RBC Heritage: It's all about the in-play at Harbour Town

Aaron Baddeley - one of six huge outsiders picked by The Punter
Aaron Baddeley - one of six huge outsiders picked by The Punter

Our man previews this week's PGA Tour action from South Carolina, where off the pace winners are commonplace. Read the Steve's in-depth take on the RBC Heritage here...

"The last four winners have all trailed by four strokes with a round to go. Brandt Snedeker beat Luke Donald in a playoff in 2011, having trailed by six after 54 holes, but Stewart Cink easily trumps all of those efforts. Back in 2004 he came from an incredible nine shots back to win, so if your picks start slowly, don't give up on them."

Tournament History

The late great Arnold Palmer won the inaugural staging of the RBC Heritage back in 1969 so this will be the 49th edition of the tournament.


Venue

Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, South Carolina


Course Details

Par 71, 7,101 yards. Stroke Index in 2016 - 72.29

Assisted by Jack Nicklaus, Hilton Head was designed by Pete Dye, who also designed Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship. It has always been the event's venue, so there's plenty of course form to go on. The fairways aren't overly narrow but you do need to find the right spot on them to attack the tiny Bermuda greens that usually run at around 10.5 on the stimpmeter.

It's one of the players favourite stop-offs on the PGA Tour and while it's not quite up to the splendour of Augusta National, it's still very easy on the eye.

Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 20:00 on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2016 - Branden Grace -9
2015 - Jim Furyk -18 (playoff)
2014 - Matt Kuchar -11
2013 - Graeme McDowell -9 (playoff)
2012 - Carl Pettersson -14


What Will it Take to Win the RBC Heritage?

Branden Grace ranked 37th for Driving Distance and only 52nd for Driving Accuracy but I'd favour accuracy over length around here. The joint runner-up, Russell Knox, ranked first for DA and six of the last eight winners have ranked inside the top ten for accuracy from the tee.

Grace only ranked 14th for Greens In Regulation but the four winners before him and six of the last eight before him, all ranked inside the top-ten. Putting used to be a key stat, with six of the seven winners between 2006 and 2012 having a Putting Average ranking of sixth or better but the last four winners have ranked 24th, 36th, 11th and 21st and the most important stat is Scrambling.

The playoff protagonists two years ago, Jim Furyk and Kevin Kisner, ranked first and second for Scrambling, last year's winner ranked third, the last nine to top the Scrambling stats for the week have all finished inside the top-ten and incredibly, eight of the top ten scramblers 12 months ago finished tied ninth or better. Here's the latest PGA Tour Scrambling stats - they might be worth a look.

Being a seaside links, Harbour Town is exposed and wind-affected so great wind exponents do well here but the early forecasts suggest it won't be too blowy.


Is There an Angle In?

It's a bit more open than this track, but form at the Seaside Course, Sea Island, home of the RSM Classic, formerly the McGladrey Classic, is well worth considering. It's only round the corner so it makes sense that it should correlate nicely and it does.

Last year's RSM Classic was won by Kevin Kisner, who was beaten by Jim Furyk in the playoff here two years ago, and the man that finished third there behind Kisner was Graeme McDowell, the 2013 winner of this event.

There have only been six other editions of that event but the first three RSM Classic winners all had a top-six finish here on their CV too. It's a very similar exposed, wind-affected, seaside course so it's no surprise that form there stands up well here.

Other courses to consider are Waialae Country Club, home of the Sony Open in Hawaii, Colonial Country Club, venue of the Crowne Plaza Invitational, and TPC Southwind, which hosts the St. Jude Classic.

Given this event immediately follows the US Masters again, as it has for the last four years and as it did between 1983 and 2010, I've taken a look at how the winners here this century had fared at Augusta.

