Picks and tips: Lean on locals at Congaree

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Course history is out the window this week at the Palmetto Championship.

Congaree Golf Club is only four years old, and it's making its debut this week as a PGA Tour venue. The Ridgeland, S.C., layout is about as big as it gets - nearly 7,700 yards and a par 71. The layout is designed to play firm and fast, akin to life on the Australian Sand Belt, although conditions this week may be a little more damp.

Only a handful players have even seen the course before this week, with few logging meaningful rounds on the sand-based track with plenty of trouble lurking. It's shaping up as a wide-open test, in part because the field is lacking some star power beyond world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and four-time major champ Brooks Koepka.

But there are some key metrics to look at, including players who have some positive experience playing in this part of the country - if not this particular course. Here's a look at the players that have made my cut this week, starting with a two-time Tour winner trending in the right direction:

To Win (odds via PointsBet Sportsbook)

Patton Kizzire (+4000): Kizzire won twice during the 2017-18 season, then basically fell off the map. But he's been on the rebound in a big way in recent weeks, notably finishing T-3 at both the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Charles Schwab Challenge. Kizzire lives in Sea Island and went to Auburn, so life in SEC country should feel pretty routine. His accuracy issues off the tee this week might not hold him back like it could on tighter tracks, and his strengths are notable: he's 34th this season in GIR percentage, and over the last 40 rounds on Bermuda grass he's eighth in the field in SG: Total. Kizzire's 12th this season in SG: Putting and strong with his irons, and this could be a good opportunity for him to turn weeks of strong play into a third career victory.

Kevin Kisner (+6000): Kisner is plenty familiar with golf in the Low Country, as a native of the Palmetto State. He also does most of his damage on Bermuda greens, especially in this area: he lost a playoff at the RBC Heritage, and he nearly won a second RSM Classic title earlier this season before losing in overtime. Kisner has been pretty quiet this year, missing four straight cuts before a T-40 finish at Colonial two weeks ago. Kisner isn't the longest guy on Tour, and there have been instances where he hasn't felt able to keep pace on some of the longer tracks - a legitimate pause for concern. But given the relative field strength, his local ties, Bermuda affinity and ability to close out his fair share of tournaments, it's a big enough price to fire on the veteran.

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J.T. Poston (+10000): Poston has been pretty quiet in recent weeks, but he made the cut at the Memorial and then caught fire at Monday's U.S. Open qualifier, shooting 10 under for 36 holes to punch his ticket to Torrey. He posted a video that night of toasting his caddie en route to this week's venue, where he has some playing experience. Poston hails from North Carolina and earned his lone Tour win in Greensboro, not to mention a third-place showing earlier this season in Mississippi and a top-10 last year at the Heritage. Poston is one of the best putters on Tour, incrementally improving each year since 2017 and topping out at eighth this season. He'll need that prowess on the greens this week, but the mix of momentum and experience on a course he has called "one of the best I've ever played" is enough for me to bite on a player who was on the cusp of the top 50 in the world a few months ago.

Top-10 Finishes (odds via PointsBet)

Alex Noren (+265): The Swede was inside the top 10 in the world and on the European Ryder Cup team back in 2018, but he largely disappeared in the wake of Le Golf National. He's starting to play like his former self again, with four top-25 finishes in his last five starts including a T-13 finish at the Memorial last week. Noren boasts a relatively strong short game which should come in handy this week, and his tendency to spray it off the tee won't cost him as much at Congaree as it might at another venue. Noren made the cut at both South Carolina events this year and was T-25 at Harbour Town, so I like his chances to improve on that somewhat against a more pedestrian field.

Harold Varner III (+320): Varner is another player with Carolina ties, hailing from the other side of the border but playing well in the Palmetto State - notably, a runner-up finish earlier this year at Harbour Town. He's still in search of his first win but boasts some impressive metrics, ranking fifth among this week's field in terms of total strokes gained over the last 40 rounds played on Bermuda grass. Varner cracked the top 25 earlier this year on lengthy Bermuda layouts like Bay Hill and PGA National, and I expect a similar showing this week on another brawny venue that's a little closer to home.

Wilco Nienaber (+1100): Admittedly veering from the local angle, Nienaber is sure to turn heads next week at the U.S. Open but may surprise in his PGA Tour debut before he gets there. He won last month in his native South Africa and could challenge Bryson DeChambeau as the longest driver around, averaging 324 yards per tee shot to lead the European Tour. That sort of length off the tee could come in handy on a course that pushes 7,700 yards, and with no rough in sight he should be able to lean on his biggest weapon with frequency. Nienaber also finished second at the Joburg Open late last year and has a handful of top-10s on the European Tour since the re-start, so while he has some acclimating to do this week in the States he definitely has the game to challenge in his maiden appearance.

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