Ben Coley landed a 33/1 winner on the PGA Tour last week and now returns with four selections for The CJ Cup, where Rory McIlroy heads the betting.
Golf betting tips: The CJ Cup
4pts e.w. Scottie Scheffler at 14/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
2pts e.w. Sam Burns at 28/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Harris English at 125/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Danny Willett at 150/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
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It’s a great shame that the PGA Tour has not yet been able to return the CJ Cup to its home in Korea, not least for those whose schedule to begin the season has seen them fly from Las Vegas to Japan and now back to South Carolina. These are nice problems to have, a point made to James Hahn who was angry about a schedule that doesn’t apply to him, nevertheless it would help to be able to employ some geographical logic once more.
That seems as good a start point as any as we return to Congaree, which hosted the one-off Palmetto Championship last summer and provided a welcome departure from what we’ve become accustomed to on the PGA Tour. This Tom Fazio design is long on the scorecard but built to play firm and fast, and the reason the tournament fact sheet doesn’t tell you how long the rough is is simple: there really isn’t any.
Instead, wide fairways are surrounded by waste areas, and big greens are made smaller by the fact that they’re often perched up, guarded by shaved and sometimes steep run-offs. Just as the fairways are designed to play narrower, the greens are effectively made smaller, and that’s why it only took a little breeze to make this a stern test last summer. In the end, Chesson Hadley’s lead slowly but surely slipped from his grasp as Garrick Higgo won by one in 11-under, one shot from taking part in a seven-way play-off.
Any one of these seven could’ve won, and among them we had the full house: Jhonattan Vegas was imperious off the tee, Tyrrell Hatton’s iron play was among the best of his career, Doc Redman was sharp around the greens and Hadley made everything, for a time at least. Higgo did all of these things better than average but we’ll have to rely on our own perception rather than one year’s worth of statistics to tell us just how best this course is attacked.
Clearly, length should be a factor. Seldom do courses on the PGA Tour play as firm as promised and at 7,655 yards, the scorecard tells you this is a long one. It also boasts two driveable par-fours but not of the kind everyone can attack from the tee, so the best and longest drivers in the field look to be at an advantage, a point of view strengthened by the presence of Wilco Nienaber on that Palmetto leaderboard.
So too should those who are sharp around greens which will again be hard to hit and, once missed, make life very difficult for the field. Perhaps those who struggle, like Viktor Hovland, will take comfort from being able to reach for putter on occasion, but I’d still be looking towards those who’ve shown they’re comfortable hitting bold pitches from tight lies – shots we see every year at Augusta.
The other angle I’m keen to pursue is the one I started with. The likes of Tom Kim and Sungjae Im, who wear the logo of the tournament sponsors on their caps, had no choice but to play here. Others like the well-travelled Emiliano Grillo will have felt like it’s an opportunity they couldn’t turn down, not with big ranking points on offer and a guaranteed cheque.
They’re here because they need to be and at a course which makes for a tough mental challenge, any risk that they’re less than sharp is difficult to take on board.
That strength of field does mean we’re likely in for a high-class winner and my view is that the one underestimated by the market is SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER, so he gets the headline vote.
For my money, it’s a coin-flip as to who the best golfer in the sport is right now: Scheffler or Rory McIlroy. Jon Rahm, fresh from that dazzling win in the Open de Espana, would be a close third, and I find it difficult to understand why therefore Scheffler is twice McIlroy’s price and five points bigger than Rahm.
The obvious argument is that while McIlroy has been contending everywhere he plays and Rahm won last time, we’ve only seen Scheffler once since he blew a big lead in the TOUR Championship, and he was poor at the Presidents Cup. That’s noted, but his (relative) struggles over the last few months have largely been down to the putter, a short-term malaise which will end soon.
It’s difficult to get a firm handle on exactly how he played at Quail Hollow but his Sunday singles score was very solid and whatever the specifics, it’s not something we should dwell on. If anything, playing little part in the USA’s victory might fuel a strong end to the year from a player who suddenly has a little more to prove than he should have, having been the star of 2022.
It’s no exaggeration to say that but for a couple of putts he’d be a two-time major winner with five or six PGA Tour wins and the FedEx Cup to his name. Instead, there’s a sense of unfinished business not just from the Presidents Cup, but from succumbing to McIlroy before it.
All of which is to say there’s nothing at all to worry about and all things being equal, he’s overpriced. Then we have the fact that this course should play to his strengths, which are similar to those of McIlroy in that he’s dominant off the tee but also razor-sharp around the greens. That’s an area of the game that has occasionally let Rahm down this year whereas Scheffler’s touch has never been anything but reliable.
He has form under comparable conditions, too. Memorial Park in Houston provides a pretty similar test and he looked like winning there last November. Subsequently, he’s won at four difficult courses, including Bay Hill where several players from the 2021 Palmetto leaderboard, the likes of Hatton, Swafford, Van Pelt and Vegas among them, have produced plenty of good golf. Augusta’s run-offs are comparable, too, and so is The Concession, where he was fifth last year before becoming the player he is today.
