Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Sunday’s brilliant Wentworth winner Tyrrell Hatton head a powerful European onslaught on the $9.75m CJ Cup at Shadow Creek, a half-hour drive from the Las Vegas Strip.
In a top-drawer field of 78, they face a determined home challenge from defending champion Justin Thomas, the in-form Xander Schauffele and US PGA winner Collin Morikawa. Early favourite Dustin Johnson has had to withdraw after failing Covid test.
The three previous CJ Cups were staged on Jeju Island in South Korea but the Covid-19 pandemic has compelled a move to Las Vegas for one year only.
It’s the same story with next week’s ZOZO Championship switched from Japan to California and a course, Sherwood Country Club, which defending champion Tiger Woods knows like the back of his hand.
This is the tour’s second consecutive week in the gambling capital of the world and punters have little time to get over the shock of 275-1 Scot Martin Laird winning the Shiners at Summerlin, the first since 2013 for the US-based Glaswegian.
The only opportunity we’ve had to see Shadow Creek came at the end of 2018 when Phil Mickelson beat Tiger Woods at the 22nd hole of a $9m winner-takes-all showdown. The 7527-yard par 72 looks as gorgeous as Augusta and is almost as exclusive.
This is former world number one Brooks Koepka’s comeback tournament after eight weeks off with a knee injury. The four-time Major winner will want to make up for lost time but is likely to be rusty.
As Shadow Creek has never been on the PGA Tour rota before, it means the newer kids on the block are not as disadvantaged by lack of course experience.
Current form has to be our guide and Matt Wolff, pipped in a play-off at Summerlin on Sunday after being runner-up in the US Open, is hot. He doesn’t have a swing you’d want to copy but his bank manager likes it and he could go close again. The generous fairways will allow him a few indiscretions off the tee.
Wolff will be one of the main rivals to my headliner Xander Schauffele, runner-up at the Tour Championship and fifth at the US Open.
If Hatton’s celebrations after conquering Wentworth don’t catch up with him, he is a winner on both sides of the Atlantic this year and now inside the world’s top ten for the first time.
There is plenty more to come from this exceptional talent but replacing all the adrenaline he used up last week may require a little time and the fresher Rahm and McIlroy could finish ahead of the Marlow man.
Twice a PGA Tour winner this truncated year, Rahm is the more reliable but Rory will come roaring back before long. Ian Poulter is not to be forgotten either after his sparkling fifth at Wentworth, a course with no positive mental associations for him. In fact, his previous form there was pretty dire so he heads for Vegas on a real high.
Si Woo Kim must be disappointed this tournament is not in his homeland this year but has been showing plenty in recent months – eighth at Summerlin the latest sound effort – to suggest the Korean can be a factor here.
So too the young Chilean Joaquin Niemann who was on the first page of the leaderboard for a long time at Summerlin. He has been around so long it is hard to credit he’s still only 21. Mexican Abraham Ancer, fourth on Sunday, and Southern Farms hero Sergio Garcia are also shortlisted.
Best bets (6 places, 1/5 odds)
2pts each-way Eddie Pepperell @ 14/1
1pt each-way Grant Forrest @ 40/1
1pt each-way Justin Harding @ 40/1
1pt each-way Arron Rai @ 14/1
1pt each-way Brandon Stone @ 40/1
The second part of the UK Swing winds up with the Scottish Championship on a new course to the European Tour, Fairmont St Andrews, and wouldn’t it be great if we had a Scottish winner.
Marc Warren was a 150-1 victor at the Austrian Open in the first tournament back in July when the tour resumed operations but no Scot has been successful since.
This week Robert MacIntyre is the most likely to do the business according to the oddsmakers but the lad from Oban has yet to build on the high-quality results that made him Rookie of the Year in 2019.
Third in the Celtic Classic is the pick of Conor Syme’s handful of top-tens but he has struggled to finish the job when he had clear-cut opportunities and Calum Hill won on the Outlaw Tour in Arizona.
But we’ll play a hunch that ex-amateur star Grant Forrest, fourth in Mauritius at the end of last year and top-20 in Portugal and Scottish Open before two great rounds at Wentworth, can play a blinder for the Scots on this rugged modern-day links In Fife.
Lee Westwood and Matt Wallace head the betting but were only 18th and 24th at Wentworth on Sunday and look vulnerable. Oppose them with another Englishman, Eddie Pepperell, who is fancied to improve on last week’s sixth in superior company at Wentworth. That followed a Scottish Open top-ten.
Arron Rai has been on a great roll, second in the Irish Open then beating Tommy Fleetwood in a Scottish Open play-off. He will be hard to kick out of the frame while South African Justin Harding’s thirds at the British Masters and Valderrama entitle him to serious consideration.
Another South African, Brandon Stone, has fond memories of Scotland. He shot a 60 on the final day at Gullane to snatch the 2018 Scottish Open from Pepperell.
A huge talent but massively inconsistent, he has only a sixth place at the English Championship and a pair of top-20s at the Portugal Masters and Scottish Open on the credit side since play resumed in July but on a going week he’s far classier than that.