Who has best shot in Open tuneup?

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Patrick Cantlay won his second Memorial Tournament in three years in a playoff over Collin Morikawa and got home for his backers at 22-1. Cantlay's victory will not have an official asterisk but will at least be partially remembered for Jon Rahm being forced to withdraw from the event after 54 holes because of a positive COVID-19 test. Rahm, who was the defending champion, held a six-stroke lead at 18 under par and was listed as high as a -1200 favorite to close the deal on Sunday. However, as he was coming off the 18th green, he was informed of the positive test and was forced out of the event. Rahm was the clear class of last week's field, but Cantlay played some excellent golf and was in contention for the first time in four months since back-to-back top-3 finishes at the American Express and at Pebble Beach in late January/early February. Cantlay was second, behind Rahm, for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green, third for SG: Around The Green, fourth for SG: Off-The-Tee and sixth for SG: Approach. He now finds himself back in the OWGR top 10 rankings as he jumps from 15th to seventh with the win at Muirfield Village. 

Like many players, last week's playoff combatants, Cantlay and Morikawa, will take the week off to prepare for next week's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, but we do have a handful of top-quality participants at this week's one-off Palmetto Championship in South Carolina that replaces the RBC Canadian Open this year. 

The tournament favorite is World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (8-1), who was born in Columbia and played his collegiate golf at Coastal Carolina in Conway. Brooks Koepka (9-1) looked like his knee injuries were behind him three weeks ago at the PGA Championship, but he had to settle for a runner-up finish behind Phil Mickelson. Tyrrell Hatton (14-1) also returns to the course for the first time since the PGA Championship. Matthew Fitzpatrick (16-1) is still seeking his first triumph on American soil. Sungjae Im (20-1) is looking to find some form as he has missed three of his last four cuts. Tommy Fleetwood (25-1) was in the OWGR top 10 a little over one year ago but now finds himself outside the top 30. 

Two notable distinguished amateurs also make their professional debuts this week. John Pak (150-1) recently won the Ben Hogan Award and the Fred Haskins Award, which are awarded to the year's best collegiate golfer. Davis Thompson (150-1), the former No. 1 world amateur, finished tied for 23rd at the 2019 RSM Classic, but this will be his first start as a professional on the PGA Tour.  

THE EVENT 

This week's Palmetto Championship is a one-time event to fill the slot designated for the RBC Canadian Open, which was canceled for the second straight year as lingering concerns tied to the U.S.-Canada border and ongoing COVID-19 challenges. The RBC Canadian Open is scheduled to return to the PGA Tour schedule in 2022 at Toronto's St. George Golf and Country Club.

THE COURSE

Congaree Golf Club was designed in 2017 by Tom Fazio. It is in South Carolina's Low Country (about 30 miles north of Savannah, Ga.) in the town of Gillisonville. The course is set on more than 3,200 acres of undeveloped forest and lakes, which was once a rice plantation. The architecture has touches of the famous Australian sandbelt courses, with the intention to have the track playing fast and firm. Congaree is certainly different from your standard tour stop with masses of sandy waste areas and little rough, so players are either on the fairway or in sand, with elevated greens featuring shaved run-off areas. 

Congaree plays as a par-71 of 7,655 yards, which is the longest ever for a par-71 on the PGA Tour. However, it may play a little shorter with longer hitters being able to cut corners over the Oak trees, some of which are more than 300 years old.

The TifGrand Bermuda fairways are very wide, but stray and you can become a victim of numerous fairway sharp edges like those found in the Australian sandbelt, with balls plunging into various hazards. All sandy expanses at Congaree are deemed natural areas, so players are permitted to ground their club on address at any point. Rough is virtually nonexistent.  

The course is relatively flat, with a change of only about 30 feet from its highest to lowest points, but there are some deep bunkers and vast waste areas. Sand is all over the place. 

The Champion Bermuda green complexes are raised. Many are also pitched with slopes angled towards both sand and water hazards. The layout does have some links features.  

In terms of length, the longest par-4s measure in at 475 (17th), 490 (11th), 510 (9th), 520 (6th) and 540 (8th) yards. The third (360 yards) and 15th (also 360 yards) offer risk-reward aspects. Congaree is a typical par-71 with three par-5s, two on the front (the second at 595 yards and fourth at 645 yards), while on the inward nine, the 12th is the shortest at 580 yards. 

Even knowing all these characteristics, it is still a bit of a mystery how this is going to play. Congaree superintendent David Barrett and his staff had less than three months to prepare this course for a PGA Tour event. This course also does not seem to be ideal preparation for next week's U.S. Open. Nevertheless, it comes with a big reputation. Congaree was voted Golf Digest's best new private course in 2018 and was also rated No. 39 by the same publication on the 100 Greatest Courses in America list.

Here are some other Tom Fazio designs that have been featured on the PGA Tour: 

Tom Fazio Designs

Original: 

Atunyote GC: Turning Stone Championship, 2007-10  

Conway Farms GC: BMW Championship, 2013, 2015, 2017  

Eagle Point: Wells Fargo Championship, 2017  

Raptor Course Greyhawk GC: Fry’s.com Open, 2007-09  

Shadow Creek Golf Course: CJ Cup, 2020 

Redesigns and Renovations: 

Riviera Country Club: Genesis Invitational  

Quail Hollow: Wells Fargo Championship, 2003-16, 2018, 2019; 2017 and 2021 PGA Championship 

Merion: 2013 U.S. Open 

Oakmont: 2016 U.S. Open 

Seaside Course at Sea Island: RSM Classic 

STATISTICAL ANGLES

With no event history here, it is a bit more speculative to use statistical angles for the Palmetto Championship. However, it is likely the best starting point considering no course form.  

