Palmetto Championship @ Congaree
It was a week that will stay long in the memory at the Memorial tournament and not necessarily for all the right reasons.
On Saturday evening the event, which was being dominated by Jon Rahm was turned on its head when the Spaniard walked off the 18th green after shooting 64 to open up a six shot lead heading in to Sunday only to be told that he had returned a positive covid test and as a result had to withdraw from the tournament.
Rahm who was understandably distraught will now undergo a period of self-isolation, which will take him up to the Tuesday morning of US Open week.
As a result of Rahm’s withdrawal Patrick Cantlay and Collin Morikawa who had finished up on Saturday no doubt thinking they would be playing on Sunday for the runners up spot were thrust in to the spotlight of a final round showdown.
In the end after a nip and tuck day, which saw the event go to extra holes it was Cantlay who triumphed to add a second Memorial title to his resume.
From our point of view it was a disappointing week as a whole with only Shane Lowry threatening the top end of the leaderboard. Fortunately however after a poor start on Sunday Lowry saved his best till last and five birdie’s in his last dozen holes was enough to bring us a full place return.
So we move on unscathed and on to another ‘one off’ new event as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.
The event that has fallen by the wayside is the RBC Canadian Open, which will touch wood return to the schedule next year, and in its place we have the Palmetto Championship @ Congaree, which is being held at Congaree GC in Ridgeland, South Carolina.
A field of 150 or so will tee it up with the betting market headed up by South Carolinian native Dustin Johnson who holds marginal favouritism over Brooks Koepka. This pair then followed by Tyrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, Sungjae Im and Tommy Fleetwood.
Congaree is a par 71 measuring over 7600yds.
The greens are Championship Bermuda.
The course was designed by Tom Fazio and opened for play in 2017.
Other Fazio designs/redesigns used on tour include Quail Hollow in Charlotte and Eagle Point which hosted the 2017 Quail Hollow Championship, Conway Farms host of the 2013, 15 & 17 editions of the BMW Championship, Corales host of the Corales Puntacana and Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, which hosted the CJ Cup last fall.
Situated amongst 2000 acres of fishing lakes and pine forests in Ridgeland, South Carolina, Congaree can be found about an hour West of Hilton Head island and just under an hour North of Savannah.
The course is forgiving off the tee as thousands of trees were removed and instead of rough it features swathes of sandbelts, meaning that it very much has a feel of Royal Melbourne or even Walton Heath. The aim was to create a course that could be played along the ground very much in a links style and assuming the weather cooperates it is designed to play firm with elevated putting surfaces potentially running at 13 on the stimpmeter.
The course features two driveable par fours, the 3rd and 15th while the par four 8th, the courses signature hole can play to a brutal 540yds! In addition the par five 4th measures a mere 645yds.
For obvious reasons, nothing to see here!
A hot, muggy, humid week will greet the players as they return to South Carolina this week with temperatures set to sit in the low to mid 30s for all four days. Not unsurprisingly then there is a potential for some disruptions with storms across the week.
Wind could potentially play a part as well with gusts of 15-20mph showing as a possibility in the forecast across all four days.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
KEITH MITCHELL –45-1 – 1.5pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
First up for us this week is Keith Mitchell.
Whenever the tour hits Bermuda greens Mitchell is a man to have on your radar as he is a self-confessed lover of the surface who time and again produces his best performances on it.
Mitchell’s most recent foray on the Bermuda came three starts ago at the Wells Fargo and he once more came to the fore on this occasion finishing third.
As well is it showing Mitchell’s game is in a decent shape what makes that performance particularly interesting is that not only does Quail Hollow feature the exact championship Bermuda greens that the players will face this week at Congaree but also the venue has Tom Fazio’s stamp on it who is the designer of this week’s track.
Its also worth noting that Mitchell has shown previously a liking to Quail Hollow finishing eighth there in 2019 so this performance recently was not a flash in the pan.
Looking further at the Fazio connection with Mitchell and we find that on his full debut season on tour, 2018, Keith produced his best finish of the campaign, a second place, at the Corales Puntacana event, which is another Fazio design and this again shows an affinity to the legendary designers work.
