While it's a given that wind toughens every golf course, what's not so obvious is who performs well when it blows. It's a common curiosity in advance of even moderate breezes.
The results of the inaugural edition of THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in 2017 presented evidence but with the added infrequency of what was essentially a neutral site in The Club at Nine Bridges, a stock par 72 on Jeju Island in South Korea.
That is no longer the case. As of midday Monday, 34 golfers who competed here a year ago are committed to return this week, including champion Justin Thomas, playoff victim Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith (third) and Whee Kim (fourth). Scroll beneath the ranking for analysis on what last year's gusts did to scoring, this week's weather forecast and how Nine Bridges prepares and challenges.
Brandt Snedeker, Si Woo Kim, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Adam Scott and Alex Noren will be among the notables reviewed in Tuesday's Fantasy Insider.
When a PGA TOUR field is given a blindfold test, ball-striking typically rises as the key to success. Measure the yardage, gauge any wind, pull a club and strike. Average to poor putters are benefited because of the unfamiliarity of the greens, their undulations and speed. However, when the wind blows, the opposite of that phenomenon usually occurs.
Thomas both opened at 9-under (63) and prevailed at 9-under (279) at Nine Bridges a year ago. That's not unprecedented for any tournament but noticeable every time it happens. It's also explainable. After the field averaged 70.949 in calm conditions in the first round, strong winds the rest of the way inflated the tournament's overall average to 73.187. Each of the last three rounds scored higher than that.
What projected to be a shootout evolved into a putting contest on the 7,184-yard challenge.
JT ranked just T39 in fairways hit and T44 in greens in regulation, but Nine Bridges remained easy from the air, so ball-striking slid into the backseat. True to the theory, the course was everything but easy for even the leaders in GIR. It ranked as the hardest of all courses last season in putts per GIR (1.873), one-putt percentage (31.04), three-putt avoidance (6.90 percent) and scrambling (48.19 percent). It also was the third-most difficult course on which to convert par breakers after hitting GIR at 24.81 percent.
Thomas grinded nicely, finishing fifth in putts per GIR, T14 in one-putt percentage, T4 in three-putt avoidance and T3 in putting: birdies-or-better. He slotted just T34 in scrambling, but compensated on the difficult par 5s, ranking third. The par 5s at Nine Bridges finished as the second-most difficult set throughout 2017-18, but the entire course was challenging at first sight as the par 3s ranked sixth and the par 4s checked in at T9.
Gusty winds can't be ruled out again this week but the forecast suggests that scoring should be lower. Breezes will shift from a northerly direction to an easterly angle by the final round. Daytime highs will rise gradually into the upper 60s. Rain is not expected.
Because the wind is the ultimate unknown, the bentgrass greens could run as slow as 10 feet on the Stimpmeter. Meanwhile, if trousers are flapping, look no further than the Australian contingent to emerge. This is one of the proven constants when wind is a factor. Case in point, of the four golfers who signed for red numbers in both of the last two rounds last year, three are Aussies: Leishman, Jason Day and Adam Scott, all of whom are back this week. (Jamie Lovemark was the outlier. He's also expected to play.)
Just as with last week's CIMB Classic, there is no cut at THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES. As a result, the 54 who teed it up in Malaysia last week and who made the six-hour flight again are guaranteed FedExCup points.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
MONDAY: Rookie Ranking, Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Medical Extensions, Power Rankings
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One & Done, Twitter live fantasy show
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf presented by SERVPRO, which also publishes on Tuesdays.