CJ Cup Betting Tips: Cameron Young can go well at the Congaree Golf Club
It’s back to mainland USA this week and to the exclusive Congaree Golf Club for the CJ Cup.
Originally staged at Nine Bridges in South Korea in 2017-2019, the CJ Cup has moved about the US over the last couple of years due to the pandemic; with the 2020 and 2021 versions both taking place in Las Vegas, at Shadow Creek and The Summit Club.
It’s on the move again this year and heads east to South Carolina’s famed Congaree Golf Club. A course which hosted its first PGA Tour event last year - the Palmetto Championship - where South Africa’s Garrick Higgo sensationally won on his first ever start in a regular PGA Tour event.
It’s an event not too dissimilar to last week’s ZOZO Championship; a limited field, no cut tournament, where opportunity is afforded to players of the Korean PGA to test themselves against the best in the world on the PGA Tour.
Rory McIlroy arrives as reigning CJ Cup champion having won at the Summit Club last year, besting Collin Morikawa by 1-stroke with a winning score of -25; though will need to handle a much more demanding test this year to retain his trophy, with -11 good enough to see Garrick Higgo win that one-time Palmetto Championship last year.
Like the two previous stand-in hosts of this tournament – The Summit Club and Shadow Creek – Congaree Golf Club is another Tom Fazio design. A par 71 that can play to a lengthy 7655 yards, however, may well play shorter as it did last year.
The winding fairways are framed equally by tall pine-trees and vast, sandy waste areas; though they are predominantly wide and easy to find, the penalty for missing them is severe and saw Congaree rank as the 6th most penal driving course on the PGA Tour last year.
The tricky, firm bermuda greens are large for the most part, though weren’t all that easy to find last year, with closely-mown run-off areas around many repelling approach shots that don’t quite hit the intended spot. This then putting serious strain on the short-game around a venue which ranked in the top 10 most difficult courses last year on which to scramble around.
Further defences around this course can be found in the shape of water being in-play on around ten holes and grassy wetlands waiting to devour errant shots; add into this a set of tricky par 3s and a collection of par 4s which contains three which can potentially play to over 510 yards, it’s a course which doesn’t really let-up.
This is evidenced on what are the most scorable holes on the course; the three par 5s and the two drivable par 4s – holes 3 and 15 – they all played well under par last year, though are true risk/reward holes, with water in-play on each and will have their fair share of disasters as well as plenty of birdies/eagles.
It’s hard to glean much from player statistics after just one event and truth be told, a high quality all-round game looks hugely important this week, though there were some areas that stood out more than others here last year.
Garrick Higgo is a player who has shone off-the-tee and with the putter since turning pro and this was certainly on show when he won the Palmetto Championship, as he ranked 13th OTT and 15th in putting; combining it with a strong week in approach where he ranked 11th, hitting the 3rd highest percentage of greens of anyone in the field.
Higgo beat six players into 2nd there and of those six we find further evidence of the need for a good driving week: with Jhonny Vegas leading the field OTT, Hudson Swafford ranking 4th and Tyrrell Hatton ranking 6th; whilst there was no shortage of players who are more about power than accuracy.
As mentioned, greens weren’t all that easy to find last year and with potentially firmer conditions, that difficulty might be increased this year. With that, I think Higgo’s ability of finding greens last year will be just as important this, whilst a strong short-game, both on firm bermuda greens and around them will also be imperative around a course that proved to be particularly challenging in both aspects last year.
Key Stats: SG: Off-the-Tee, Driving Distance, Greens-in-Regulation, SG: Around-the-Greens, Scrambling, SG: Putting (firm bermuda greens)
Concrete form-lines are hard to find after Congaree having hosted just the one event but I believe we can put this course amongst some of the tougher, championship like tests on tour.
Memorial Tournament @ Muirfield Village
A lengthy course with wide fairways that are penal should you miss, large greens and a serious challenge around-the-greens. Muirfield Village matches up well, statistically to Congaree and is often said to be one of, if not the most significant championship test on the PGA Tour.
Arnold Palmer Invitational @ Bay Hill
Bay Hill is another lengthy course that offers a similar ball-striking test to Congaree whilst possessing comparably slick, tricky bermuda greens. I’m particularly keen on form here pre-2020, as course alterations have made fairways tougher to find over the three most recent renewals, less in-keeping with Congaree.
Honda Classic @ PGA National
Tom Fazio had a hand in the original design of PGA National though it is very much a Jack Nicklaus course now. Still, despite fairways and greens being a little trickier to find there, it compares well to Congaree in terms trouble awaiting you around the bermuda greens and in the way of water being at the forefront of danger.