There is obviously an element of the unknown this week as to how much of a factor the official course yardage will be, however as one of the bigger hitters on tour Mitchell’s length off the tee could be an advantage. In addition as a former Honda Classic winner as well as a strong performer at Bay Hill, Mitchell has shown he is comfortable in the wind should it pick up this week.
Keith just missed out in Atlanta on Monday by one shot in his bid to qualify for the US Open however two rounds of 70 and 67 showed his game remains in good shape and I am happy to side with the one time tour winner to put that disappointment behind him this week and make a bold showing to bag his second tour victory.
JT POSTON – 100-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
With so little known about the course this week I want to have at least one player on side who has definite experience of the venue and on that basis I am keen to chance is Keith Mitchell’s good buddy JT Poston.
Poston memorably went 72 holes bogey free when landing his maiden PGA Tour title at the Wyndham Championship in 2019 however since then its been pretty up and down stuff from the man who hails from Hickory, North Carolina.
This season JT currently sits a comfortable 78th on the Fedex Cup standings however this is largely down to a third place finish at the Sanderson Farms back in the Fall and he has struggled in 2021 with no top 20s since January when he was 18th and 11th at Torrey Pines and Phoenix.
Talking of Torrey Pines though Poston put another disappointing week at the Memorial behind him on Monday to bag a place in next weeks US Open there by posting two rounds of 67 in qualifying in Columbus, Ohio and this could just be the boost he needs to get his 2021 back on track.
So, on the back of that morale booster JT now heads to Congaree where unlike many he has experience and the bonus that his swing coach John McNeely is the Director of the Congaree Foundation. Poston has also been seen on social media over time stating how much of a fan of the track he is.
Like Mitchell Poston is another who clearly produces his best golf on the East Coast Bermuda surfaces and as one of the strongest putters on tour my hope is that his knowledge of what are anticipated to be reasonably slick greens will stand him in good stead this week.
BEN MARTIN – 66-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
A player who is clearly producing some of his best and most consistent golf in a very long time at the moment is Ben Martin and having had the South Carolinian on our radar through this run it would be foolish in my eyes to abandon him now as the tour returns to his home state once more.
The one time tour winner sprung back to life in the big league with a ninth place finish on the Fazio designed Puntacana track in March and his last two starts have seem post an 11th place at Quail Hollow and a 26th at the AT&T Byron Nelson, a result, which would have been much better but for a disappointing Sunday.
After a couple of weeks off Ben tee’d it up yesterday in the US Open qualifier at Hilton Head where he agonisingly missed out on a spot, losing in a three man play off for the final place up for grabs. While this will no doubt be a big disappointment to Martin it did show again that his game is in solid shape and he will know that as an alternate he still has a decent chance of making Torrey Pines.
Coming back to this week and while I have no inside knowledge on how well Ben knows Congaree you would have to think that as a resident of South Carolina he will have crossed paths with it on some occasions. I also cant help but think that his experience of Kiawah Island where he is a resident and ambassador will hold him in good stead this week as there certainly seem to be comparisons you can draw between these two tracks.
Finally as a player renowned as a strong putter you would hope his touch on the greens would come to the fore this week.
All in all Martin is clearly trending towards a really big result and I am keen to be back on board with him in his home state this week.
TOM LEWIS – 110-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Everything I have read this week has referred to Congaree having a links style, firm, fast feel to it comparable to the Australian sand belt courses and UK links courses. In addition I have even seen comparisons drawn with Walton Heath.
On that basis you would have to think the venue will suit the British contingent teeing it up this week and the one that I shall chance sits further down the betting in the shape of Tom Lewis.
Lewis first burst on to the scene back in 2011 when still a 20yr old amateur he finished 30th at the Open Championship, after holding a share of the first round lead after shooting 65.
Since then he has certainly been a player to watch on links style/coastal venues, posting his two European Tour wins at the Portugal Masters and notching several high finishes at the Dunhill Links events and Middle Eastern events, which tend to favour links specialists. In addition he has a top five at Walton Heath in the British Masters to his name and a top ten in the Australian PGA on the Pines Course, which I see as having some similarities to this week.
