Koepka leads big guns rolling in for PGA Tour’s Asian riches

JEJU, South Korea (AFP) – The United States (US) PGA Tour kicks off its new-look Asian Swing in South Korea today with the world’s top golfers lured by megabucks in three tournaments with no cuts.

This week’s USD9.75 million CJ Cup, where four-time major winner and world number one Brooks Koepka is defending champion, will be followed by the Tour’s first foray into Japan at the Zozo Championship next week with an identical purse on offer.

The swing concludes at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, which has seen its prize fund beefed up to USD10.25 million, and the tournaments are a chance to rack up Fedex Cup points.

Koepka will be joined at Nine Bridges on picturesque Jeju Island by drawcards such Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Sergio Garcia who are all making their debut at the event, first held in 2017.

Fellow major champions Justin Thomas, the 2017 winner, Jason Day, Patrick Reed, Graeme McDowell, Danny Willett and Gary Woodland are also among the world-class cast lifting the curtain on the three-week USD29.75 million jaunt.

Next week in Japan, all eyes will be on the health of Tiger Woods as he makes yet another comeback, this time from arthroscopic knee surgery, and will be joined by world number two and PGA Tour Player of the Year Rory McIlroy.

But it is also decision time for US Presidents Cup captain Woods, who will pick his four US team wildcards for December’s showdown with the Internationals in Melbourne straight after the Zozo.

Should the 15-time major winner Woods be fit and firing in Japan, he may nominate himself to be the first playing captain since Hale Irwin at the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994.

World number one Brooks Koepka. PHOTO: AP

But that would reduce his options to just three picks from the likes of Woodland, Tony Finau, Reed, Spieth, Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Kevin Kisner.

Although the out-of-form Mickelson has been a key member of the US Team for an amazing 24 consecutive team events, it seems certain that run will come to an end and he may be recruited by Woods as an additional vice-captain.

US Open champion Woodland is looking to nail down his spot having been runner-up here last year, while former number one Spieth and 2018 Masters champion Reed need a return to top form to spring them into contention. “Unfortunately, I didn’t secure my own spot, so I have two weeks left to go out and prove that my game’s in a good enough spot that I deserve a pick,” Woodland said on Tuesday.

Spieth, languishing at 38th in the world, thinks he may have a chance to sneak into Woods’ thoughts with a couple of big weeks.

“Gary (Woodland) won the US Open and didn’t get an automatic pick and Tiger didn’t get in having won the Masters so that’s a pretty competitive American environment,” Spieth told AFP on Tuesday.

“But I think if I can really play well have a chance and maybe grab a win that may be enough to sneak in.”

International captain Ernie Els has also four to choose, and Day, badly out of form in 2019, still looks a shoo-in to make it an Aussie quartet in the 12-man team alongside Cameron Smith, Marc Leishman and Adam Scott.

Korea have eight players in the field and the home charge will be led by PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Im Sung-jae.

The 21-year-old knows the Jeju course this week better than anyone, having grown up playing Nine Bridges.