2016 - Branden Grace - MC at Augusta
2015 - Jim Furyk - MC at Augusta
2014 - Matt Kuchar - 5th at Augusta
2013 - Graeme McDowell - MC at Augusta
2010 - Jim Furyk - MC at Augusta
2009 - Brian Gay - Didn't play at the Masters
2008 - Boo Weekley - 20th at Augusta
2007 - Boo Weekley - Didn't play at the Masters
2006 - Aaron Baddeley - Didn't play at the Masters
2005 - Peter Lonard - MC at Augusta
2004 - Stewart Cink - 17th at Augusta
2003 - Davis Love - 15th at Augusta
2002 - Justin Leonard - 20th at Augusta
2001 - Jose Coceres - MC at Augusta
2000 - Stewart Cink - 28th at Augusta

It's a mixed bag and it doesn't reveal an awful lot but given eight of the last ten winners have either not played there or missed the cut at Augusta, a high finish in last week's major is far from imperative.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

A look at the list of past RBC Heritage champions is like a who's who of golf with legendry major champions, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Bernard Langer, Greg Norman, Hale Irwin, Nick Price, Davis Love III, and Jim Furyk, all having taken the title.

Harbour Town is a tricky track that doesn't suit everyone and course form stands up really well. In its 48 year history, ten men have won the event more than once already and Davis Love III has won it five times!

Branden Grace was 27 when successful last year, Aaron Baddeley was just 25 when he won the 2006 edition and Justin Leonard was a month shy of his 30th birthday when he won in 2002 but 12 of the last 16 winners have been in their 30s and Furyk was 44 two years ago. Experience counts for plenty at Harbour Town.


In-Play Tactics

In contrast to last week's US Masters (De-Brief here), where being up with the pace is absolutely crucial, this is a venue where the odd winner comes from way off the pace and a late rally in round four often gets the job done.

The last four winners have all trailed by four strokes with a round to go. Brandt Snedeker beat Luke Donald in a playoff in 2011, having trailed by six after 54 holes, but Stewart Cink easily trumps all of those efforts. Back in 2004 he came from an incredible nine shots back to win, so if your picks start slowly, don't give up on them. Luke Donald was giving up his third five-hole lead at Hilton Head in six renewals when he failed to convert again 12 months ago and he's never really done much wrong so it's clearly a tough place to lead.


If you're planning to trade in-running, the finish is tricky. Four of the five hardest holes (according to last year's averages) are encountered in the last seven holes and that includes the two hardest. The par four 18th ranked second toughest, averaging 4.41 and the par three 14th was the hardest hole on the course last year - averaging 3.44.

Looking at those averages, you can see why clubhouse leaders are often hard to catch and siding with those safely in the house is a good strategy here.


Market Leaders

Matt Kuchar heads the market after his stress-free, off-the-pace fourth at Augusta but that was his first top-ten since his ninth in Phoenix in February. He's finished fifth and ninth after he chipped in to win the title three years ago (see below) but he's notoriously difficult to get across the line and he hasn't won anywhere since. He's too short for my liking.

The 2011 winner, Brandt Snedeker, was fancied by a few last week (including me) but he was a bit disappointing (finished tied 27th) and I don't really see why we should expect any better this week. In his ten starts here besides the win he's missed the cut three times (including last year) and he's never finished inside the top-15, suggesting his sole success, from way off the pace, was a bit of an outlier. He's not for me either.

Defending champ Branden Grace was seventh here on debut in 2015 so he clearly loves the venue and he fared quite well at Augusta last week given it hadn't appeared his cup of tea before then. He finished alongside Snedeker. His form has been a bit in-and-out this season but there have been glimpses (fourth at the AT&T Pebble Beach and seventh in the WGC Mexico Championship) and we know he can defend as he won back-to-back Qatar Masters in 2015 and 2016. He's arguably a better candidate for market leader than the first two mentioned and he's of interest given how well course form stands up here.


Selections

Given all the fun and games in-running on day four of late, I'm keeping plenty of powder dry for Sunday but I've picked out a few massive outsiders to get the balling rolling.

The three I like best are former winner Aaron Baddeley, who caught the eye at the Shell Houston Open a fortnight ago when he finished 15th, ranking second for Scrambling, Blayne Barber, who was beaten in a playoff at the RSM Classic last year, and Zac Blair, who I thought was a fair price at 250.0249/1 given he currently ranks second for Scrambling and that he finished eighth at the Shell.


Selections:
Aaron Baddeley @ 160.0159/1
Zac Blair @ 250.0249/1
Fabian Gomez @ 400.0399/1
Blayne Barber @ 500.0499/1
Ben Crane @ 600.0599/1
Davis Love III @ 600.0599/1


I'll be back later with my Trophée Hassan II preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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