Houston Open @ Memorial Park Golf Course
Memorial Park is another course new to the PGA Tour schedule but has shown itself to be a substantial challenge in the two renewals it’s staged. Despite fairways being much harder to find than at Congaree it matches up well in terms of length, ability to hit it’s sloped bermuda greens and scrambling.
The Masters @ Augusta National
With wide fairways framed by tall pine-trees and possessing a comparable level of difficulty in GIR and scrambling, there’s certainly a little bit of Augusta National about Congaree. Not to mention the two courses are around a two hour drive within one another.
CJ Cup (2020) @ Shadow Creek
Finally I think we can go back to the 2020 version of the CJ Cup at another Fazio design, Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. It played easier there due to receptive conditions, despite fairways being tougher to find but compared well to Congaree in most other aspects.
We look to have some good golfing conditions in play this week, with little more than a stiff breeze and no rain currently forecast throughout the week. The earlier starters on Thursday/Friday may find temperatures a little chilly but it does warm up as the day and week goes on.
The field for the Palmetto Championship at this exciting course last year was a little underwhelming but there’s none of that here with 6 of the world’s top 10 teeing it up: #1 Scottie Scheffler, #2 Rory McIlroy, #5 Jon Rahm, #8 Justin Thomas, #9 Collin Morikawa and #10 Matt Fitzpatrick.
Throw in names like major winners: Jordan Spieth, Shane Lowry and Hideki Matsuyama; and we have a seriously mouth-wateringly star-studded field to kickstart these final five events of the 2022 PGA Tour calendar.
CJ Cup Tips
Market Leaders: Rory McIlroy 8/1, Jon Rahm 10/1, Justin Thomas 14/1, Scottie Scheffler 14/1, Matt Fitzpatrick 22/1, Viktor Hovland 22/1, Sungjae Im 22/1
The top four in the betting are all coming here for their first starts of the 2022/23 PGA Tour season having skipped the trip to Japan; with that they’re entitled to be a little fresher, however Rory and Rahm are a shorter than I’d like to see them and barring the Presidents Cup, the lack of tournament sharpness is enough to steer me clear of JT and Scheffler.
I do start with a couple from close to the front of the betting though, with Sungjae Im this week’s headline selection.
Sungjae Im 22/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 2 pts ew
Sungjae signed off the previous season in terrific form, finishing runner-up three times in his final five starts, including in the season ending Tour Championship.
Following a successful Presidents Cup in which he was the joint-top scorer on the Internationals team with 2.5 points, he made his first start of the 2022/23 season at the Shriners Open two weeks ago, finishing 7th and responded to a slow start in last week’s ZOZO Championship to finish a solid 29th, signing off with his best round of the week on Sunday, a 66.
Im has a game tailor-made for Congaree and just about anywhere for that matter, possessing little in the way of weaknesses. This was on show at the Shriners, where he ranked top 25 in every area and is also reflected in his season ending stats from the previous season, ranking 8th off-the-tee, 9th in GIR, 12th around-the-greens, 5th in scrambling and 37th on the greens, an excellent skillset for this test.
We saw some evidence of this in 2021, when he finished 35th in the Palmetto Championship during a period when his form was nowhere near what it is now, finishing that event with a 67, his best round of the week. A victory at the Honda Classic in 2020 strengthens his case further, as does a runner-up finish at Augusta and three 3rd place finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Sungjae ranked 6th in the all-round ranking on the PGA Tour last season, emphasising his suitability for this test and when adding in the fact he’s a proven winner on bermuda, possessed one of the most compelling profiles in the field this week.
Cameron Young 25/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 2 pts ew
Cameron Young went to college at Wake Forest in neighbouring North Carolina and can make that familiarity count this week at a course which should suit his excellent, power-packed driving game.
What a superb first year on the PGA Tour Young enjoyed in 2021/22. Starting with a 2nd place finish in the Sanderson Farms Championship on just his third start on tour at the end of last year, he went from strength to strength in 2022; adding a further six top 3 finishes, including four more runners-up, with the best of them coming in major championships, when 2nd in The Open and 3rd in the PGA Championship. This earning him a trip to East Lake for the Tour Championship, a fantastic achievement in his rookie season.
He managed this with a game built on the driver, where he ranked 2nd on tour last season and 3rd for driving distance, combining this with a tidy short-game, ranking 33rd in scrambling, 68th around-the-greens and 71st on the greens. His iron-play can be a weakness though he finished last season hitting them well, gaining strokes in 8 of his final 11 starts of the season.
This translates to a player who has the game to conquer Congaree; a 13th place finish in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 16th in the Honda Classic last season provide further encouragement on his first visits to each course.
