RBC Heritage: Branden Grace can be Head boy again

Branden Grace can make another successful title defence
Branden Grace can make another successful title defence

Dave Tindall, who landed more each-way profits with 50/1 Paul Casey at the Masters, previews this week's RBC Heritage at Hilton Head...

"The final piece of the jigsaw is that Grace already has previous when it comes to defending a title; he did just that when winning the Qatar Masters in 2015 and 2016."

Main Bet: Back Branden Grace @ 23.022/1

Each-way terms: ¼ odds, 5 places

Main Bet: Back Branden Grace e/w @ 22/1

Perhaps remembering the early days of golf betting and the advice of Keith Elliott, I've always tended to back players at Hilton Head who didn't put themselves in the heat of battle at Augusta the week before.

And this week's defending champion, Branden Grace, fits the bill.

Grace was a nearest-the-finish T27 at Augusta but, rather than view that as a slight disappointment, he was probably relatively pleased given that he'd previously missed his last three cuts at the Masters.

The South African actually shot 71-70 on the weekend which was only two shots more than eventual winner Sergio Garcia. It means he makes the short hop to Harbour Town in good spirits.

As well as last year's victory here, Grace was also T7 in 2015 so he's certainly cashed in after being told by Ernie Els that the course would suit him.

Speaking about the difference between this week and last he said: "I don't think Augusta is always a ball-striker's golf course. If your short game is up to standard you can get it going. You make a couple of putts and you can make a couple of birdies and save a couple of pars.

"I'm a pretty good ball-striker, but the putting gets me down every now and then. That's the thing about Augusta. I felt really steady when I get up there but then those greens just don't like me.

"I like this place. It's completely different. It's short and fiddly. There's a couple of shots that I've got up my sleeve, that I like hitting, that I grew up hitting and it goes well with this place. It's one of those golf courses that suits my eye. I grew up playing in the wind and I grew up playing courses like this.

In eight rounds at Harbour Town, Grace has shot 70-67-66-69-66-74-69-66.

It makes sense given the way he strikes the ball - "when I think about my ball flight I hit it pretty low, that's why a lot of people say Augusta is not really the place for me - and this really does look the ideal place for the 28-year-old to get back on track after an indifferent start to the season.

Leaving Augusta on such a positive note should be the perfect prep and, as we've seen during his seven European Tour wins, when he gets in contention, Grace is an excellent closer.

This is definitely a horses-for-courses event and if you look down the rollcall of champions you'll see five wins for Davis Love and two each for Stewart Cink, Jim Furyk and Boo Weekley. Love and Weekley also won it back-to-back which bodes well for Grace.

The final piece of the jigsaw is that Grace already has previous when it comes to defending a title; he did just that when winning the Qatar Masters in 2015 and 2016.

The 22/1 looks a nice price on this proven winner.

Next Best: Back Pat Perez e/w @ 50/1

Pat Perez has played some good golf at Harbour Town down the years and his last six starts there show a T6, three top 20s and a T26.

He closed with a 64 on his last-but-one visit and has been seen on round one, two, three and four leaderboards down the years.

The American returns this year on the back of a personal-best T18 at the Masters. It was his first start at Augusta National since a missed cut in 2009 while his only other appearance at the year's first major resulted in T45 in 2003.

Like Grace, he played well without ever contending. Perez opened with a pair of 74s and, again like Grace, was one of just a dozen players to come up with two sub-par rounds on the weekend.

In truth, his strong play at the Masters was a continuation of the good form he's show over the last four or five months.

In his last 10 PGA Tour events, Perez has a win, three top 10s, a further three top 20s and no missed cuts. It's the most consistent spell he's had in his career.

At the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Vegas last November, he revealed: "I feel great. I've put some new equipment in that's helped me hit it straighter and longer, and I feel great. Shoulder (which had hampered him the previous season) is 100 percent, and just really looking forward to having a good year.

"I did a lot of work when I got cleared to play. I had about two-and-a-half months to really focus on what I needed to. I went over all my weak areas in my game over the last few years and I got a lot longer once I was healthy. I'm actually hitting it solid, so much farther than I used to."

The stats reflect that and he's also 22nd in Strokes Gained: Around-The-Green, 35th in SG: Putting and 13th in Birdie Average so Perez really is scoring well (25th Scoring Average).

The only negatives around him at the moment were the flak he got for saying that Tiger Woods "knows he can't beat anybody" at the moment. It came across clumsily although essentially he's right with Woods admitting he wasn't tournament ready to play the Masters.

The negativity hasn't affected Perez though and, given his numbers (also 7th in both the Money List and FedEx Cup rankings), I'm surprised to see him at 50/1 in this field. Have an each-way punt.

Final Bet: Back Wesley Bryan e/w @ 66/1

At the top of the market, Matt Kuchar has to be given great respect.

He won this in 2014 on the back of T5 at the Masters so that suggests he has another big performance in him after his T4 there on Sunday thanks to a closing 67 which featured a hole-in-one at 16.

Looking at very recent history, Kuchar is the odd one out as four of the previous five winners of this event had missed the cut at the Masters.

With that the case, you could make a case for Jim Furyk (two-time winner and numerous other top 10s), Kevin Na (three top 10s here in last four visits) and Russell Knox (2-18-9 at Hilton Head).

The other way of picking someone who didn't wear themselves out mentally by being in contention at Augusta is to select a player who didn't even play the Masters.

The one I like from that category is Wesley Bryan at 66/1.

The rookie is making his debut but he's a quick learner at this level as shown by finishes of 4-4-7 in consecutive starts at the Genesis Open, Honda Classic and Valspar Championship.

Following a break, he could be ready to shine again after finishing down the field at Bay Hill and in Puerto Rico.

It's Bermuda greens at Hilton Head and that, for one, is good news for the 27-year-old, who went to the nearby University of South Carolina.

Speaking about his good play in two of the Florida events, he said: "It was really nice getting back on the East Coast on some Bermuda greens that I grew up on as a kid. Yeah, the putter was hot and able to roll a few in."

His good performance (T7) in the Valspar looks a good sign given that Kevin Streelman - a winner in Tampa and T3 here in 2013 - once said: "I would say Harbour Town is just a slightly smaller version of Tampa, Innisbrook. It has a similar look that kind of shapes through the trees. And has some nice kind of rolling hills and some rolling greens that kind of dip off on the sides."

Perez, by the way, has a couple of top sevens at Innisbrook.

Bryan, a three-time winner on the Web.com last year (the first two coming in late March and April), is a short hitter (167th Driving Distance), who does his best work on and around the greens (35th Scrambling, 7th Putts Per Round) so this place should be a good fit.

Finally, I found an article on discoversouthcarolina.com about him and his brother George.

In it, Bryan reveals: "I played quite a bit of junior golf at Harbour Town; we'd stay in a condo near the first tee so we could get out and play a lot."

That can only help and he should have plenty of fan support given his ties to the area.

There are lots who could challenge this week but 66/1 about Bryan on his form this year looks fair.

At a three-figure price, 100/1 Aaron Baddeley has always admitted this is one of his favourite courses and events.

The Aussie won here in 2006, was runner-up in 2008 and added another top 10 last year. We saw some promising recent signs when he took T15 in Houston after sitting in the top five at halfway.

Dave's 2016/17 PGA Tour P/L (based on £5 e/w per selection outrights, £10 win top 5s/10s)

Staked: £610
Returned: £1160.31
P/L: +£550.31

(After the Masters)

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