Spotlight on: Rory McIlroy in THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT

Rory McIlroy is in Las Vegas this week looking for just his second victory of 2021.

Rory McIlroy is unlikely to be fazed by the knowledge that The Summit Club, host of this week's CJ CUP, is a Tom Fazio design.

In fact, he's encountered two of them this year alone and had good vibes about both.

The first was Quail Hollow, one of his favourite tracks and a Fazio re-design. It witnessed McIlroy's only victory of 2021.

The second was the host of the BMW Championship, Caves Valley, about which the 32-year-old said ahead of the first round: "It lets you hit driver. It's just nice to feel like you can let it fly."

He promptly shared the lead come the end of Thursday's action.

He was slightly less effusive about this week's track on Wednesday, but there were signs that he could attack the course with his favourite club.

"It's a good course," he said. "There's a couple of drive-able par-4s out there, the par-5s are reachable if you keep it in play."

He added that the local knowledge of club member Collin Morikawa may not prove crucial: "Maybe of the course was playing differently, but it's very soft at the minute so the ball's sitting and staying where it lands. There's not too many nuances around here where course experience is going to be that valuable."

That softness should play into his hands with the driver, both limiting the distance the shorter hitters can advance the ball and permitting him to take aim at far-off targets.

Let's take a closer look at the options of backing McIlroy this week.

McIlroy in the outright

PlanetSport tipster Jack Kelliher has made McIlroy his headline pick arguing: "On Tom Fazio designed tracks he is first in terms of strokes gained off the tee, first in terms of driving distance, first for par-5 scoring, and these are going to be key factors in determining the winner this week."

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McIlroy in the first round

In his last 70 starts the Northern Irishman has landed eight first round leads (five shared, three solo) and, in all, he finished top six 19 times.

Those numbers are decent enough, but within them is yet more encouraging news.

His last share of the first round lead? At the previously mentioned Fazio designed Caves Valley in August (he also thrashed a 65 there in round three).

His last win on tour? At the Fazio re-designed Quail Hollow (his second round 66 was the joint low score of the day).

Beyond his Caves Valley effort, there's more good news about those eight first round leads.

One was at Quail Hollow, another at the Fazio designed Conway Farms, and a third was at altitude in Mexico City (Vegas is not nearly so high but does have thin air).

McIlroy's Thursday three-ball

McIlroy is up against defending champion Jason Kokrak and two-time tournament winner Justin Thomas in the first round.

The three-way head-to-head results over the last 15 tournament they have all played in produces some rather unexpected results.

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The first round tally reads 2-5-3 giving Kokrak an advantage few might have predicted.

Those numbers are 2-4-1 in 2021 alone, but go further back and a more expected pattern emerges: 7-7-6 since the start of 2020, 10-7-9 since the beginning of 2019.

If you like Kokrak to maintain modern trends and put up a good fight, he's the biggest price of the three.

McIlroy in a matchbet

PlanetSportBet have McIlroy in a three-way 72-hole matchbet with Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa.

In 2021 it is the youngster Morikawa who holds sway, leading 3-7-4.

Take that back to the start of 2020 and Thomas emerges ahead: 7-9-11.

In the pre-tournament press conferences Thomas admitted he had played the course once before, had not finished the 18 holes, and had not seen it in the best conditions (there was a brutal wind). He insisted his mind was open, but it was an interesting exchange.

Morikawa, on the other hand, is a member at the course, knows it inside out and has carded a 62 there.

Conclusion

Last week's Spotlight On: Webb Simpson came up with a first round three-ball winner at 3/1.

This week Kokrak and Morikawa are tempting, but McIlroy in the first round leader market is the play.

READ MORE: THE CJ CUP betting tips: Back Rory McIlroy to gain second PGA Tour win of the calendar year

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