenty-one of the top 50 players in the world made the trip to Jeju Island, South Korea, including World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Jordan Spieth. No disrespect to the fields the past few weeks, but this is the first big-boy tournament of the 2019-'20 season.
The question is: Does a more talented field make the event harder or easier to handicap? We'll find out, but we're confident in our experts keeping their hot streak rolling. We have correctly picked four of the first five tournament winners this season, and we'd love to make it five of six at the 2019 CJ Cup.
As usual, our expert picks this week include a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green at the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; picks from Jason Sobel, a senior writer at The Action Network, which is becoming the leader in sports betting and handicapping analysis that's also growing its presence in golf; two of the most respected experts in the daily fantasy community, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports, which tracks DFS ownership and sentiment; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
2019 CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges Picks To Win (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Tommy Fleetwood (22-1) — Fleetwood has been on the verge of winning on the PGA Tour. He has the longest consecutive cuts-made streak right now (speaking to his consistency). He’s always a solid pick. He's not too much of a step down from JT and Koepka, and at much better odds.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Sergio Garcia (30-1) — Sergio has been sneaky great of late. After posting a T-23 in Switzerland, he won in Holland and rallied for a T-7 in Spain. The elite ball-striking is back, he has a quality short game, and he's used to playing at elevation—all a recipe for success here. Plus, he’s won another tournament with hugely undulating, fast, bentgrass greens in the past. Augusta National. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Tommy Fleetwood (22-1) — Fleetwood, hands down, has been one of the best golfers in the world in 2019, as he ranks fourth in this field in adjusted stroke average. He hasn’t won, but at a course where a golfer needs an all-around game, Fleetwood stands out. Over the past 50 rounds on the PGA Tour, Fleetwood ranks top 10 in strokes gained/off the tee and strokes gained/around the green and is 29th in strokes gained/approach, according to FantasyNational.com.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Justin Thomas (8-1) — The stats really point to Thomas, which is why his odds are so low. He is second in FantasyNational.com's Opportunities Gained over the past 50 rounds, first in Birdies Gained . . . the stats go on and on. I'm willing to back the favorite here, as my model gives him a 9-percent chance to win, significantly higher than any of the other favorites.
Jason Sobel, Action Network senior golf writer: Justin Thomas (8-1) — In recent months, Thomas and Jon Rahm have separated themselves—not necessarily as the best players, but those who consistently show up on leader boards. (And yes, we could probably throw Rory McIlroy on this list.) JT hasn’t finished outside of the top-12 since June, a span of seven starts. He won the CJ two years ago, and he’ll have good vibes this week. If you can eat the low odds—and that’s a big if—the tourney favorite tops the board for good reason.
Golf Digest editors: Brooks Koepka (10-1) — Did you hear what Koepka said about his "rivalry" with Rory McIlroy on Wednesday? He called out Rory for not winning a major over the past five years. Koepka has such swagger, something not quantifiable by stats. But if he's coming out with those fire quotes, you better believe he's here to win. And he did that last year. You're getting a great price relative to this field for Koepka.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports golf expert: Justin Thomas (8-1) — Per FantasyNational.com, Thomas ranks first in the field in strokes gained/tee-to-green over the past three months. He also ranks first in our course-suitability metric, reflective of his win here two years ago.
Results from this season: We have predicted four of the season’s first five winners! Brandon Gdula continues to ride a heater, as he picked Lanto Griffin (45-1) as his sleeper last week, following his pick of Sebastian Munoz (65-1) at the Sanderson Farms Championship and Joaquin Niemann (22-1) in the season opener. Pat Mayo, Dr. Lou Riccio and Lee Alldrick also correctly picked Niemann as the winner at The Greenbrier. And our Golf Digest Editors picked Kevin Na (70-1) as their sleeper pick at the Safeway Open.
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2019 CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Marc Leishman (30-1) — He’s the 25th-ranked player in the world, but I’m justifying him as a sleeper because he recently had to withdraw from a tournament due to injury (Greenbrier) and then bounced back with a solo third at Safeway. I think he’s finally healthy plus he's a tremendous ball-striker and a proven winner.
