CJ Cup 2020 expert picks and best bets: Why our tour caddie thinks Justin Thomas will win
Two betting experts plus our anonymous tour caddie reporting live from the CJ Cup @ Shadow Creek are ready to sprinkle their money on Justin Thomas to win this week. Read on to see why.
Inside information is what every sharp sports bettor seeks. This week, we have a bit of it from two angles. One, our tour caddie, who is reporting from the PGA Tour bubble in Las Vegas for a second straight week. (Imagine spending two straight weeks in Vegas?) He’s been watching every shot from the range and the course, and he has good reason to believe Justin Thomas is the golfer to beat this week. It’s a consensus among the players on course, he says, that JT is a bigger threat to win this week than Jon Rahm, who oddsmakers have pegged as the biggest favorite. It’s tough to argue with his reasoning below. Even better, two of our sharp handicappers are in agreement.
The second bit of insider info comes on the golf course this week: Shadow Creek. It’s relatively unknown to the casual fan, since the Vegas venue is hosting a PGA Tour event for the first time ever, having been shown on TV just once during the Tiger vs. Phil match in 2018. We have a really good feel for the course, having played it twice before. For a full course breakdown, be sure to listen to this week’s episode of BE RIGHT, our gambling podcast, which is embedded in the article (and be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts). The Cliffnotes version: Tom Fazio and Steve Wynn manufactured an oasis on rolling, contoured terrain from a flat desert base. Trees and pine straw frame every hole, meaning that off-the-tee play will be crucial this week. A common course comparison? Quail Hollow Club, site of the Wells Fargo Championship and the 2017 PGA Championship. Who won that ’17 PGA? That’d be Justin Thomas. We love the synergy.
Our panel came really close to nailing a second win on the season last weekend at the Shriners, with Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel and Pat Mayo of Mayo Media Network and DraftKings each picking Matthew Wolff. Wolff’s playoff loss was another close call, but our experts are feeling good about this week’s picks.
Read on to see who we like this week at the 2020 CJ Cup.
CJ Cup 2020 expert picks to win (Odds from BetMGM)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Justin Thomas (10-1) — You can tell me Jon Rahm is the favorite, but I’ll tell you that the players feel like Justin Thomas is the guy to beat. Rahm is higher ranked in the world and has won more recently, but JT has an equal reputation to Dustin Johnson to crushing these no cut, elite fields. With DJ gone, JT is the guy to beat.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Collin Morikawa (22-1) — Morikawa missed the cut on the number last week and lost over three strokes putting in his two rounds. He’s not vintage Tiger on the greens, but that was especially bad. And frankly, not likely to continue. The last time Morikawa dropped more than three strokes putting in an event, he gained in his next two. It would be an issue of the ball-striking was off, but it wasn’t. He continues to be amongst the world’s best with a driver and irons in his hands.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Collin Morikawa (22-1) — Removing Dustin Johnson from the field elevated everyone’s win odds, but given that Morikawa is fresh off two cuts, he’s a little overlooked here and is priced at longer odds than Matthew Wolff, who has been knocking on the door but not really getting it done. Morikawa’s missed cuts came with pretty neutral stats, and he lost 3.3 strokes putting to miss the cut at the Shriners. Morikawa, though, has gained strokes from his ball-striking in 74 percent of the past 50 rounds, tied for fifth-best in the field, and bentgrass is his best putting surface, via FantasyNational.com.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Justin Thomas (10-1) — Thomas has flown under the radar slightly. In fact, per the RickRunGood.com golf database, there’s only been one other no-cut event in the past three years where Thomas has longer odds than this. Don’t be fooled into thinking that JT isn’t playing well, he won the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational just six starts ago, finished T-3 at the TOUR Championship (without strokes) and had a top 10 at the U.S. Open where he shot that opening-round 65 in his last start! Nine of his 13 PGA Tour victories have come in small field, no-cut events.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Rickie Fowler (60-1) — Rickie didn’t play poorly last week—a couple huge blow-up holes, which have become his bugaboo, cost him a chance to hang around for the weekend. Let’s be real: In this limited field, at this high price, this is an opportunity to buy really high on Rickie. Plus, the Quail Hollow comparison has been made about Shadow Creek. That happens to be the site of Rickie’s first tour event (in 2012). Rickie strikes me as the kind of guy who’d be at home in Vegas—this would be a fitting place for Rickie to get right.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Justin Thomas (10-1) — I’d like to be bold and pick Abraham Ancer here (I am betting him at 45-1), but since my last two picks have missed the cut, I’m going to go the safe route and pick Justin Thomas. Of his 13 PGA Tour victories, four have come in October and November, and nine have come in no-cut events. He’s the no-cut king, and the king of the fall. The stars should align again this week for JT, who finally got the putter rolling at Winged Foot, nearly gaining five strokes on the green for the week.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Rory McIlroy (11-1) — Rory’s lack of wins since the restart has the experts off of him. And watch this number—it might even rise before Thursday because people aren’t excited to bet him right now. I am. Rory’s off-the-tee and approach play on long courses separates him—he’s second in FanShare Sports’ course-suitability ranking this week for that reason. Don’t sleep on Rory.
Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel predicted 14 winners correctly last season, and collectively on outright winners, top-10 bets and matchups won and lost, our panel went up 225.30 units (the equivalent of being up $2,253 if you wagered $10 on all of our bets) last season. We correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (28-1) to win the U.S. Open in this space. Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!
CJ Cup 2020 picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (odds from BetMGM)
Caddie: Sungjae Im (33-1) — I’d say Sungjae is right on the edge of being a dark horse this week. Off the tee is going to be hugely important at Shadow Creek, and look at his numbers last week at Shriners: Look out, the pre-quarantine Sungjae could be here to win.
Mayo: Russell Henley (80-1) — Honestly, I don’t want to look down the board in a field like this. While there have been surprise winners this year, we’ve had exactly NONE in stacked field events. But tis my duty to make a selection, so I shall. Per Fantasy National, Henley is second in the field in approach over the last two months. Just pray it’s the week he can drop a few 10-footers, and he can compete at these odds.
Gdula: Paul Casey (60-1) — Sleepers are tough to come by this week because a lot of the win equity is tied up at the top of the field. Casey, though, has gained strokes from ball-striking in 76 percent of his past 50 rounds, good for fourth in the field. His only positive putting surface is bentgrass, and he’s somewhat viable there. Casey still has spike weeks in his iron play and has actually gained strokes from putting in six straight events.
Gehman: Sungjae Im (33-1) — Historically, the cream rises to the top in either World Golf Championship events or no-cut events like we have this week in Las Vegas. I’m a firm believer that Im is a top-tier talent, and his game is rounding into the elite form that we saw previous to the shutdown in March. He’s coming off a T-13 finish last week at the Shriners, where he gained 9.21 strokes from tee-to-green. That was the third best number in the field last week, and his best result in that category since the Arnold Palmer Invitational (third) in March. This appears to be a great number on an elite talent and PGA Tour winner.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Kevin Na (90-1) — Kevin Na is ranked first in this field in strokes gained/putting on bentgrass in the past 50 rounds, per FantasyNational.co; he’s a Vegas resident who has definitely played Shadow Creek on more than one occasion; and he’s a past champion in Vegas at the Shriners. This is going to be a popular pick, but it could cash.
Powers, Golf Digest: Alex Noren (90-1) — Few players have been as consistent as Noren during the restart. The Swede has four top 25s in his past five events, including a third at the 3M Open. He’s gained strokes putting in all five of those starts, and this week’s he’s on bentgrass, his best putting surface. But the biggest reason to love him this week is that he had his best approach performance since last January at Winged Foot, gaining 3.8 strokes with his irons. If he found something there, and the putter stays hot, it could all come together for the 10-time European Tour winner.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sungjae Im (33-1) — When Im starts playing well you have to take notice. He comes into this event ranked 12th in strokes gained/tee-to-green over the past two months and 10th in Opportunities Gained, per FantasyNational.com. His all-around game and ability to putt well on Bentgrass greens makes him a great course fit.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Tyrrell Hatton (28-1) — If this was a major, sure—Hatton would be motivated. But I can tell you: It’s easy for most guys to go on cruise control after they get a win. Especially after a very long flight from Wentworth to Vegas … I’d look elsewhere.
Mayo: Patrick Cantlay (23-1) — Cantlay’s turning into American Fleetwood. He keeps getting sunk by one awful round per event. That’d be fine if his odds dropped accordingly, like Fleetwood, but they haven’t. He’s still in the range of competitors who are LOCKS to compete. His play since the restart hasn’t been a LOCK of anything.
