2021 Palmetto Championship: Signs Point to Big Week for Brandt Snedeker
Stacy Revere/Getty Images. Pictured: Brandt Snedeker.
Just a few weeks ago, prior to the PGA TOUR’s initial journey to TPC Craig Ranch for the AT&T Byron Nelson, I wrote about the penchant for erring on the side of caution in these situations, often leading to lower scoring.
This week’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree Golf Club, though, doesn’t fit that profile.
Firstly, this appears to be a one-off, just a single-year placeholder for the RBC Canadian Open, which means that officials don’t have to worry about things like trying to procure a strong field next year.
Secondly, from all accounts, there’s not much which can be done to tread lightly at Congaree anyway.
In layman’s terms, it’s just really damn tough.
One of my golf media colleagues recently played there. A guy who isn’t a pro but is a good player, the type who enjoys the challenge of getting battered around for four hours, reported back that Congaree is a beautiful track with some inventive course design, but one that’s simply too hard for even the above-average, single-digit handicap player to play on a regular basis.
Others have echoed this sentiment, essentially referring to it as golf’s version of a vacation destination: A nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live here.
What should we expect this week? A venue so fast and firm, it’ll make Scotland blush. One which requires as much creativity around the greens as we’ll see all year.
If that sounds like another host we just witnessed, well, we could do a lot worse than looking at Kiawah as a comp course, for reasons beyond their proximity in South Carolina.
The big difference, of course, is the cast of characters who will be involved.
No disrespect to any players whose games have fallen on hard times, but anytime a tournament entry list includes names such as Charlie Beljan, Smylie Kaufman and D.A. Points, you know there was a deep dive down the priority list for the qualification process.
Sure, there’s still Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and a few other “name” players making a final start before next week’s U.S. Open, but this one should be wide open, with a potentially eclectic leaderboard.
One player to win the tournament.
Brandt Snedeker (+5500)
It’s been almost three full years since the most recent of Snedeker’s nine career PGA TOUR titles, and he has rarely been in serious contention since then.
So, why here?
First off, there’s some form. He’s finished 17th or better in three of his last five starts. Secondly, he’s often played some of his best golf in the Southeast region, winning three of those nine titles here. And lastly, he tends to play well in tough conditions, when grinding out pars isn’t such a bad thing.
There’s little doubt that his best golf is likely behind him — at 40 and with a game that doesn’t match the power of so many other players, it’s difficult to envision Snedeker moving into elite territory once again — but I also believe he’s very much still capable of winning, especially against a field which doesn’t boast many of those big-hitting stars.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Brooks Koepka (+850)
In most pre-major circumstances, Koepka is a fade for me, but he’s got a little more motivation this week. Namely, keeping an upper hand in his silly social media battle with Bryson DeChambeau, hawking Michelob Ultra to the masses and collecting as many PIP points as possible.
Man, life was so much easier when the only narrative we had to worry about was Brooks getting asked about his knee injury, denying his knee injury, then not getting asked about his knee injury and bringing up his knee injury. All of that said, I really do think Koepka will feel a little pressure — even if it’s just internally — for his performance to match the headlines he’s been making recently.
Tommy Fleetwood (+2650)
Even though Fleetwood is an accomplished winner on the European circuit, there are some TV pundits who — rightly, I might add — will point out that the Englishman has never won on the U.S.-based tour. There are many factors for that, obviously, but the biggest might be the fact that when he’s decided to play over here, it’s usually in the biggest events against the brightest opponents. To make a football analogy, he’s given himself a difficult strength of schedule.
This week, though, is his chance to try and run up the score on a lower-division cupcake. He’ll enter this one knowing that he’d like to check off that box for a “W” on this tour, that his game is slowly rounding into form and that there might never be a better chance to get it done.
One player to finish Top 5.
Tyrrell Hatton (+275 for Top 5)
Full disclosure: It was essentially a coin flip this week between Hatton and Snedeker for my fave outright. In the end, I opted for Sneds only because he “needs” the victory more than his top-10 counterpart, who could have one eye toward next week’s U.S. Open.