At the end of 2019 Lewis decided to try his hand at qualifying for the PGA Tour in the Korn Ferry Tour Championship and the outcome was spectacular in that he won the event and earned himself a PGA Tour card.
Since then its been an up and down time for Tom and one that has of course been impacted by the covid 19 pandemic, however he has shown that on his day he can be a factor at this level most noticeably when finishing second at the WGC Fedex St Jude last summer, where the comparable Championship Bermuda greens to this week were in play.
This season has been mostly a struggle for the 30yr old to date however he did find a solid run of form not so long ago making five cuts on the spin and also teaming up with Thomas Pieters at the Zurich to notch a top ten finish so there is some good stuff in there.
Having failed to qualify for the US Open on Monday Lewis will be fully focused on the job in hand this week and on a course, which I think should suit him I am happy to take a chance on him.
PATRICK RODGERS – 125-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 50th
To a sigh of collective groans from my readership no doubt I shall next up roll the dice once more on Patrick Rodgers.
Rodgers as regular readers will know is a player I believe will pop up and reward us at big odds at some point however rather than repeating my usual mantra about Patrick being too talented a player not to win in due course etc I will jump straight to the reasons why I genuinely think Congaree will be a good fit for him.
Firstly as one of the longer players off the tee out there Pat’s length could transpire to be beneficial this week while his occasional waywardness in this department I suspect will not be punished as much as normal.
Furthermore while his numbers don’t particularly bear it out this season one of Rodgers’ strengths is undoubtedly on the greens, something that his last two campaigns strokes-gained-putting rankings of 11th and 22nd do show.
Looking then at correlating courses and Patrick’s obvious affinity to Quail Hollow, which as mentioned earlier, hold the Fazio link this week is certainly eye catching as is his seasons best to date 11th place finish at the Fazio designed Puntacana track.
I put up Rodgers last week at the Memorial however Patrick, clearly undone by the thick rough, had a really poor week finishing all but stone last of those who missed the cut.
As is Patrick’s want however this was brushed to one side on Monday as he topped the US Open qualifying event comfortably on his home course in Jupiter, Florida, finishing on 7- under and three clear of the field.
While due to the nature of how Patrick can blow hot and cold this performance is no guarantee to a good week at Congaree you would have to think it will be a big confidence booster that will send him up the road to South Carolina in great spirits.
As with anyone who qualified on Monday for Torrey there is always a danger that Pat withdraws from this event after this preview is published however as the player who probably rivals Sungjae Im for the tour Iron man award the most, and as someone who is also in need of a big result or two from a Fedex Cup perspective, my strong hunch is he will be at Congaree on Thursday, and I am hopeful for a big week on a course, which should suit.
JJ SPAUN – 200-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8
Finally this week I will sign off with a big odds play on JJ Spaun.
JJ was another who came through final US Open qualifying on Monday shooting 5- under across the two rounds at Long Cove, Hilton Head and for someone who attended college in San Diego there is no doubt that teeing it up in a US Open at Torrey Pines next week will be a huge moment for him in his career.
Prior to this boost though there had already been a few signs recently that Spaun was emerging from a slump, which stretched back to a season opening ninth place at the Safeway, as after managing nothing better than a 56th in his previous 13 starts he posted an 18th place finish at the Wells Fargo two starts ago and opened up with a 63 at the Byron Nelson last time out before eventually finishing 47th.
Positive signs for the 30yr old of late then and when added to Spaun’s record on coastal tracks and/or tracks with a links flavour to them he certainly pops up as someone who could perform well here.
Looking at this in more detail and one result, which stands out is JJ’s third place finish at the 2018 Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest, a result, which came very much out of the blue when he was struggling and came on a wide open links type track, which I see as having plenty of comparisons to this week.
Furthermore JJ has produced some of his best stuff since being on tour at venues like Hilton Head, Sea Island and Mayakoba as well as the aforementioned Torrey Pines, showing he is more than capable of playing in the wind if it blows.
Spaun is one of those players who has been threatening to break through on and off for a few years now, and having now turned 30 you would feel that his time should really be coming soon.
Buoyed therefore by his recent upturn in form I am happy to chance him at the juicy odds on offer this week.