Mayo: Matthew Wolff (50-1) — It's tough going too deep on a dark horse at an event like this, so Wolff is about as low at it goes for me. Ranked with the fourth best chance at winning per the FantasyNational.com event simulator, Wolff shares the skill set of the two previous champions with this blistering driver and stable putting. Wolff still remains priced way behind the other rookies, which is icing on the cake.
Gdula: Corey Conners (110-1) — Conners doesn’t fit the mold as a great all-around golfer, but he’s a lethal ball-striker who just struggles around and on the greens. We have seen how good he can be when he is locked in, and there’s value on him at such a high number.
Riccio: Phil Mickelson (70-1) — I'm willing to give Phil a chance at these odds. My model points to his projected odds of being way lower, but that's looking at a larger sample size than the oddsmakers likely are. On a course with wide fairways where birdies are at a premium, my model says Phil could realistically contend.
Sobel, Action Network: Gary Woodland (30-1) — Since his breakthrough U.S. Open victory, Woodland hasn’t finished better than 15th, but the honeymoon period should be ending soon. Runner-up at this event last year thanks to a final-round 63, his length remains an obvious advantage, even on a 7,196-yard track where he won’t have to bang driver all over the place.
Golf Digest editors: Matthew Wolff (50-1) — These odds are simply too tempting on such a talented player. This could be a birdie-fest, and if so, we'd put Wolff's ability to go low up against any of the elite players in the world.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jazz Janewattananond (110-1) — Janewattananond is one of the hottest players in the field. He leads the Asian Tour Order Of Merit by a large margin and has four top-six place finishes in his past seven events.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Billy Horschel (35-1) — He’s been off for a while. His Gators just got smacked down in Death Valley, so he’s probably in mourning just a little bit because of that. In all seriousness, though, Billy is a really hard worker, but there will be some competitive rust. He also has a new caddie on the scene. We’ll see how that works out.
Mayo: Collin Morikawa (28-1) — Love Morikawa, but it seems odd he’s priced amount the elite in the field. If the wind starts gusting on Jeju Island, Morikawa’s short game may get exposed.
Gdula: Jordan Spieth (28-1) — Spieth has been volatile in 2019, which is actually necessary to reach a peak and win an event, but he’s not coming at any discount at +2000. Of the top 10 golfers in win odds this week, only one of them is worse than 25th among the field in strokes gained/off the tee (Spieth, at 67th). He also ranks 59th in the field in approach over the past 50 rounds.
Riccio: Gary Woodland (30-1) — Compared to the others in this tier, I like other players, like Sergio Garcia (30-1), Jason Day (30-1) and others slightly more than Woodland, who hasn't been in form over the past couple of months.
Sobel, Action Network: Jordan Spieth (28-1) — Making his season debut after a second consecutive down year, the 38th(!)-ranked Spieth should be treated with a wait-and-see approach from bettors and fantasy owners for the time being. I’m still bullish on him over the long haul and his late-summer results hinted at better things coming soon. If Spieth was a stock, he’s neither a buy nor a sell right now—just hold on to your shares and hope they climb back to somewhere near their long-ago top value.
Golf Digest editors: Jordan Spieth (28-1) — It's entirely possible Spieth has turned his game around in the offseason. But we're waiting to see it to believe it. By the way, we faded Lanto Griffin last week . . . so maybe this means Spieth will break through this week!
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Brooks Koepka (9 1/2-1) — Koepka struggled big style when missing the cut last time out. An event of this caliber may still be a bridge (or nine) too far in just his second start following surgery.
2019 CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Sergio Garcia (-115) over Billy Horschel (Sportsbet) — Sergio has played well recently. Billy has been off for a while; this is his first start of the season. Sergio is still racing for Dubai on the European Tour, so he’s probably in more of a competitive mode than Billy after all that time off.