After being part of the successful US Team at the Presidents Cup, Young made his first start of the year last week in Japan, finishing 53rd; I’m hoping that will have shaken a few cobwebs off and he can go about picking up that first PGA Tour title this week in South Carolina.
Aaron Wise 55/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
Aaron Wise started his season two-weeks ago in the Shriners Open, producing a 64th place finish that offered more encouragement than the bare form figure suggests. Possessing quality all across his game last season, in which he improved considerably with the putter, he looks a player in a good place to add to that solo PGA Tour victory to date in the 2018 Byron Nelson and can go well this week.
Wise enjoyed a strong second-half to the previous season, with a runner-up finish in the Memorial Tournament his best and finished 21/22 with three top 15s in his final five starts.
The 64th two weeks ago in Vegas doesn’t look much but he looked in good nick with the short-game and was solid with the driver, with an unusually poor approach week causing his downfall, something I’d expect him to put right here as it was an area in which he ranked 21st on the PGA Tour last season.
Wise compliments that with a quality driving game, ranking 31st and possesses plenty of length, ranking 39th.
He’s always been solid around the greens, ranking 31st on tour last season in scrambling and though 81st in putting doesn’t look much, it meant positive strokes gained numbers overall and was a significant improvement on rankings of 132nd, 171st and 174th in the previous three seasons.
This all-round quality should see Wise go well here and though he didn’t play the Palmetto last year, his runner-up finish at the Memorial this year, a place he’s also finished 9th, as well as some strong efforts in Houston and at the Honda give me added confidence.
Big things were expected of Wise following that win in 2018 during his rookie year, though he hasn’t been able to add to it since, he’s continued to contend and can do so again this week if able to get back to the typically high quality iron-play we’ve become to expect of him.
Sepp Straka 90/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
With two runner-up finishes in his last five starts and producing quality in all areas of his game, I felt 90/1+ was much too big on Straka this week.
After a big dip in form in the aftermath of his victory in the Honda Classic earlier this year, Straka turned it around in a big way when 2nd in the St Jude Championship five starts ago, an event he no doubt let slip away.
This was no flash in the pan, as he followed that with finishes of 28th in the BMW Championship and 7th in the Tour Championship to finish off last season; then showing he maintained that form on his first start of the new season when 2nd in the Sanderson Farms Championship three weeks ago, before a solid enough 45th in Japan last week.
During that period, every area of Straka’s game has fired, gaining strokes in all areas at least 3/4 times; this no more on show than in the Sanderson farms, where he ranked 4th tee-to-green and 9th in putting.
Any repeat of that level of performance will see Straka go well anywhere and I’m more than willing to forgive a missed cut here last year, as his game was in significantly worse shape than it is now in.
Instead we can draw inspiration from that win at the Honda, as well as a 5th place finish in Houston last year and I’m hoping it’s a case of third time lucky here after being on him on his two most recent starts.
Harris English 125/1 – 1/5 7 places (William Hill) – 1pt each-way
Finally I’m going to finish with Harris English. Hailing from across the border in Sea Island, Georgia, just a couple of hours drive from this week’s venue, Harris English has started this season showing some positive signs following a 12 month period where he’s been dealing with/recovering from a hip injury.
Indeed it was in this event last year in which English had to withdraw, making just four starts in the six months that followed. When he did return at the Memorial in June, English offered little in the way of encouragement, barring a commendable effort in trying to defend his Travelers Championship title when finishing 19th.
He has, however, started the new season in much better form, picking up his first top 10 of the year when 9th in the Fortinet Championship and though missing the cut next time out in the Sanderson Farms Championship, he produced a solid 29th place finish last time out in the Shriners Open, where it was particularly encouraging to see him perform well with his irons, ranking 15th in the field and producing his best performance since August of last year.
When in the form of his life in 2020/21, English excelled in every aspect of his game; long and straight off-the-tee, whilst high class in approach, particularly in 2020 where he ranked 25th on the PGA Tour, though it is with the short-game that he impresses most, ranking no worse than 31st in either putting or around-the-greens during that period, something which it’s been encouraging to see, still remains in his game.
English played here last year, finishing 14th, though that doesn’t quite tell the whole story as he entered the final round in 2nd and even hit the front at one point during the final round, before a dreadful +5 back-9 did for his chances.
What was perhaps more encouraging is that there were many players, like him, who have ties to this area of the US, from inside or around in the neighbouring states: Hudson Swafford, Doc Redman and Chesson Hadley to name a few all finishing tied 2nd.
If English can replicate that quality in approach he showed last time out, whilst continuing to show the ability with the short-game that we’ve become accustomed to expecting, he can not only atone for his final round mishap at Congaree last year but bring to an end a difficult last 12 months for a player who was playing the best golf of his life before the injury trouble.