Welcome to the PGA Tour’s version of a road trip. A long, long road trip.
This week’s stop is the first of a three-week Asian swing as the players will tee it up at The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges at Jeju Island, South Korea.
Many of the PGA Tour’s big names are in the field, starting with last year’s winner at this event, Brooks Koepka. Justin Thomas, the champ two years ago in the inaugural event, is also playing. In all, there are 78 players in the limited field event. Jordan Spieth makes his wraparound season debut. Add in the likes of Ian Poulter, Jason Day, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell and this one definitely has a world-class feel.
But, what a journey many of these players are facing. If you’re reading this story at noon on Wednesday, it’s 4 a.m. tomorrow in South Korea and those with early tee times in the first round are most likely getting up and planning to grab breakfast before hitting the range.
Oh, by the way, if you’re going to bet this event you better think about acting quickly as the first tee times last year were at 3:45 p.m. Vegas time on Wednesday afternoon.
Most of the U.S. guys were likely on private jets so that makes the trip a lot more comfortable and almost hassle-free when it comes to getting in and out of the airports. But it’s still messing with a biological clock as they travel almost 6,000 miles to tee it up. And that distance is from L.A. If they are Florida-based, add in another 2,300 miles if they leave from Miami.
If you’ve got all that figured out, you’re better at math and traveling than we are.
But, with travel aspect in mind, let’s check out this week’s field and see who can adapt the quickest and best to this long-distance excursion.
After missing the cut in Las Vegas, we’re going to jump back on the Koepka bandwagon. He is 8-1 this week and wound up winning by four strokes over Gary Woodland. Koepka sizzled home over the final nine with a 7-under 29 total for the victory.
Not playing well in Vegas had to sting for Koepka but look for him to rebound as his season (as well as many of the other top players) starts to get in form. After all, his win here last year helped propel him to the world No. 1 spot.
Plus, he will want to get back at his brother Chase, who is also in the field. After all, Chase made the cut in Vegas. We’re sure Brooks is going to be looking for a little revenge, both against his brother and the rest of the field.
Add in the fact that Koepka is certainly used to traveling world-wide. He has seven international wins including back-to-back Dunlop Phoenix Open wins in China in 2016 and 2017. Tack on last year’s win in South Korea and the confidence he shows taking his game on the road is very high.
Two long shots to keep an eye on (and maybe a couple of bucks) are Sunhjae Im (25-1) and Pat Perez (50-1).
For Im, it’s simple. It’s a home game as he grew up playing golf on Jeju Island, starting at age 3 alongside his parents. There definitely aren’t any U.S. golfers who will be sleeping in their own bed this week.
And for Perez, this tournament is the gift that keeps on giving. He’s coming off a solo third in Vegas at the Shriners and was all set to tee it up in Houston before getting the call that he’s been added to the field at the CJ Cup on a sponsor’s exemption.
He’s always been one to take advantage of a great situation and this no-cut, money-guaranteed tournament certainly fits that bill. He was T7 and T5 the last two years in this event so he’s cashed in on his chances.