Recap of the day
Morning wave: In calm conditions last year, Justin Thomas opened with 9-under 63 in round one. Three days later, 9-under was the play-off number as the winds picked up considerably over the final 54 holes. Wind is the main defense of The Club at Jeju Island and with trouser legs flapping again today (NW 15-25mph), there were just thee rounds in the 60s and not a single player in the 78-man field managed a bogey-free lap.
Chez Reavie did the best job of managing the gusts and cool conditions (55 degrees), hitting all 14 fairways in a 4-under 68. Danny Willett also produced 100% Driving Accuracy figures to sit tied second with home star Si Woo Kim. Another returning Korean hero, Byeong Hun An, was part of a seven-way tie for fourth on 2-under.
Friday weather forecast
The conditions remain cool and we’re in for more wind so another tough test awaits.
Leaders after 18 holes
Chez Reavie (68) – The fairways are super-wide but hitting all 14 in windy conditions was still an impressive effort. Not that we should be too surprised from a man who finished 3rd in DA last season. Hit 15 greens and never put himself in trouble when he missed.
Danny Willett (69) – Anything you can do…. Willett also pelted every fairway while his GIR count was 17. Knows how to handle himself in windy conditions and it showed today.
Si Woo Kim (69) – Said he misjudged the wind on No. 2 and racked up double bogey but impressive after that and got much better control on his second nine as he adjusted to the conditions.
Fate of the favorites
Justin Thomas (73) – Somewhat of a contrast to last year with today’s score ten strokes higher. Could only dig out three birdies with his putter cold and wiped them out with a double and two bogeys. Biggest contrast to the leaders? Thomas found just four fairways.
Brooks Koepka (71) – The World No. 3 could go to No. 1 again this week although he’ll need to pick up the pace a little. Four birdies against three bogeys and hit 13 greens in regulation.
Jason Day (73) – Played the four par 5s in 2-over although (see Focus on – Course) that wasn’t unusual today. A pair of deuces on the par 3s kept his score down. Hit 15 greens but cold putter.
Chez Reavie (68): “It was a great day, I hit the ball really well. The wind was blowing really hard all day long so you had to really start the ball well and keep it out of the wind. Luckily, I was able to do that and had good distances in the fairways and hit the ball close.”
Danny Willett (69): “It was good, we played some good golf. Working on a few things and yeah, actually hit some really good stuff. In these conditions that's all you can ask for. It's nice to get a score like that on a day where it's easy to get the wrong side of par and to kind of let things get to you.”
Si Woo Kim (69): “I expected a difficult day today as it was very windy and cold from the very first tee. Looking back (T44 last year), I think I was more nervous compared to other events and I really wanted to do well and ended up putting a lot of pressure on myself. This year I’m doing my best not to do that, but it’s not easy.”
Road to victory at CJ CUP
2017 Justin Thomas – R1: 1st, R2: 4th, R3: 1st
Notes: Despite his opening 63, it wasn’t a cruise for Thomas last year and he actually dropped to fourth at the midpoint after a second-round 74. Runner-up Marc Leishman’s respective end-of-round positions 12 months ago were 2-6-3. It’s only one year of evidence but if the winds keep blowing it looks easier to maintain your position rather than try and jump from the pack.
Focus on – The Course
The Club at Nine Bridges doesn’t look anything too scary on the surface – a par 72 measuring 7,196 yards with very wide fairways. And yet on days like this the cool temps and gusting winds can team up to make it a formidable challenge. The average score today was 73.269 (a virtual even split on both nines) but the devil is in the detail. Only seven par 5s on the PGA Tour last season played over par for the week and yet here at The Club on Thursday, three of the four long holes averaged over par – 3rd (5.077), 9th (5.013) and 18th (5.103). At 550, 589 and 568 yards respectively, this trio may have been perceived to offer the players a bit of respite. It was anything but. Only 40% of the field hit the par-3 13th (221 yards) while the 428-yard par-4 11th averaged 4.397 and played tougher than the par-5 12th (4.346)!
Focus on – Asian Swing form
Last year, Pat Perez won the CIMB Classic before heading here to add T5. Cameron Smith followed T5 at the CIMB with solo third in this event while Anirban Lahiri was top ten in both and Rafa Cabrera Bello top 11 in both. In short, form from Malaysia carried over well even though the two Asian countries are six hours apart by plane. So did playing well and acclimatizing at the CIMB show a positive effect today?
Top finishers at CIMB and position after R1 at CJ Cup
1 Marc Leishman – T54
T2 Bronson Burgoon – Not playing
T2 Emiliano Grillo – T33
T2 Chesson Hadley – T54
T5 Abraham Ancer – T54
T5 Louis Oosthuizen – T19
T5 Justin Thomas – T33
T5 Gary Woodland – T33
Well, that would be a no then! In fact, none of last week’s top five managed to break par. A more positive spin is that seven of the top 10 on today’s CJ Cup leaderboard played at the CIMB. We’ll see how these correlations play out as the week goes on.