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CJ Cup: Backing the Irishman at Congaree

Shane Lowry

Shane Lowry

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Network

Last week at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, Keegan Bradley overcame his recent final-round shortcomings and picked up his first win since 2018. That win ended a 1,498-day drought. The five-time PGA Tour champion is in this week’s CJ Cup field, hoping to ride the momentum to his sixth victory. The 78-golfer field is stacked, having six of the world’s top 10 golfers. This year’s CJ Cup is played at Congaree in Gillisonville, South Carolina. The CJ Cup is another no-cut event with a purse of $10,500,000 and $1,890,000 awarded to the first-place golfer.

The Tom Fazio-designed Congaree is a relatively new course, having only opened in 2017. This week, like last, we will be operating with minimal data and using data points from the PGA Tour’s 2021 Palmetto Championship and general course knowledge to make our betting selections.

Congaree is a 7,655-yard par-71 course that almost has a links-style feel to it. With minimal rough, the fairways are lined and protected by bunkers and waste areas. The sand here isn’t soft and sinking, yet firm and fast. Should the ball miss the fairway and hit one of the waste areas, how the ball reacts is a matter of fate. This course puts a premium on driving accuracy. While it’s a long course and distance will play a factor, at the Palmetto Championship, only two golfers who finished inside the top 10 were inside the top 10 in driving distance for the week. This course will be bested by those who keep their ball in the fairway, gain strokes on approach, and avoid bogeys. There are also golfers whom I’m interested in, but their prices have just become unplayable.

Here are the golfers that I will be betting to win the CJ Cup:

Shane Lowry to win +3300:

When I think of a guy who hits his ball in the fairway a ton and is skillful on links-style courses, I think of Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry. While McIlroy would be the obvious choice to win this event, I can’t justify his price. He is a guy you play in the position market, and I hope he doesn’t win. Lowry, who now is a proven winner in excellent form, is someone I can get behind. He had a T87 at the Dunhill Links Championship, where a dreadful 7-over-79 threw him out of contention. Before that, he had won the BMW PGA Championship. He had a few close calls last season at events like the Honda Classic and the Masters, events that require driving accuracy, strong ball striking, and creativity around the greens.

Lowry finished the season last year with a 61% driving accuracy but was phenomenal on approach. He finished ninth in Strokes Gained: Approach gaining +0.68 strokes per round. His craft around the green was also great, which should help him more here due to the number of bunkers surrounding the greens. He finished first in sand saves at 67%. He was ninth in scoring average, and this will be one of the best prices we see on him this season. I will also be backing him in the placement market.

Viktor Hovland to win +3300:

Starting the season strong is something the Hovland has become accustomed to. Last year he picked up a few wins on the DP World Tour and a win the Hero World Challenge early in the season. This year, he has T5 finishes at the BMW PGA Championship and ZOZO. Much like Narashino, precision on approach will be crucial to winning.

Hovland had his rough patch last season, but his game is now sharp. From The Open, he has returned to his terrific ball striking and pinpoint approach play. His play around the greens worries me a bit, but I love how solid he’s looked with the flat stick. He’s gained +2.6 strokes putting in his last five tournaments. While I couldn’t cash his outright last week, this course is a perfect setup for a guy like Hovland.

Matt Fitzpatrick to win +2400:

Going back to where he’s had success has proven to be a winning factor for Fitzpatrick. At the Palmetto Championship, he finished T10 here. His T10 finish was impressive despite losing strokes on approach. As expected, he drove the ball well but couldn’t get anything going to make a charge for the win. Looking at his form heading into the Palmetto, he wasn’t striking the ball well. The start of the season is always promising because the guys get to refocus and work with their games for the brief offseason. Fitzpatrick is a great candidate for success here. He’s gained length off the tee, and he’s very accurate. He doesn’t bogey often, and his great out of the bunkers; if you remember, his shot on 18 to ice the US Open. There’s much to like about him here; I’d price him closer to +1800, giving him value at just about any available number.

Justin Thomas to win +1600:

By now, this might go without saying; Thomas at a ball striker’s course is an auto bet. Despite the form, he is in and the injuries he is dealing with, he’s a threat to win any event that heavily rewards second-shot golf. Like Jordan Spieth, who will be a popular name this weekend, he is riding high off a masterclass at the President’s Cup. He looks healthy and is striking the ball beautifully.

Thomas ranks 11th in driving distance and is one of, if not the best, golfers with an iron in his hand. He’s great out of the bunker and is skillful around the greens. His putter is what generally fails him; however, at the Presidents Cup and the Tour Championship, he’s w dynamite. The 15-time PGA Tour winner has found the most success at courses like this. Should this remain a good driving week for him, I expect him to be in the mix.

Regardless of whom you bet, be sure to periodically check the NBC Sports EDGE golf page for bets and articles throughout the week.