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Palmetto Championship Preview: Can Dustin Johnson Get On Track At Congaree?

(CBS Miami) -- With COVID still causing border issues between the United States and Canada, the RBC Canadian Open is once again a scheduling casualty. The Palmetto Championship takes its spot on the PGA Tour calendar as this year's lead-in to the U.S. Open. The one-time event will also introduce the Tour to the interesting course at Congaree Golf Club.

Players return to South Carolina for the third time this season. Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka headline a field that includes five of the world's top-25 players. Johnson, the world's top-ranked player returns to his home state in a bid put his season back on track. He missed the cut at both the PGA Championship and the Masters and hasn't finished in the top 10 since the Genesis Invitational in February. More poor performances, particularly in the year's third major, could cost him his number-one ranking.

"Great players get inspired when they're on a mission," according to CBS Sports lead golf analyst Nick Faldo. "So I should think he would love to have a great week this week. And he's had a little bit of time off to work on whatever is needed."

Koepka, who checks in at eighth in the world, also has four missed cuts in his last eight events. But he's made up for those with a win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, along with a second-place tie at both the World Golf Championships-Workday Championship and PGA Championship. His strong finish in the last major also indicates that his knee may have improved. But there's also talk that he reinjured it when fans ran on the course toward the end of the tournament. Given how little Koepka seems to care about non-majors, a poor showing at the Palmetto won't necessarily confirm anything.

"I'm sure he's wants to play," as Faldo sees it. "He wants to check the knee out. It's obviously really serious that injury. As they say, you're only as good as your weakest point. And that might be a technical thing in some people or a mental thing. Obviously the physical is a little concerning. At the PGA, I was informed that they were more worried about just simply walking and getting from green to tee through all those different sandy areas, steps and funny-angled walkways. Any moment he could do some serious damage. I guess he has his physical limitations."

Tyrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick will also tackle Congaree. Hatton is ranked 11th in the world, but has only one top-10 finish this year. That came at the Zurich Classic back in April. "He is a really solid ball-striker, more solid than he's given credit for," says Faldo.

Fitzpatrick holds the world's 21st ranking, but he's found much more success in 2021. His four top-10 showings came at the Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Players Championship, and RBC Heritage.

Most of the PGA Tour's players are rather unfamiliar with the course at Congaree Golf Club. This Tom Fazio track, a par-71 that stretches 7,655 yards, sits on the site of a former rice plantation in South Carolina's low country. It plays through trees that are centuries old. Despite the history of the surrounding area, the course, which was designed with an eye toward Australia's sandbelt courses, only dates back to 2018.

Congaree looks like it will play firm and fast. It offers a lot of variety but little in the way of elevation change. The course requires its share of demanding tee shots, with "some corners to take it across," as Faldo put it. Natural waste areas take the place of rough. Fairway grass is short enough to putt from, but the greens, while true, can be difficult.

Distance will be one of the biggest challenges, as evidenced by the course's three par-5s. The first of them is the second hole, which extends to 595 yards. It plays a little uphill, with a tee shot that has to carry over water. Approach shots must deal with a giant oak and bunkers protecting the green on both sides. The next par-5 is the fourth hole. It stretches a whopping 645 yards, with sand lining the fairway on either side and a lake guarding the right side of the green. The 12th hole, a sharp dogleg left, measures a hefty 580 yards. It plays into green that's literally surrounded on all sides by bunkers.

Here are the favorites:

Dustin Johnson (8-1)

Johnson remains the world's top player for now. And a strong performance could provide a little momentum going into the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Despite has lackluster performances of late, he has the ability to conquer this course. He's also still among the Tour's best at picking up strokes with his driver. Johnson ranks 13th in Shots Gained: Tee-To-Green.

Brooks Koepka (8-1)

Koepka's knee may not be fully healed, but his performance at the PGA Championship shows he's strong enough to compete or even win. The question is whether he chooses to. Koepka tends to be a little lackadaisical when it comes to non-majors. But a ranking of third in Shots Gained: Total shows an ability to turn it on.

Tyrrell Hatton (16-1)

Hatton's last and only top-10 finish this year came at the Zurich Classic in April. Still he has the game to compete the week. He's long enough off the tee and strong with his approach shots, currently ranking 11th in Shots Gained: Approach the Green.

Watch the Palmetto Championship Saturday, June 12 and Sunday, June 13, 3:00 - 6:00 p.m. ET on CBS.

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