That said, I’m still very keen on Hatton, who should be able to handle the fast-firm narrative and moves up a few notches anytime scoring conditions are tougher than usual.
One player to finish Top 10.
Garrick Higgo (+400 for Top 10)
A 22-year-old South African with three European Tour titles already, Higgo was a somewhat trendy DFS play at the recent PGA Championship, where a T-64 result had tinges of a silver lining with a final-round 69. Playing against this field should offer more reason for optimism, however, for the UNLV product who is now ranked a lofty 52nd in the world.
I also like his countryman (and purveyor of one of the best names in golf) Wilco Nienaber, but Higgo is the preferred play of the two.
One player to finish Top 20.
David Lipsky (+350 for Top 20)
This is a nice week to take a chance on an up-and-comer that you might’ve been eyeing for a while. Maybe it’s an amateur like John Pak, Davis Thompson or Cole Hammer; maybe it’s a Korn Ferry regular like Bryson Nimmer.
I’ll go with Lipsky, who currently plays on the KFT and has won on that circuit, as well as the European Tour. Throw in the fact that he owns results of 21st or better in four of his last six starts and I think this could be a good week for the Northwestern product to prove he belongs on the game’s highest level.
One player to finish Top 30.
Vince Whaley (+200 for Top 30)
I finally jumped off the Whaley Train before it reached Colonial two weeks ago, as I noticed how crowded it was becoming in the boxcar.
Dumb move. That train kept on chugging along, with Whaley posting a T-20 to continue a remarkable run of consistency that is finally getting noticed. He’s now finished top-40 in eight straight starts and top-30 in six of those eight.
Somebody stop that train and let me back on.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
You’re likely to be inundated with reminders over the next few days that Fitz plays well on tough courses and especially has a soft spot for Harbour Town, another South Carolina ball-striker’s track. He didn’t play very well at the Memorial, but that might be enough to keep his ownership levels lower than if he was riding a heater. On a week when there aren’t too many options at the top, that could be vital.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
Rafa Cabrera Bello
RCB is exactly the type of player I like targeting in certain situations. He’s a world-class talent, having ranked as high as 16th at one point, who hasn’t been playing anything close to world-class golf.
There have been, however, some signs of improvement recently, though not enough to drop his price to a point where he’s tough to play. This is the same theory that has me bullish on the likes of Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler moving forward, only on a bit of a smaller scale. I like that improvement to continue for him this week.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Patton Kizzire (+6000 for FRL)
Fresh off a pair of third-place finishes, Kizzire clearly didn’t have his best stuff at the Memorial last week. An opening-round 76 might keep him off the scent for many FRL plays, but in his four prior starts, he posted scores of 67-69-69-66 in his Thursday rounds.
This should be a track that suits Kizzire’s game better than Muirfield Village, so let’s hope last week was simply a negative outlier.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Ben Martin (+8500)
He doesn’t get many opportunities these days on the big tour, but when he does, he usually makes the most of ‘em. In five PGA TOUR starts this year, he’s finished 26th-11th-MC-34th-9th. Those types of results should make him a valuable matchup play in his home state this week, and I similarly like him for prop bets and DFS lineups, too.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Dustin Johnson (+775)
Can the world’s No. 1 player suddenly find some form and take down an inferior field before next week’s major? Of course that’s a possibility, but I’ve got a two-pronged reason for fading him this week.
The first is, as I mentioned, he simply hasn’t found that usual form, finishing outside of the top-10 in each of his last seven starts, including each of this year’s first two majors.
The second is less data-driven and more of an observation. Too often — at least a few times each year — DJ plays in tourneys due to a sponsor obligation or some link to his home state (or both). Granted, many top players do the same thing, but perhaps it’s simply more glaring when he does it, for the sheer fact that these situations tend to accentuate his ability to shift into a lower gear when he doesn’t need (or necessarily want) to have his best stuff. Maybe that’s taking too much of a clue from the RBC Heritage, on a course which might not suit his game, but where a T-13 two months ago stands as his best result in a half-dozen career starts.
This could be the week where he puts it all together, but I’ll bank on DJ simply wanting a few competitive reps before heading to Torrey Pines.