The fairways this week will be wider than normal, so it is important to be as long and straight as possible considering all the sand on the course. 

Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee 

Matthew Fitzpatrick 20 

Jhonattan Vegas 17.6 

Brooks Koepka 16.2 

Luke List 15.7 

Keith Mitchell 14.3 

Will Gordon 13.2 

Tom Lewis 12.6 

Sungjae Im 12.6 

Ryan Brehm 11.6 

Danny Lee 9.4 

Dustin Johnson 9 

Tyrrell Hatton 8.7 

Note: Last 24 rounds 

If the course plays firm and fast as expected, then a precise approach game will be of even more importance. 

Strokes Gained: Approach 

Patton Kizzire 20.2 

Hank Lebioda 19.1 

Tyrrell Hatton 17.8 

Russell Knox 17.4 

Matthew NeSmith 15.4 

Brooks Koepka 14.3 

Cameron Percy 13.7 

Adam Schenk 12 

Chris Baker 11.2 

David Lipsky 11 

Roger Sloan 10.4 

Luke List 8.7 

Note: Last 24 rounds 

While this course does not have much rough at all, there is a little around the greens and there will be some situations where the putter will be used off the putting surface. 

Strokes Gained: Around The Green 

Tommy Fleetwood 16.8 

Sheamus Power 13.7 

Fabian Power 13.4 

Lucas Glover 11.9 

Kramer Hickok 10.7 

Alexander Noren 10.5 

Pat Perez 10.3 

Camilo Villegas 9.5 

Byeong Hun An 9.4 

Nate Lashley 8.2 

Harold Varner III 7.4 

Matthew Fitzpatrick 6.7 

Note: Last 24 rounds 

Sand is all over this course from the fairways to the greens.  

Sand Saves Gained 

Camilo Villegas 7.7 

Rory Sabbatini 7.1 

Vincent Whaley 6.9 

Byeong Hun An 6.5 

Greg Chalmers 5.4 

C.T. Pan 5 

Ian Poulter 4.8 

Luke Donald 4.7 

Richard S. Johnson 4.4 

Rhein Gibson 4.2 

Kevin Stadler 3.7 

Ben Taylor 3.7 

Note: Last 24 rounds 

The Bermuda greens are likely to roll around 12 feet on the stimpmeter.  

SG: Putting (Fast, Bermudagrass) 

Patton Kizzire 24 

Johnson Wagner 22.1 

J.T. Poston 21.8 

Greg Chalmers 18.7 

Richy Werenski 18.6 

Brooks Koepka 17.3 

Vaughn Taylor 17.1 

Nate Lashley 16.6 

Peter Malnati 16.3 

Dominic Bozzelli 16 

Ian Poulter 15.4 

William McGirt 13.4 

Note: Last 24 rounds 

SELECTIONS

Harold Varner III 35-1 

In the last non-major event held in South Carolina, Varner finished runner-up eight weeks ago at the RBC Heritage. 

Varner is always a top-end ball striker (fourth in the field for SG: Tee-To-Green, eighth SG: Ball Striking), but his putter can hold him back. Nevertheless, he has gained on the greens in five of his last seven starts.

Ian Poulter 40-1 

Poulter earned his spot in next week's U.S. Open two weeks ago at Colonial, where a third-place finish got him into the OWGR Top 60. 

While Torrey Pines will not suit his game necessarily, Congaree just might. Poulter ranks first in the field for SG: Short Game and ninth in Total Strokes Gained over the last 24 rounds. In his career, Poulter has 17 top-10 or better finishes the week before a major.  

Luke List 75-1 

List is not particularly good with the flat stick (148th SG: Putting; 137th SG: Short Game over the last 24 rounds), but he has been hitting the ball beautifully of late.  

He rates second in this week's field for SG: Tee-To-Green, third for SG: Ball Striking and fourth for SG: Off-The-Tee.

Richy Werenski 80-1 

Werenski ranks only 98th in SG: Putting over the last 24 rounds but is excellent with the flat stick when putting on fast Bermuda greens, which the field will see this week.  

He rates top 30 in this field for SG: Off-The-Tee and SG: Ball Striking. 

J.T. Poston 85-1

Poston was able to get his 36 holes in before the weather delay Monday in Columbus and wrapped up his qualifying spot for next week's U.S. Open.  

He is from the Carolinas and has course knowledge at Congaree. Poston's swing coach is John McNeely, who serves as the executive program director for the Congaree Foundation and is also president of Diamond Creek, another Fazio design in North Carolina. Poston also won the Wyndham Championship in 2019.  

Vincent Whaley 110-1 

Whaley has made nine straight cuts dating to Pebble Beach in February.  

He ranks seventh in this week's field for overall Strokes Gained over the last 24 rounds and 12th and 13th, respectively, for SG: Short Game and SG: Tee-To-Green.  

Camilo Villegas 140-1

Villegas has four top-25 or better finishes in his last seven starts.  

The short game has been solid all around, but he has been struggling a bit off the tee (95th SG: OTT). The wider fairways with substantial roll-out should mitigate that recent disadvantage. 

Patrick Rodgers 175-1 

Rodgers wrapped up his spot in the U.S Open on Monday qualifying out of the Bear's Club in Jupiter, Fla., and finished three shots clear of the field.

He is a big hitter off the tee and should embrace the wider fairways at Congaree.  

 

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