Scott Shapiro's Palmetto Championship preview
With the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines just a week away, the attention of most golf fans is focused on the third major of the year.
However, there is still money to be made at this week’s Palmetto Championship.
Normally, this is Canadian Open week on the PGA Tour calendar, but for the second straight year, the event has been canceled over COVID-19 concerns. For just 2021, the Canadian Open is being replaced on the PGA Tour calendar with a one-off event in Ridgeland, South Carolina at Congaree Golf Club.
Most weeks, my formula for handicapping a golf tournament features a combination of a golfer’s current form and how their style of play fits the golf course. This week, however, the latter is impossible, since so little is known about the 2017 Tom Fazio designed track. Therefore, I will scale my budget back a bit for the Palmetto Championship and lean on my model to hopefully bring me success.
Congaree is a par 71, measures 7,655 yards, has Bermuda greens, and is about 30 miles north of Savannah, Georgia. Whether it plays as long as it appears on paper is a question that will be answered over the next several days, but it should offer a stiff challenge to those who have opted to compete the week before the big event in San Diego County.
I will hypothesize a strong approach game, a solid short game, distance off the tee, and being able to score on par 5s and par 4s between 450 and 500 yards will lead to success this week in South Carolina.
The field for the Palmetto Championship lacks depth, but features two of the biggest names in the game, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka.
Koepka enters the event in much better form than Johnson, but still has been up and down in 2021. The four-time major winner has finished in the top two in three of his last six tournaments, including a second-place effort at the PGA Championship, but has also missed two cuts. Johnson has been consistently disappointing in 2021, after he finished in the top two in seven events after the COVID-19 hiatus last year.
Despite his poor form, Johnson is listed as the +750 favorite, with Koepka the clear-cut second choice at +800. No doubt, either would best this field if they bring their “A” game, but that is a big "if," since it is likely they are using this week to tune-up for the U.S. Open.
Palmetto Championship at Congaree 2021
Sun, June 13 2021, 8:00 PM
I will gamble that the top two in the outright market are much more focused on Torrey Pines, and instead lean on a golfer in good form who has a lot to play for this week.
Harold Varner III (+3300, +275 top 10)
The former East Carolina University star has yet to win a PGA event, but it is just a matter of time. The 30-year-old has four top 25 finishes in 2021, including a career-best, runner-up finish to Stewart Cink at the Heritage in April.
Varner brings solid form to South Carolina, with a tee-to-green game that ranks fourth in the field over the last 24 rounds. The Akron, Ohio native also ranks 13th in the field over the last 24 rounds in strokes gained approach, 12th in strokes gained around the green, 23rd in driving distance, and 13th in birdies or better gained. He has been on point this season, even if he has failed to finish on top of a leaderboard.
Varner’s putting has been inconsistent in 2021, but he has shown the ability to get hot with the flatstick, like he did at the Heritage, where he gained 5.6 strokes on the greens. If he can hold his own with the putter, he has a chance to make this a week to remember.