Palmetto Championship at Congaree Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE PGA Tour should be in Canada this week but, for the second year on the trot, the Canadian Open has had to be cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the week before the US Open, the tour will instead head to South Carolina for the Palmetto Championship at Congaree and a strong field is headed by Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka.
Koepka, a four-time major champion, will make his first start on Tour since the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, where he finished runner-up to champion Phil Mickelson. The 31-year-old is an eight-time PGA Tour winner, including his most recent title at the 2021 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
In 12 starts during the 2020-21 season, Koepka has four additional top-10 finishes to go along with his victory and currently sits 14th in the FedExCup standings. Still recovering from knee surgery, he missed the cut at The Masters and didn’t play again until the Byron Nelson Classic, where he missed the cut again. But Koepka is a big-time player and finished second to Mickelson at the PGA, despite still being in obvious discomfort throughout the week at Kiawah Island.
Perhaps surprisingly, he has only managed four regular Tour wins, but that simply proves the importance he places on the majors, and he will be using this week to tune up for the US Open at Torrey Pines, a layout that should suit his game perfectly.
Dustin Johnson still tops the world rankings, but that has little to do with his recent form. When the 2020-21 wraparound season got under way Johnson was playing like a man possessed. He finished sixth in the US Open, was joint runner-up at the Houston Open and won The Masters in sensational fashion in November. At the turn of the year he was 11th in the Tournament of Champions and eighth at the Genesis Invitational. Since then his best finish was a tie for 13th at the RBC Heritage. Crucially, he missed the cut as defending champion at The Masters and also failed to make it to the weekend at the PGA Championship. He only remains at the top of the world rankings because those closest to him have also struggled.
And with Torrey Pines looming, Johnson is desperate to get things going again this week. He tested positive for Covid-19 and although he has played it down, it may well be that the virus had more of an impact on him that he has admitted.
A strong English challenge is led by Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter. And Hatton and Fleetwood could do with producing something special.
After his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last year, Hatton rose to fifth in the world rankings - he has now slipped back to 10th. He won the Abu Dhabi Championship at the start of the year and finished sixth in the Saudi International a couple of weeks later but has struggled to make an impact since. Finishing 18th at Augusta and 38th at Kiawah Island is not what he had in mind. What will frustrate Hatton more than anything else is the number of elementary mistakes he made in the PGA Championship.
Fleetwood’s plight is of even greater concern. He ended 2020 ranked 17th in the world but has now fallen outside the top 30, and it is not difficult to understand why. Apart from a decent run at the WGC Dell Technologies Matchplay, where he reached the quarter-finals, it has been a pretty miserable year for Fleetwood. This is a man who says that his focus is the majors. Now aged 30, he was 46th at The Masters and was gutted to miss the cut at the PGA Championship - all the more so because Kiawah Island is a golf course that should have been made to measure for his game.
Fleetwood is a family man and you get the sense that when he returns to Europe - as he will do after next week’s US Open - it will all click back into place for him. But he is desperate to prove himself on American soil, and the only way to do that is by winning. Colin Montgomerie won the European Tour Order of Merit eight times but was unable to win in the USA until he joined the Champions Tour. It simply goes to prove that there are no guarantees.
It is Ryder Cup year and that means that Poulter has started to appear on leaderboards. He recorded his best finish of the season at the Charles Schwab Challenge, where he finished tied for third behind Jason Kokrak and Jordan Spieth, and he did so with a stone-cold putter. When the 45-year-old finds his touch on the greens he will be one to watch.
Proceeds from the event will benefit Congaree Foundation, whose mission is to positively impact the lives of young people locally and around the globe by providing educational and vocational opportunities through the game of golf. The Congaree Global Golf Initiative is the Foundation’s signature program, which provide underserved and well-deserving high school students who aspire to play collegiate golf access to the highest level of athletic coaching and academic tools to enhance their opportunities for success.
The Foundation also has local partnerships with the Lowcountry Food Bank and the Boys & Girls Club of Jasper County and works to expand access to the game through youth golf instruction and the Sergeant Jasper Golf Club.
Congaree was designed by renowned golf architect Tom Fazio. It is located on an 18th century estate and is surrounded by more than 2,000 acres of lakes and pine forests. It is a par 72 measuring around 7,200 yards. It was named Golf Digest’s best new private course in 2018 and features in 39th place in Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses - and that makes it a pretty special place.
This is the first playing of the tournament.
Brooks Koepka is still struggling for full fitness and it says much about the man that he was able to challenge for the US PGA despite being in obvious pain. Don’t read too much into his missed cuts at The Masters and Byron Nelson Classic. He insists that he is recovering from the knee injury that has caused him so many problems and could be a hard man to beat this week. Ian Poulter has only one mission in his sights, namely to make it to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup, and he has shown some encouraging signs of late, reaching the last 16 at the WGC Dell Technologies Matchplay, finishing in a tie for 21st at the Valspar, 30th at the PGA and in a tie for third at the Charles Schwab Challenge. He is, as they say in America, trending in the right direction.
Brooks Koepka. Tuning up for US Open
Ian Poulter. Tuning up for the Ryder Cup
Tyrrell Hatton. Making plenty of cuts but due a big finish
Five to Follow:
Brooks Koepka. Brilliant ball striker
Ian Poulter. Must get that putter working
Tyrrell Hatton. Needs to eliminate mistakes
Dustin Johnson. Come on DJ, let’s get it back on track
Tommy Fleetwood. Can turn around a poor season this week
Lucas Glover. Former US Open champion
Kevin Kisner. Too good to keep struggling
Doc Redman. Many believe big things lie ahead for Redman
Matthew NeSmith. Has already shown some flashes of form this season
Ben Martin. Remember him?
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