Unlike with the Mallorca Open, at least we have seen this week’s PGA Tour host Congaree Golf Club, although that was back in June 2021.
A year is a long time in golf and at the start of the Palmetto Championship – the CJ Cup was then held at The Summit Club – Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka led the market at around 8/1. Both have now departed to the LIV organisation but, even then, they still succumbed to the likes of eventual winner Garrick Higgo and joint-runner-up Bo Van Pelt, who, for some unknown reason, had his best finish for around nine years and hasn’t repeated it since.
*Prices subject to fluctuation and availability.
18+ | BeGambleAware.org
It’s tough to gauge anything from the mish-mash of the front page of the leaderboard, as even Higgo’s previous victories in the Canary Islands lead us nowhere. Instead, play it simple – this is a 7600-yard bombers course with sand belt instead of rough, and Bermuda grass greens.
15 of the top-20 in the world turn up in South Carolina this week, headed by the top two on the OWGR, but in my mind there is one clear best of the lot.
With Scottie Scheffler coming off a disappointing Tour Championship and Presidents Cup, the question is only what price Rory McIlroy should be this week?
Rory McIlroy - Win
The bare facts are impressive. In 20 outings this season, Rory has a pair of victories, two runner- up finishes and a duo of bronze medals. Top that with seven further top-10s, and for me, we are looking at the most consistent player on the grass.
Even that doesn’t tell the full story. Rory was impressive in defending his Canadian Open title, as well as giving Scheffler half-a-dozen shots and a beating at the finale, but he really should be sleeping with trophies from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Open Championship and Italian Open.
In his last five outings, the Irishman has not been out of the top five off-the-tee (a tremendous asset here) giving a huge advantage to his overall tee-to-green figures, for which he ranked 2nd for the 2021/22 wraparound season.
With this the final time we will see such a field in 2022, there is a sense it will be important for the players to prove themselves against the best of their peers. With four of the last five winners of the CJ Cup being from the top echelons, Rory makes more than perfect sense.
Whatever happens, make him a saver at least.
Rory didn’t play in last week’s Zozo Championship, and it’s possible the travelling will take its toll on many. Given this track – it’s not Valderrama or Riviera, those that can ‘get’ inside your mind – I’m happy to put that to one side. Just.
Corey Conners - E/W
First up, travelling from Japan is Corey Conners, a player put up last week who got every bit out of his final three rounds after a horror start.
A first round 73 was as bad as it could get for the Canadian, usually as straight as it gets from tee to green, but he recovered nicely, recording 67 for the next three days. There were no strokes-gained stats available, and I remain unconvinced by anything that is given outside of the official PGA sources, but Conners will be back to the level of form he showed when finishing 6th at The Masters, filling the same position behind McIlroy in Canada and 5th at the BMW Championship.
For whatever reason, the 30-year-old has lost form since the start of the season, but go back to his final four starts of the previous ‘year’ and he averages around 10th for anything involving getting the ball to the short stuff. It will come, hopefully this week.
Aaron Wise - E/W
Next up is 26-year-old Aaron Wise, who seems to have been around for longer than his years.
When winning the Byron Nelson in 2018 and achieving a joint runner-up at the (course comp alert) Wells Fargo in 2019, Wise looked as if he would kick on and gain a few more trophies, and while that hasn’t happened yet, he has recorded seven top-10 finishes and recording two runner-up places at Muirfield and Mayakoba.
Those top-10s include top finishes at Quail Hollow and The Memorial again, at Shriners and at this event last year, when finishing four shots behind McIlroy, all results showing just how good he is when trying to keep bogeys off his card.
Now ranked inside the top-40 in the world after missing just one cut in his last 14 outings, Wise can thrive after a week off since the Shriners in Las Vegas when a poor final round cost him 41 places on the board. Expect something similar to the last time we saw such a quality field, a fifth place at East Lake. He goes off in the first group on Thursday. Get wise.
I put up Sahith Theegala for the Sanderson Farms, and he predictably missed only his third cut of an impressive first full season-and-a-bit on tour.
Sahith Theegala - E/W
Just the fifth person to win the Haskins, Hogan and Nicklaus awards in college, the Pepperdine athlete was always going to do something in the professional game, but few thought it would come in his second event as a full PGA Tour player.
12 months ago, the 24-year-old shot a bogey-free third round 67 to take a lead into the final round at the Country Club of Jackson, but faded to finish in eighth place behind Sam Burns after a bizarre attempt to hit the hero shot from a bunker.
Theegala learned from the experience to lie in sixth at Torrey Pines, before a sponsor’s exemption allowed him into the raucous Phoenix Open, where again he took a lead into the final round. This time, he lasted to the short par-four 17th, when fate would conspire against him, a bad bounce leaving his ball in a water hazard, and costing him that vital shot that left him out of the final play-off, one that served up the first win for eventual world number one, Scottie Scheffler.
Sahith Theegala - Top 10
What has followed has been a steady flow of improvement, coming from behind to finish seventh in the Valspar, fifth at Muirfield, second at the Travelers and 16th at Deere Run before a run at the FedEx finals, eventually qualifying for the Tour Championship. The knowledge he is among the best of the maidens on tour should have given him confidence for the 2022/23 season, and supporters cannot ask for more than an opening sixth place at the Fortinet, when he was never outside of the top 10.
Then came that missed weekend before an impressive debut in Japan, where Theegala started slowly in 41st place, but rushed through the field at the weekend, shooting 63 and 67, the former including a double-bogey.
Long enough to compete well here and with several top-10 rankings for tee-to-green this season, this may be too early for him to gain the maiden victory. However, he is now just two spots outside of the world’s top-50 so has every incentive to acheive, and I’d rather be on at the price this week than have to take sub-20 at a lesser quality event.
Expect a victory this season, it’s where, not if.
Cam Davis - E/W
Finally, we have to have a sand belt operator on board, and Cam Davis fits the bill perfectly.
Another selection in his 20’s, the high-quality amateur, has come on to become one of the best operators on coastal, windy tracks. Congaree looks right up his alley.
Winner of his home Australian Open and play-off winner of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, the 27-year-old has been quietly progressive through the past season and is now ranked in 66th place from 229 a couple of years ago.
Cam Davis - Top 20
The rise hasn’t been as quick as Theegala’s but his mid-season top-10 finishes at the Charles Schwab, John Deere and Barracuda all read well enough, whilst his best effort in this part of the world is at Harbour Town, when third at the Heritage.
Davis has been progressive in the three starts of this season, missing the cut by two at the opening Fortinet, finishing 37th at Summerlin (6th at halfway) and inside the top-30 last week in Japan.
Often in trouble on tight tracks, Davis’ length can only help him here this week, and with the rest of his game in decent shape, can land a top-20 without too much grief.