This was originally set to be the PGA Tour’s annual trek to the Great White North, but due to ongoing problems amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a problem that was front-and-center in the golf and sports world last Saturday, the RBC Canadian Open was cancelled for the second consecutive year.
Canada’s loss is South Carolina’s gain, however, as the southwest portion of the state is jumping in to host its third Tour event in the past two months.
The Palmetto Championship At Congaree will be the one-time lead-in to the much-anticipated U.S. Open, hosting a field headlined by Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, two of the biggest names in the game.
Outside of the big two, though, the field is not exceptionally strong, but it is deep in talent looking to triumph at an unfamiliar course.
The following are the 15 we like the most to land in the winner’s circle:
15. Danny Willett
The former Masters champ tends to be hit-or-miss from round to round, but he should be encouraged by the T26 he posted at last week’s Memorial Tournament, and he was also T11 at something last month called the “Betfred British Masters hosted by Danny Willett.” You would hope he would perform well in that.
The 33-year-old ranks third on Tour in strokes gained: around-the-green, and is 67th in strokes gained: tee-to-green despite ranking outside the top 200 in greens in regulation.
Fewer than ten players carded more birdies than Willett at Muirfield Village.
14. Lucas Glover
In typical Lucas Glover fashion, he ranks well in everything other than putting, and even that has been less of a liability than in some years. He was fantastic over the last three rounds of the Charles Schwab Challenge two weeks ago, rebounding from an opening 74 to finish T8, and also was solo-fourth in April’s Valero Texas Open.
The 41-year-old was also T6 at last week’s Memorial Tournament in driving accuracy. Things seem to be pointing towards at least a top 20ish finish for Glover at Congaree.
13. Camilo Villegas
While the 2021 season has had no shortage of feel-good stories, we still feel that it could use a Camilo Villegas victory. The 39-year-old Colombian, looking for his first Tour victory since 2014, has missed the cut or withdrawn from 10 of 19 starts, but among those nine made cuts, he has finished inside the top 25 six times.
With four weekends played in his last five starts, his 11th ranked Sunday scoring average could put him in excellent position this week. He could definitely benefit from hitting more fairways. Maybe Phil Mickelson could give him some advice on that, after figuring it out just enough to win the PGA Championship at 50 years old.
12. Harold Varner III
The 30-year-old Akron native feels like he has been in contention fairly often, but has posted just two top 10s over 42 starts in the last two seasons. He did, however, finish T2 at South Carolina’s RBC Heritage less than two months ago, and has done enough to sit at a respectable 79th in the OWGR, a ranking beaten by only a handful of players in this week’s field.
Varner III ranks 29th on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, which tends to be a strong indicator of success. He ranks ahead of Daniel Berger, Patrick Reed, and Louis Oosthuizen, among others, in that particular statistic.
11. Brandt Snedeker
The flashes of brilliance that we have become accustomed to seeing from the nine-time Tour winner have become far and few between, but things are trending upwards for Snedeker with three finishes of T17 or better in his last five starts.
Earlier this year, he fell out of the top 100 in the OWGR for the first time since 2007, and seems to be motivated to get back, currently sitting at 135th. The 40-year-old Tennessee native has won three times in the Carolinas in his career, showing a considerable level of comfort in this part of the country.
10. Sungjae Im
The Palmetto Championship will mark the 27th start of the season for 23-year-old workaholic Im, but he might be feeling rested after playing just three weekends in eight starts since the beginning of April. He missed the cut by a single stroke at last week’s Memorial Tournament when he followed an opening 2-under 70 with a birdie-free 5-over 77.
At Muirfield Village he hit 13/14 fairways on Thursday, but just 7/14 on Friday, which well-represents the volatility of his recent game. Still, he is one of the highest-ranked players in the field (world No. 25) and has 11 top 25s on the season.
In an unfamiliar event with a weaker field, his talent makes him impossible to ignore.
9. Harris English
After five top 10s in his first seven starts of the 2021 season, including a victory at January’s Sentry Tournament of Champions, English has seen his form fall off, with a T13 at last month’s AT&T Byron Nelson his only top 25 on Tour in 11 starts since that win.
The World No. 26 is the sixth-highest ranked player in the field, and he is hoping that status will help steer his season back in the right direction with the U.S. Open looming (he was solo-fourth at the last U.S. Open in September).
English currently ranks 10th on Tour in birdie average.
