The CJ Cup @ Congaree
It was a slow start to our week at the ZOZO Championship and at halfway we looked to be heading for another disappointing event. A best of the day 63 on Saturday though for Sahith Theegala propelled him in to contention and in the end a closing 67 was enough to bag a 2/3 share of the place money for us. A case of minimal damage done then.
The event itself was won by Keegan Bradley who landed a victory for the ‘right in front of you’ case of ‘course form meets current form’ as he arrived in Japan with two top 13 finishes in his previous two course starts and top ten to open his season.
So onwards we go to what would normally be the second leg of the Asian swing the CJ Cup in Korea, however for the third year running due to the knock on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic the event is once again being held in the US.
The last two years has seen the event held in Las Vegas giving us a two week ‘Vegas swing’ on the back of the Shriners however this year we head to Congaree GC in Ridgeland, South Carolina, which we previously saw host the one off Palmetto Championship in 2021.
The event is once more a limited field event with no cut. The field is made up of the top 60 available players from the previous seasons Fedex Cup, plus qualifiers from the Asian Tour and Korean’s based on OWGR, making 78 players set to tee it up in total.
The field is a strong one with defending champion Rory McIlroy heading up the market from Jon Rahm. This duo are then followed in the market by Justin Thomas and Scottie Scheffler.
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.
With the event being played at Congaree for the first time there is no point in focusing on the past history of the CJ Cup and instead we should take a look at the one bit of course form we have here, the Palmetto Championship from 2020. Let’s firstly take a look at the top ten home that week.
1 G Higgo, T2 H Swafford, D Redman, J Vegas, T Hatton, B V Pelt, C Hadley, T8 R Armour, D Lipsky, T10 M Fitzpatrick, E V Rooyen, D Johnson, P Perez.
So what does this top ten tell us? Well as always it is risky reading too much in to one event however if we look at the stats for the week the predominant feature of the winner Higgo and those close behind was that they were really solid from tee to green with Higgo ranking eighth in that department, Hatton first, Swafford second, Vegas third and Redman fourth.
Meanwhile while the track is certainly no slouch length wise at circa 7600yards it is worth noting that several of those in the top ten such as Redman, Armour, Lipsky and Fitzpatrick [at the time!] were known as some of the shorter hitters on tour so this certainly shouldn’t be seen as a bombers paradise.
From a correlating course point of view it is worth noting that one of the runners up Hudson Swafford has proven to be something of course specialist at the Fazio designed Corales track while Vegas and Lipsky have also performed well there.
Finally with the course having been described as having been designed in an Australian sand belt style with a links feel it is interesting to note that five of the top thirteen finishers at the Palmetto were international players with all three South African’s on display that week featuring prominently, including of course the winner.
It looks like we are set for a warm dry week with perfect temperatures. In addition the wind does not look to be too big a factor with not much more than 10-15mph forecast.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
VIKTOR HOVLAND - 25/1 - 2pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 21st
I shall start things off this week with Viktor Hovland.
It has been a quiet 2022 as a whole for Hovland on the PGA Tour however he came to life in July at the Open Championship when he was in the hunt for the Claret Jug heading in to Sunday before he ultimately had a disappointing final day.
Still though with that being the first time Viktor had been seriously in the mix for a Major it was no doubt a big learning curve for him and he followed it up with some solid if unspectacular efforts in the play off’s.
Moving on to the new campaign and Hovland started out in strong fashion in Japan last week producing a fifth place finish in the ZOZO Championship and having hit all 18 greens on Saturday his iron play is clearly in good fettle.
Renowned for his tee to green game, allowing for the fact this was key here in 2021, my hunch is that Viktor could thrive at Congaree and a look at his form at other Fazio designs offers huge encouragement.
Firstly of course we have the win in Puerto Rico on the Fazio design and in addition we have a third place at Quail Hollow on a Fazio redesign.
In addition while not of course by the same designer I do like that he featured very prominently at the Concession Club last year, another track with that wide open feel and of course we then have the strong effort at St Andrews.
With the Norwegian having one twice last year in the Fall period this is clearly a time of year he enjoys his golf and with him often following one strong effort with another I am happy to side with him here to build on last weeks strong showing.
JORDAN SPIETH – 33/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 52nd
Any time the tour heads to an ‘open’ track with a links type feel to it then Jordan Spieth’s name should be right near the top of the list and he is a ‘must’ for me this week.
Spieth’s liking for this type of venue is well documented and having won an Open at Birkdale, the US Open at Chambers Bay and an Australian Open in the firm conditions in Sydney there is no doubting he has the right skill sets for this week.
Historically of course Spieth was known predominantly for his hot putter however over the last year or so it is his long game, which has stood out as his 21/22 ranking from tee to green of 18th showed and that should stand him in good stead this week.
Unlike several of this weeks field Jordan is lightly golfed so far in this new campaign with this week representing his first full start on the PGA Tour for 22/23, however as we know he has not been idle as he became the first US golfer since 2011 to go 5-0-0 in the Presidents Cup recently.
With this performance having come at the Fazio re design in neighbouring North Carolina I am sure Spieth will take some positive vibes at being back in the Carolina’s this week.
In addition of course we have already seen from Tom Kim what type of boost can be achieved from a strong Presidents Cup outing and I expect Spieth to be raring to go on a track that should be right up his alley this week.
KEITH MITCHELL – 100/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 40th
Next cab off the rank for me this week is Keith Mitchell.
Mitchell is another player who has built up a strong bank of form on Fazio designs/re designs over the years having finished third in this event, all be it on a different Fazio layout, third at Quail Hollow and second at Corales and with the latter event proving a strong pointer to the Palmetto Championship held here that particularly caught my eye.
Another strong player performer from tee to green Keith started his 22/23 season in fairly low key fashion with a 60th place at the Shriners however he performed really strongly off the tee that week so we know his long game is in good shape. In addition let’s not forget Keith started 21/22 with two missed cuts before finishing third in this event.
The one downside is that Keith missed the cut here at the Palmetto Championship in 2021 however that week was the second of a run of five straight missed cuts sop he clearly was off the boil at the time.
At his best then on Bermuda greens and with his strong Fazio record I am happy to chance Mitchell here this week.
KURT KITAYAMA – 125/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 2nd
For my final two selections this week I shall roll the dice on two players at bigger odds who I just think will take to this track, the first of which is Kurt Kitayama.
Kitayama is a player I would class as a ‘punters friend’ as he is the type who will struggle for a while before popping up at big odds at the right type of venue. The art then of course is to identify the right track for him and having won on the DP World Tour in windy Oman on a links type track and having posted three to three finishes on the PGA Tour at the Honda, Mexico Championship and the Scottish Open it would seem that type of track is either a linksy type feel and/or a course with same space on it. Congaree then could well be right up his street.
Long off the tee Kurt can take advantage of the driveable par fours here and having performed really strongly from tee to green so far in his two starts this season the long game is working well.
Kitayama rounded off his week at the ZOZO nicely with a Sunday 65 and I can see a big effort this week.
ALEX SMALLEY – 150/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 52nd
Finally this week I will risk Alex Smalley.
Another strong performer from tee to green Smalley’s second place finish at the Corales, sixth place in Mexico and tenth place in Scotland again leap off the page to me in relation to this weeks test. In addition for good measure he posted two top 25s at the Corales in the two previous events there to show he is really at home on the track.
Smalley performed really strongly on his debut campaign on the PGA Tour to finish 73rd in the standings and he is clearly a player on the up. After a strong week at the ZOZO then I expect Alex to thrive this week particularly as he should have plenty of travelling support havinmg attended Duke in neighbouring N Carolina.