Gdula: Patrick Cantlay (23-1) — Cantlay hasn’t been quite himself since the return, and he is now just 43rd in the field in strokes gained/approach per round since the Charles Schwab. He’s also gained strokes from approach in just half of those 34 rounds. It’s just not quite there for Cantlay relative to the other options.
Gehman: Brooks Koepka (28-1) — We have literally no idea what to expect from Koepka this week. This will be his first start since the Wyndham Championship, as he’s been rehabbing his knee injury that kept him out of the U.S. Open. Presumably there will be a lot of rust for Koepka to shake off in Vegas. He did indeed finish T-2 at the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational, but he also missed half the cuts in his last four starts. It’s great that he will get a guaranteed four rounds, but expectations have to be low for Koepka.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Brooks Koepka (28-1) — A no-cut event is the perfect tournament for Brooks Koepka to make a relaxing reappearance on the PGA Tour. Don’t expect him to be sharp enough to win. This is the cop-out fade but an easy one.
Powers, Golf Digest: Xander Schauffele (12-1) — Xander Schauffele is an elite player who has already proven to be a prolific PGA Tour winner. But he gets priced among major winners as if he has a few majors himself. No, this week isn’t a major, but I just can’t get behind Xander at these odds when you’ve got guys like Daniel Berger and Brooks Koepka at way better odds with the same, if not better, résumés.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Tyrrell Hatton (28-1) — I feel bad fading a fellow Englishman but it’s a long journey on a short week for Hatton flying over from his win at the BMW PGA Championship. He also struggles to putt on bentgrass compared to the rest of the field.
CJ Cup 2020 picks: Matchups
Caddie: Daniel Berger (+100) over Tyrrell Hatton (DraftKings) — Daniel Berger is motivated in many ways, whereas Hatton—like I discussed above, is prone to lack motivation in a no-cut event where he’s guaranteed a paycheck.
Mayo: Bubba Watson (+120) over Louis Oosthuizen (DraftKings) — The results haven’t materialized, but Bubba has been one of the best ball-strikers on the planet over the past three months. The dude just can’t putt. But even if he rolled it at field average, it should be good enough for a top-15 finish or so. Louis, he’s going to be second or well into the bottom half of the field. I’ll take a coin flip when I’m getting better than even odds.
Gdula: Tyrrell Hatton (+100) over Hideki Matsuyama (FanDuel) — Hatton has been pretty elite since the start of 2020 and is coming off a win at the BMW PGA on the European Tour. Hatton is a strong all-around golfer, and although the tee-to-green play favors Hideki, the putting is a massive gap, so I like the value on Hatton.
Gehman: Cameron Champ (-106) over Jordan Spieth (DraftKings) — I’m certainly not a huge fan of Champ, but he does possess an elite skill off-the-tee that makes him dangerous at most courses. This is more about fading Jordan Spieth, who has missed the cut in his past three events. We know his ball-striking ability has struggled over the course of the last few years, but now his magic putter is giving him trouble. He’s lost strokes putting in five consecutive events. I couldn’t find another instance of him doing that in my entire database.
Hennessey: Sungjae Im (-106) over Tommy Fleetwood (DraftKings) — Powers put me on the spot for this matchup pick for our season-long matchup bet. I’m now 2-for-2 over him. He admitted this was a great pick on our podcast, so I’m sure this will cash, too.
Powers: Daniel Berger (+100) over Tyrrell Hatton (DraftKings) — Guy who has had a few weeks off vs. Guy who just won and had to make the trek from England to Vegas … I’ll take the well-rested guy at even money.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sungjae Im (-106) over Tommy Fleetwood (DraftKings) — Im is my dark horse pick this week due to his excellent form of late. Fleetwood on the other hand does not have a top 25 finish in his last 6 PGA Tour events. He does tend to struggle putting on Bentgrass greens.
Matchup Results from the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Collin Morikawa (-120) over Hideki Matsuyama); Alldrick: 1 for 1 (Scottie Scheffler (-120) over Jason Day); Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Matthew Wolff (-125) over Jason Day); Powers: Push (Emiliano Grillo (-106) over Matt Kuchar); Caddie: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1; Gehman: 0 for 1.
Matchup Results this season: Alldrick: 5 for 5 (up 4.43 units); Hennessey: 4 for 5 (up 2.43 units); Mayo: 3 for 5 (up 0.57 units); Powers: 1-2-2 (down 1 unit); Gdula: 2 for 5 (down 1.14 units); Gehman: 2 for 5 (down 1.18 units); Caddie: 2 for 5 (down 1.27 units).
