Original article published 19 October 2022
The PGA Tour heads back to the United States after the Zozo Championship, and Ben Everill has four players to watch.
A monster field of PGA Tour stars heads to Congaree Golf Club in South Carolina for THE CJ CUP this week where sand, sand and more sand awaits those chasing glory.
Headlined by FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy (who has a chance to wrestle world No. 1 status from Scottie Scheffler should he defend his title won in Las Vegas a year ago), is a stacked field with 15 of the top 20 players in the world.
Congaree isn’t completely foreign to the PGA Tour having hosted the Palmetto Championship in June of 2021, but a different test faces those teeing it up this week on the Tom Fazio design. Humidity in June meant the course couldn’t be set to its true standards.
The course is inspired by European style links courses and Australian sand belt classics and with clear weather should play firm and fast. “It’s maintained that way for fast speeds. The ball goes far, but also moves a lot on the ground,” Fazio told PGATour.com. “That can make it strong, especially for this level of play. The greens will be firm and if it gets rain, they'll just shoot a few more birdies.”
With no rough to speak of, bunkers and sandy waste areas litter the property just waiting for a misjudged shot. Much like courses in Melbourne the edges of greens have sharp cutaways to bunkers just waiting to eat the rolling ball.
When making our choices this week one should consider the crucial statistics for this type of course. In this case it’s staples like Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and Strokes Gained: Approach that are always handy. Players will need to take in to account the amount of rollout on all shots with hot tee shots scooting through into peculiar lies. With closely mown runoffs and traps awaiting around the greens Strokes Gained: Around the Green can’t be ignored either.
While it sounds like we are hedging our bets by using all key metrics, you want to also place some potential value on those who putt well on Bermuda grass also.
Despite the need for an all-around game, let’s try to find an edge.
TOP OF THE BOARD
The top four chances to win outright according to the odds are Rory McIlroy (7/1), Jon Rahm (9/1), Scottie Scheffler (11/1) and Justin Thomas (14/1). When we look at the staple key stats from last Tour season it is clear why McIlroy is the favourite. When comparing the four players, McIlroy led in two and sat second in another of the five staple metrics with his rankings impressive across all areas.
The Northern Irishman obviously has previous success in Europe and has won an Australian Open, albeit on a Sydney course rather than Melbourne’s sand belt. Since winning an unprecedented third FedExCup he has finished T2-4-T4 on the DP World Tour. So that makes it hard to advocate against him against his three closest rivals here.
Thomas has shown a penchant to perform on Fazio designs of late in terms of Strokes Gained, but McIlroy isn’t far behind him. Rahm comes off a win at his home Open de Espana but admitted to some fatigue stemming from it.
“If anything, I feel more drained than after every other week of the year. It's just more attention. I understand they don't see me play all year, it's the only week they get to see me play... and not all of them are golf fans. They're soccer fans, so they treat it like it's a soccer match,” Rahm explained.
“So every step I take I have people yelling at me like I'm running up and down the field when I'm really not. Their energy doesn't match where a golf tournament energy could be, so I have to manage that and the expectations and the media and the autographs. It truly is a week that when I'm done, I'm more tired than any other week.”
Staple Stats 2021-22 Season
Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee: Rahm 1st, McIlroy 3rd, Thomas 16th, Scheffler 37th.
Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: McIlroy 2nd, Thomas 3rd, Scheffler 4th, Rahm 12th.
Strokes Gained: Approach: Scheffler 4th, Thomas 8th, McIlroy 14th, Rahm 38th.
Strokes Gained: Around the Green: Thomas 15th, Scheffler 25th, McIlroy 43rd, Rahm 143rd.
Strokes Gained: Putting: McIlroy 16th, Rahm 28th, Scheffler 58th, Thomas 85th.
With such a stacked field at the top of the board it behooves us to try to find the diamonds in the rough so to speak. Those players outside the 50/1 mark who present possible value across each way options can be the difference between a good and a great week.
Sahith Theegala 50/1 – After an impressive rookie season the 24-year-old comes off the back of a T5 at the Zozo Championship, a second top 10 in three starts this season, and has seven top 20s in his last 13 starts. He’s trending ahead of 2021 totals in all key metrics over first three new season starts.
Jason Day 70/1 – The former world No. 1 has a history of playing sand belt style courses in his homeland Australia and is coming off a top 10 at the Shriners Children’s Open where he closed with a 63. Just four events into new season but Day (two starts) ranks second on Tour in SG: Approach. He ranks only behind Justin Thomas for Strokes Gained on Fazio designs in recent times. Day is also 12/5 to beat Matt Fitzpatrick and Shane Lowry in opening round 3-Ball.
*Wildcard: Bet Boost Tyrrell Hatton from 40/1 to 50/1 – Englishman was T2 at Congaree in 2021. Made three eagles in the third round including back-to-back efforts on holes 15 and 16. Had his putting been on point (-3.242 SG) that week would’ve been hard to beat. Was also T3 at Shadow Creek and T18 at The Summit Club – both Fazio designs – in recent CJ Cups. Fourth in SG: Putting last season.
Where else but golf does one get the realistic chance of someone from outside 100/1 to win or contend in a tournament?
Harris English 100/1 – Finished 10th at Shadow Creek and was playing decent at The Summit Club a year ago before an injury forced WD. Was in the final group on Sunday at Congaree in 2021 and just one shot back at the turn, before a closing 40 skittled him to T14.
Good luck with all your choices for THE CJ CUP in South Carolina!