A near-miss at Colonial won’t be the worst form guide you’ll find and if Dallas native Scheffler returns here with his putter firing, he’ll surely go close as he has every time that club has worked this year bar The PLAYERS and its huge draw bias. Throw in the fact that he goes well fresh, all of his wins coming off a break including three weeks away prior to the Masters, and he’s the standout bet at double-figure odds.
Burns a bet on bermuda
With eight of the top 16 in the market having flown in from Japan my shortlist among the elite players included each of the other seven who didn’t, with Jordan Spieth’s form and apparent course suitability entitling him to respect along with Justin Thomas, similarly brilliant around the green and one of the very best iron players in the sport.
Both are respected but SAM BURNS looks a marginally better bet than Spieth, with his power a potentially significant advantage.
Burns was Scheffler’s partner at the Presidents Cup and struggled at times, despite being asked to go and play in all five sessions. He did however end the week with a half against Hideki Matsuyama and will surely now press on to secure his Ryder Cup debut next September.
Unlike Scheffler, we have seen him once since and it’s that display when defending his Sanderson Farms title which might set him up well for this. Burns led the field in strokes-gained off-the-tee and it was driver which had become problematic towards the end of the 2022 season, keeping him on the periphery rather than in the mix.
Prior to the Sanderson Farms, he last drove it well at Colonial, and that’s where he beat Scheffler in a play-off to make it four wins in 13 months, all of them on difficult courses in the southern states, three of them coming on his preferred bermuda greens. These are Burns’ best conditions and his very first win as a professional came close by on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Copperhead, Colonial and Jackson might all point towards Congaree in some way and Burns had a fine chance to win at Memorial Park in Houston two years ago, and returning to that title defence he can be excused for struggling with his short-game. It came days after he’d danced every dance at Quail Hollow and a lack of sharpness with the scoring clubs was no surprise whatsoever.
Refreshed having skipped the two subsequent events in Vegas and Japan, Burns is expected to sharpen up and be a factor as the Louisiana native so often is in this part of the USA.
Forgotten man ready to fire
Regular readers might expect to see the name Jason Day feature again, after his T8 at the Shriners. The Australian is definitely back on the right track but he’s hardened in the betting and it’s interesting that Rickie Fowler is the same price he was in Vegas, despite having almost won since then. Of the two, I’d have to lean towards the latter, but again we come back to the journey from Japan.
Instead then I’ll cast the net wider to a couple of class acts who are capable of muscling in among the elite players who will take up several of the places, starting with HARRIS ENGLISH.
It’s been a rough year for English, who was part of the Ryder Cup side last September but has endured all kinds of frustration since. Injury forced him to miss the Masters and the PGA Championship in the spring and having been on the verge of the world’s top 10, he’s since tumbled down to 48th.
That’s a massive source of motivation as right now he’s not in next year’s majors and without correcting that, he won’t be making the Ryder Cup side again. And, after a write-off summer, he’s used the start of the new season to draw a line under things and move back in the right direction, with ninth in the Fortinet and 28th in the Shriners from three starts so far.
More is needed, but he shot four sub-70 rounds in Vegas including a Sunday 65 and for the fifth start running, his iron play improved. Typically an outstanding putter who is above-average around the green, English only needs to tick over at slightly better than standard in the ball-striking stakes to be a massive danger, as he showed with both his wins in 2021.
Now, the missing piece is what he does off the tee, which can be destructive – but that’s where the course comes into play. These wide fairways have the potential to be a major positive and if we rewind to last year, his best driving displays during a golden six months came at Kapalua, at TPC Craig Ranch and then here, the three widest courses he played during that spell.
That space helped English to sit second through 54 holes of the Palmetto Championship before a poor final round and he said ‘I love this golf course’ along the way, his performance here helping provide the springboard for his best major finish a week later. Returning to bermuda greens, this lumbering southerner has enough in his favour to believe three-figure prices are worth taking.
Byeong Hun An is seriously good around the green and might go well after he too finished the Shriners with a flourish while Davis Riley’s final 36 holes in Japan caught the eye, but I’ll finish with DANNY WILLETT.
The downside with the former Masters champion is that he throws in plenty of shockers, but the upside is clear: he wins big tournaments against elite golfers, including this time last year at the Dunhill Links.
Just as the space off the tee there helped, and the lack of punishment for wayward drives at Augusta likewise, Willett may find Congaree to his liking and it’s only two starts since he did everything but win at the Fortinet Championship.
Yes, his three-putt to gift that title to Max Homa was shocking, but let’s not kid ourselves: if Homa hadn’t chipped in, that wouldn’t have happened, and Willett would arrive here a recent winner.
Instead it’s three top-10s in seven and as with English, the main worry would be that he can be wild off the tee. It’s definitely possible to overcome that here, something the erratic Hadley mentioned during a tournament he should’ve won, and the rest of Willett’s game remains world-class when firing. Certainly, there are few in this field who are more capable around the green than he is and he’s been putting well for three months.
Granted circumstances in which his weakness can be overcome, this major champion who thrives under difficult conditions has to be considered a threat, and I think he has them here. Odds of 150/1 look worth an each-way bet or else you can head to the exchanges, where at the time of publication he’s available to back at 290. Hmm.
Posted at 1225 BST on 18/10/22
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