Mayo: Corey Conners (-110) over Abraham Ancer (Bet365) — Similar type players with one major difference: Ancer’s irons don’t possess the same consistency as the Conners’. At even odds, take the more well-rounded option.
Gdula: Jason Day (-110) over Jordan Spieth (FanDuel) — Neither golfer is an elite ball-striker relative to the other studs in the field, but Day has two top-11 finishes to his name at this course. Spieth hasn’t played it. Day also has just been the better all-around golfer in 2019.
Riccio: Jason Day (-110) over Gary Woodland (Sportsbook) — My model loves Day this week: Favoring his short-game stats long term over Gary Woodland. The odds are so even because of Woodland finishing runner-up here last year, but his recent form post-U.S. Open has been weak.
Sobel, Action Network: Andrew Putnam (-110) over Byeong Hun-An (Sportsbook) — There’s a fairly small sample size, but Putnam has proven over the past year that his game will travel. During these 12 months, he’s been T-21 at the BMW PGA Championship, T-32 at the Open Championship, T-4 at the Scottish Open, T-17 at the Dunlop Phoenix and T-4 at the WGC-HSBC Champions. That’s a wide variety of courses at a wide variety of locations. What does that tell us? He obviously likes getting away from the usual U.S. setups and plying his craft in other places.
Golf Digest editors: Joaquin Niemann (-110) over Billy Horschel (FanDuel) — The stats love Niemann, while they're unsure about Horschel, who tends to get hot when he's in a grove after a couple weeks of playing. But to our anonymous PGA Tour caddie's point, Horschel hasn't played competitively in a while. So he's an easy guy to fade.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Justin Thomas (-132) over Brooks Koepka (FanDuel) — Thomas ranks first in strokes gained/tee-to-green over the last three months, while Kopeka is coming back from recent surgery and ranks just 20th for strokes gained/over the past three months.
Matchup results last week: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Cameron Tringale (-105) over Sam Ryder); Riccio: 1 for 1 (Harris English (-108) over Russell Knox); Sobel/Action Network: 1 for 1 (Matt Every (-110) over Michael Thompson); Gdula: 1 for 1 (Brian Harman (-116) over Daniel Berger); Alldrick: 0 for 1; GD Editors, PGA Tour Caddie voided: Took Pat Perez over Cameron Champ before Perez WD’d
Matchup results this season (assuming each matchup is a one-unit wager): Mayo: 4 for 5 (up 2.91 units); PGA Tour Caddie: 3 for 4 (up 1.95 units); Riccio: 3 wins, 1 loss, 1 push (up 1.99 units); Alldrick, FanShare Sports: 3 for 4 (up 1.50 units); GD Editors: 2 for 4 (down 0.28 units); Action Network: 2 for 4 (down 0.09 units); Gdula: 2 for 5 (down 1.14 units)
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Sungjae Im (+225) — Sungjae is a walking top 10, and he tends to play great golf on coastal courses, which makes me really like his chances.
Mayo: Joel Dahmen (+600) — Quality irons, vastly improved short game, and was just one of two players who didn’t record a three-putt at this event last year. He should have won at Quail Hollow, didn’t, and went his next 12 events before another top 10. Then it happened at Shriners. He was seventh tee-to-green that week, and first in sand saves.
Gdula: Vaughn Taylor (+1100) — Taylor ranks 24th in the field in adjusted stroke average in 2019, but he's priced as a full-on punt play for a top 10 (+1000) and a win (175-1). Taylor enters with two straight duds but is still trending up over a larger sample.
Riccio: Sergio Garcia (+250) — Sergio's game, for anyone paying attention to the stats, is back. At a ball-striker's haven, I expect him to contend here, and these odds are compelling for a top 10.
Sobel, Action Network: Marc Leishman (+275) — A month ago, Leishman opened with a 76 before withdrawing at the Greenbrier, perhaps a sign that something wasn’t right either physically or with his game. That notion didn’t last long, as he finished solo third at the Safeway Open just two weeks later. He was on the losing end of a playoff with Thomas at this event two years ago and now that things are apparently fine in Camp Leishman, he should be a smart play once again.
