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The Palmetto Championship at Congaree Golf Club is set to begin tomorrow morning. Making its PGA Tour debut, the course and the relatively weak field it is hosting have been the two storylines leading up to the tournament. This combination of not knowing how the course will play and not having the world’s elite teeing it up make way for a wide-open tournament.
That plays right into our hands, especially when discussing our first-round leader selections. This week at Congaree, 156 players are set to play. With the constant influx of withdraws that overtook the early part of this week, we have more longshot options than usual. Many of them are viable, many of them are surely not, so hopefully we can accurately decipher between the two.
It’ll be standard operating procedure when it comes to what numbers we will be looking at. Stretching out to nearly 7,700 yards and playing to a par-71, Congaree should reward solid ball-striking. We aren’t reinventing the wheel here, but that sentiment combined with strong Bermuda grass putting is the backbone of our analysis.
While there has been rain in the area leading up to the first-round, Thursday appears to be pristine. With winds maxing out at 10 miles per hour and only a slight chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, I can’t imagine there is an advantage between the morning and afternoon wave. There may be a chance the morning plays a touch easier due to more receptive greens, but I don’t think it’ll make much of a difference one way or another.
The oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook have priced the first-round leader market ahead of tomorrow’s Palmetto Championship. There are no surprises at the top of the board with Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson leading the way at +1600. When Koepka decides he wants to take a tournament seriously, he’ll typically get out of the gate fast, so he could be one to watch at the top.
Odds to Lead After the First-Round (odds via PointsBet):
+2200: Tyrrell Hatton
+2500: Matthew Fitzpatrick
+2800: Sungjae Im
+3300: Tommy Fleetwood
To Lead After the First-Round (odds via PointsBet):
Keith Mitchell (+5000):
A big ballpark with Bermuda grass throughout the course, insert Mitchell. Last time we saw the former Georgia Bulldog he was missing the cut at the Charles Schwab Challenge. It was really just a poor putting display over the first two days in Fort Worth, but his performance in Monday’s U.S. Open qualifier provides reason for optimism.
Playing out of the Atlanta, Georgia final qualifier, Mitchell shot a two-round total of 7-under and missed qualifying for next week’s championship by one-stroke. He made plenty of birdies and even an eagle, but made one too many mistakes. I figure Mitchell is a bit peeved to come so close to qualifying and actually like his chances to start quickly even more so because of that.
His last performance on a Tom Fazio course came at Quail Hollow about a month ago. While not designed by Fazio, his hands were all over the property during the 2017 redesign. Congaree appears to be a bit more open than Quail Hollow and not as demanding off the tee, but I do believe the skillsets applicable in Charlotte will translate one state south.
Joseph Bramlett (+8000):
Like Mitchell, Bramlett is coming off a bit of disappointing day in U.S. Open qualifying. The Stanford alum decided to play at Woodmont Country Club on Monday and must have liked his chances going in. There weren’t too many PGA Tour players in the field, with Denny McCarthy and Sean O’Hair being the other notables in Rockville, Maryland.
At one point, he had gotten to 2-under, only to falter and miss the qualifying cut by a good number of strokes. I won’t put too much stock into the result, as his recent play on the PGA Tour has been encouraging. This is especially true when diving into his first-round statistics alone.
He’s seemingly been positive in Strokes Gained: Approach in every first-round of the season, but the rest of his game has picked up as of late. Over the last two months, Bramlett has been averaging more than two-strokes gained tee-to-green on Thursdays. With this in mind, his chances to lead after Round 1 will likely come down to making a timely putt or two.
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Adam Schenk (+10000):
Due to the wide-open nature of this tournament, we’ll start the longshot portion of the article a bit earlier than usual. When Schenk plays well in a round, he tends to play very well. While he burned us at the Wells Fargo a month ago, I am going back to the well this week at the Palmetto Championship.
He’s a real feast or famine option to be a first-round leader. Going back the last couple of months, it appears that Schenk will either gain two or more strokes on approach or lose that same amount to the field. If that continues to be true at Congaree, Schenk should be able to start fast given the direction that he is trending from off-the-tee.
Since the RBC Heritage, the driver has been very cooperative for the former Purdue Boilmaker. And that right there is really Schenk’s path to lead after Thursday. His around-the-green numbers are poor and his putter can be shaky. If he can ball-strike his way around Congaree and make a few putts, which he is capable of on Bermuda grass, then Schenk will have an outside chance.
Jason Dufner (+10000):
Dufner was one of many players to miss out on the U.S. Open by way of Columbus, Ohio. Like Rickie Fowler, he too fell one-stroke shy of a playoff to head to Torrey Pines next week. While we could take this as a negative, what it tells me is that his game is in good shape.
His tee-to-green play was impressive last week at The Memorial, so a solid showing in the Columbus qualifier wasn’t all that surprising. Unfortunately for Dufner, after having a nice putting day in the first-round, his flat stick let him down, specifically in Round 3 when he lost nearly five-strokes on the greens. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, those rounds will happen with Dufner, we just have to pray they don’t happen on a Thursday.
Recent Round 1 form suggests that it won’t this week (knock on wood). He’s gained strokes on the greens on three consecutive Thursdays, but has really yet to pair it with a great tee-to-green day. All the pieces of the puzzle have been there over the last couple of months and I’m hoping a new, unknown venue may help Dufner piece them together.
J.J. Spaun (+10000):
Many of you may remember Spaun grabbing the early first-round lead at the AT&T Byron Nelson not too long ago. The lead was his outright before a long eagle putt courtesy of Jordan Spieth dropped on the 18th hole. While that is the last time that we saw Spaun, the first-round numbers were very good leading up to his play at TPC Craig Ranch.
In fact, over his past three first-rounds, Spaun is averaging more than 2.5 SG: Approach. He is coming off a strong showing at the Hilton Head Island final qualifier. Spaun is through to Torrey Pines next week, thanks mostly to his performance in, you guessed it, the first-round. He opened with a 5-under 66 on Monday at Long Cove Club and I am hoping he’ll be able to carry some of that momentum to Congaree.
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