CJ Cup 2020 picks: Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
Caddie: Xander Schauffele (+135) — I realize these odds are short, but it’s time Xander Schauffele gets put in this elite territory. Like JT, Xander just slays in no-cut events. Don’t count him out after a poor opening round, he’s a grinder—and that’s what you want in a top-10 bet.
Mayo: Keegan Bradley (+1400) — Can you stomach the missed putts? Sure? Then Keegan Bradley is your salary saver at $6,500 on DraftKings in DFS. He’s gained on ball-striking against the field in eight straight starts and actually gained on the greens in half of them. Gain this week, and he can churn out a top 10 in a small field.
Gdula: Si Woo Kim (+750) — Kim has been on the upswing for a while and is an above-average bentgrass putter over the past 100 rounds. He’s 19th in strokes gained/tee to green over the past 50 rounds, too, so he presents a truly well-rounded game at great top-10 odds.
Gehman: Russell Henley (+650) — Henley has been on a really solid run of golf lately, and he has the game to translate to most courses. His past four starts have consisted of back-to-back top 10s at the Wyndham Championship and the Northern Trust, along with a T-25 at the BMW Championship and a T-27 at the Shriners last week. He also profiles as a great second-shot player. In fact, per the RickRunGood.com golf database, no golfer in this field has averaged more strokes gained on approach (+1.08) than Henley since the restart.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Daniel Berger (+260) — Berger’s been a top-10 player in the world, but the odds are still giving you a little break on him. He owns seven top-10s in 2020 and in this reduced field, odds are, he’ll be in the mix come Sunday.
Powers, Golf Digest: Kevin Na (+850) — Probably getting suckered into the Las Vegas, hometown narrative here, but whatever. Na had it going last week before a final-round 76, which actually gave us way better odds for him to win (125-1) and top 10. I’ll bite. He also LOVES bentgrass. All the narrative is there. He’s just got to go out and do it now.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Si Woo Kim (+750) — Kim has been playing some very solid golf of late, missing just one cut in 13 events since the PGA Tour restart. His 8th-place finish last week will give him a lot of confidence going into this event. Kim ranks third in strokes gained/tee-to-green over the last two months and second in Opportunities Gained, per FantasyNational.com.
Top 10 results from the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open: Everybody: 0 for 1.
Top 10 results from this season: Tour caddie: 1 for 5 (down 2.30 units); Everybody else: 0 for 5 (down 5 units each).
One and Done pick
Gehman: Xander Schauffele — If Justin Thomas is the “King of No-Cut Events,” then Schauffele is the prince. Three of his four PGA Tour wins have come in this type of contest. I’m even more impressed with what he’s done recently, nothing nine consecutive top-25 finishes. The last two times we saw him, he was the best player at the Tour Championship in “raw scoring,” and he finished fifth at the U.S. Open. With a $9,750,000 purse, I’m not worried about burning Schauffele so early in the season. This will be one of the largest purses in the next few months.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Joel Dahmen; U.S. Open: Jon Rahm; Corales: Denny McCarthy. Sanderson: Sebastian Munoz. Shriners: Matthew Wolff.
Hennessey: Kevin Na — This is a little bold, but a top 10 and you return value on a Kevin Na pick. He’s my longshot pick to win, and I would’ve bet him up to 60-1 odds.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Phil Mickelson; U.S. Open: Hideki Matsuyama; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Harris English.
Powers: Daniel Berger — Probably not going to be able to use Berger at the Masters, barring an enormous change of heart from the folks at ANGC. This feels like a good spot for him. Should be well rested after Winged Foot.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Brendan Steele; U.S. Open: Louis Oosthuizen; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Jason Kokrak.
By The Numbers:
Courtesy of Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com:
0.66 —The average strokes gained/putting per round for Kevin Na on bentgrass dating back to 2015. That’s the best in this field.
64 — The final-round score for Louis Oosthuizen at TPC Summerlin last week. It was the round of the day and secured him a top-20 finish.
23 percent — The percentage of wins (3) for Tyrrell Hatton in his past 13 starts worldwide. He won the Turkish Airlines Open, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the BMW PGA Championship.
1.48 — The average number of strokes Russell Henley has gained tee-to-green since the restart. That’s the second-best in this field, behind only Justin Thomas.
About our experts
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (Subscribe for video or audio. Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula, managing 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.
Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.
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 U.K.-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.