PALMETTO CHAMPIONSHIP: With pandemic protocols in Canada forcing the cancellation of this year’s RBC Canadian Open, the PGA Tour had a hole on its schedule to fill. Enter Congaree Golf Club, a much-hyped Tom Fazio design situated in the South Carolina lowcountry that was named Golf Digest’s best new private course for 2018. An unconventional, striking layout that many have compared to Pine Valley and Royal Melbourne, it’s supposedly a stark departure from your typical Fazio course, prominently incorporating sand dunes and natural areas along with difficult, intricate green complexes.
Congaree is the type of place that has been reviewed by all the magazines, which doesn’t generally happen organically– a certain type of club will seek that out. The club also reportedly made an unsuccessful bid to host the 2025 Presidents Cup, so the membership or whoever is pulling the strings there is clearly quite interested in publicizing the place, and now they have their big chance– a bone fide PGA Tour event. Granted, it’s not one rich in star power on account of next week’s U.S. Open being played 3,000 miles away, but headliners Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka should excite the local fans, and the course is apparently both visually striking and in pristine condition, so I’m sure the club’s goal of a boost in profile will be achieved. And while a new venue always complicates things a bit from a betting perspective, I’ll admit that all the hype has piqued my curiosity, and I’m sure I won’t be alone in tuning in this week specifically to see the course.
As far as what the players can expect, we know that there will be ample opportunity to swing away with the driver— Congaree stretches out to nearly 7,700 yards, and while it surely won’t be played all the way back for all four days (Kevin Kisner joked earlier this week that some tees would have to be moved up “just to get all 156 players around”), it’s going to be long in spots, and the fairways are significantly wider than Tour average. Kisner, a South Carolina native who has probably played Congaree as much as anyone in the field outside of the club’s International Ambassador Lucas Glover, described it as a thinking man’s course that is “not a bomber’s paradise” despite its considerable length. He said “the run-off areas and slopes around the greens will get your attention. There are a lot of links characteristics.” It sounds like an interesting puzzle to solve, but then again, we’ve thought that before about new courses only to see them torn apart by 340-yard bombs and easy wedges. Time will tell how Congaree will hold up.
The market is tricky this week– DJ (8.4) and Koepka (8.6) are up top, of course, but because of the relative scarcity of big names, several mid-tier contenders are priced much shorter than usual, ruining their appeal (Alex Noren at 26.0? No, thank you). I’ve decided to steer clear of the top of the market entirely, attempting to strike gold with these three instead:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Lucas Glover (36.0)- This might be viewed as low-hanging fruit since Glover is an official ambassador for Congaree and has been quoted at length this week on the course, but he’s been flashing some form of late, finishing 8th at the Charles Schwab Challenge two weeks ago and then playing three good rounds at the Memorial before a Sunday 76 left him in a tie for 37th. Long known as a Bermuda specialist, he has two top-5s already this season on Bermuda-covered courses, those coming at the Mayakoba Classic and the Valero Texas Open, so there are reasons to like him at Congaree aside from his extensive knowledge of the course– but the course knowledge certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Glover suffered through a severe, prolonged slump that he began to come out of a couple of years ago, and a win this week, on his home course and in front of friends and family, would be a storybook way to cap off his comeback. I think he’s worth a shot at a price like 36.0.
Rafa Cabrera Bello (54.0)- Though he hasn’t posted a worldwide victory since his triumph at the Scottish Open in 2017, Cabrera Bello has a versatile game that travels well– he’s had success all over the world on many different styles of courses. He’s been struggling a bit off the tee this season but has straightened it out in recent weeks and has made three straight cuts after a stretch in which he missed four of five, finishing T21/T32/T37 in his last three starts. That means his game is on the upswing, and even though he’s been driving it better lately, he’s still someone who will be happy to see Congaree’s wide fairways. The best thing about Cabrera Bello’s game lately has been his putting– once a weakness, he’s turned the flat stick into a strength and ranks in the top-20 on Tour in strokes gained putting since the start of April, spanning six tournaments. At better than 50/1 on a course that seems well-suited for his game, the Spaniard feels dangerous this week.
Satoshi Kodaira (84.0)- A streaky player who does his best work on Bermuda courses, Kodaira went through a rough patch a couple of months ago, missing four straight cuts at one point, but he’s found his form again and is coming off back-to-back good performances, finishing 11th at the Wells Fargo and then T13 at the Byron Nelson. It’s difficult to predict what type of player will thrive at Congaree due to the fact that we’ve never seen the course before, but Kodaira can heat up in a a hurry and get the birdies flowing because he’s one of the finest short iron players in the world, ranking 2nd on the PGA Tour in proximity from 100-125 yards and 14th from 125-150. If you’re looking for a dark horse this week, there’s a lot to like about a guy who can dial it in with the irons and is coming off back-to-back top-15 finishes. Don’t sleep on Kodaira.