8. Ian Poulter
The most recent start of 45-year-old Brit was a T3 at the Charles Schwab Challenge, where he played the weekend 64-68. That should provide some momentum in an unfamiliar event where his experience could be invaluable.
Poulter should be exceptionally motivated to make the weekend at Congaree, as he sits at four missed-cuts on the year. He has not reached five in a season since 2005, a remarkable display of consistency.
We’re not sure how relevant it is to this week, but Poulter has posted top 15s in four of his last five trips to Harbour Town Golf Links, the host venue of South Carolina’s annual Tour stop.
7. Tommy Fleetwood
The 30-year-old Brit would be a popular winner at Congaree, as he remains in search of his first career victory on U.S. soil. Ranked 32nd in the OWGR, he has certainly had his moments this year, most notably when he finished fifth at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and when he finished T10 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Can he put four rounds together, though? He is on a shocking streak of seven consecutive stroke-play events with at least one round of 75 or worse. He especially struggles early, currently sporting the 193rd ranked round 1 scoring average on Tour.
6. Patton Kizzire
The 6-foot-5 Auburn product was a shocking dud at last week’s Memorial Tournament, missing the cut off the heels of consecutive T3s on Tour, and looking easily like his best self since his two-win 2018 season.
If Kizzire is able to put Muirfield Village out of his mind, he is a good bet to finish well this week. After missing 11 cuts in 19 starts in the 2020 season, he has missed four cuts in 21 starts in 2021, more than quintupling his season earnings in the process.
His putting has been phenomenal this season, which can be a heck of an equalizer in these unfamiliar events.
5. Matt Fitzpatrick
The stars seemed to be aligning for the 26-year-old Englishman to contend at last week’s Memorial Tournament. We were absolutely dumbfounded when he missed the cut entirely, cancelling out his eight birdies in the first two rounds with nine bogeys and a double.
While not playing the weekend had to be discouraging for Fitzpatrick, the world No. 21 should not let it detract from his fantastic season as a whole. He has finished inside the top 20 seven times in 2021, including five straight between February and March. He is not exceptionally long, but he hits fairways and makes putts.
4. Branden Grace
The 33-year-old South African arrives at Congaree in excellent form, contending at both the PGA Championship and last week’s Memorial Tournament, the latter of which he birdied three of his last four holes to finish solo-fourth.
Grace also won February’s opposite-field event in Puerto Rico. He has not been notably impressive in any particular statistic, but seems to find ways to get his name on leaderboards.
He has even won in South Carolina before, taking the 2016 RBC Heritage by two strokes – his lone victory on U.S. soil.
3. Tyrrell Hatton
Pushed out of the top 10 in the OWGR last week by Patrick Cantlay, Hatton has been a complete non-factor in the U.S. since the fall. He tends to run hot-and-cold, though, and playing a weaker field this week could help the elite shotmaker point his season into the right direction.
The three 7s on his PGA Championship scorecard illustrate how quickly things seem to get away from him. He is too good to be this down for this long.
2. Dustin Johnson
The world No. 1 and proud South Carolina native has been in an unexplainable slump since February, with just one top 40(!) in his last six stroke-play starts. That was, however, a T13 at the RBC Heritage, the annual South Carolina start for the PGA Tour.
At last month’s PGA Championship, DJ became the first world No. 1 since 1997 to miss the cut in the year’s first two majors. He is someone who finds momentum important, so he should be motivated this week.
Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay have been able to escape recent funks by taking a title in a place they had enjoyed success before, and it is not difficult to see Johnson doing something similar this week. He was a standout amateur at nearby Coastal Carolina University.
1. Brooks Koepka
The world No. 8 arrives at Congaree possibly looking for some answers after Sunday struggles at the recent PGA Championship, where he was just one off the 54-hole lead.
Rather than playing the past two weeks, Koepka has spent considerable time throwing gasoline on the fire of his feud with Bryson DeChambeau, even offering beer to fans at The Memorial who got kicked out for heckling DeChambeau.
Brooks’ knee issues have made him difficult to predict, as his last nine starts have comprised four missed cuts and a T38, but also a win and two runner-ups.
It does not get much more boom-or-bust than that. Despite more off weeks than he is accustomed to, Koepka is third on Tour in strokes gained: total, and it is difficult to see him not making out well in this event, given that he actually cares to do well in it.
Next Five: Alex Noren, Keith Mitchell, Peter Uihlein, Martin Laird, Vaughn Taylor