Golf Digest editors: Jazz Janewattananond (+650) — For the same reasons Lee Alldrick is big on JAZZ as his dark horse, we'll go with the higher likelihood of a high finish but falling short of winning.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Emiliano Grillo (+550) — The stats love Grillo: He ranks first over the past three months for Opportunities Gained and third for strokes gained/tee-to-green over the same period. He also ranks seventh in our course-suitability metric.
Top 10 results last week: Alldrick: 1 for 1 (Harris English (+500); Everyone else 0 for 1 (Mayo and Gdula missed on Doc Redman at +900 by one shot)
Top-10 results for the year (assuming a one-unit wager): Mayo: 1 for 5 (+12 units); Alldrick: 2 for 5 (+9.5 units); GD Editors: 2 for 5 (+3.85 units); Action Network: 1 for 5 (-0.5 units); Gdula 1 for 5 (-0.7 units); Riccio: 1 for 5 (-1.5 units); PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 5 (-5 units)
Mayo: With Nine Bridges located 2,000-3,000 feet above sea level, it's time to target some players who’ve had success at elevation in the past. Rafa Cabrera Bello has posted top-11 finishes in both his starts at the CJ Cup and enters in form with two top-six showings in his past three starts. Hatton doesn’t have the exact same form, but he’s cheaper on DraftKings. He’s churned out Top 20s in his past two starts and, like RCB has experienced success at elevation in a no cut event. Go check out their results at WGC Mexico.
Here's who I'd build my lineups around on DraftKings this week: Sergio Garcia ($9,800); Rafa Cabrera Bello ($9,600); Tyrrell Hatton ($9,100); Matthew Wolff ($8,800); Joel Dahmen ($8,200).
Riccio: This lineup features three of the top four players in my model this week (had to sacrifice Koepka). I dipped really low for Danny Lee, and in a no-cut event, you have to bank on him making a decent amount of birdies. If you don't like Lee, you could pivot to someone else in his price point.
Justin Thomas ($11,700); Jason Day ($9,500); Joaquin Niemann ($8,700); Phil Mickelson ($7,300); Kiradech Aphibarnrat ($6,500); Danny Lee ($6,200).
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Here's a lineup I like for this week: Justin Thomas ($11,700); Chez Reavie ($8,300); Rory Sabbatini ($7,900); Corey Conners ($7,800); Emiliano Grillo ($11,700); Jazz Janewattananond ($7,000).
FanShare Sports' Under The Radar DFS Pick of the Week — Corey Conners (FanDuel: $8,500; DraftKings: $7,800) — Conners has some impressive stats coming into this event. He ranks 8th for Opportunities Gained over the last 3 months and 2nd for Shots Gained Tee 2 Green over the same period. Ignoring his missed cut at the Sandersons Farms Championship (after a month off), Conners has not finished outside of the top 27 in any of his previous six events. We have Conners ranked fifth in our course-suitability metric.
Gdula: This week, there is enough value on the board that you can spend up for a few studs of preference. Joaquin Niemann costs only $9,500, Chez Reavie is $9,200, and Rory Sabbatini is $8,700. Corey Conners ($8,500) offers plenty of tournament upside in a no-cut event. Just be prepared for Justin Thomas ($12,000) to be owned on nearly 50 percent of rosters this week. Avoiding him in large tournaments could offer leverage.
Riccio: Stacking Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka significantly increases your win equity, so the key is rounding out your lineup with guys to it up with birdies. Here's the lineup I like most:
Justin Thomas ($12,000); Brooks Koepka ($11,900); Jason Day ($10,400); Sergio Garcia ($9,800); Phil Mickelson ($8,600); Vaughn Taylor ($7,200).
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the 2019 Wyndham Championship.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Jason Sobel is a senior writer for The Action Network. To read The Action Network's full betting breakdown for the 2019 CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges, click here.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a UK based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.