The PGA Tour moves from Georgia to South Carolina and from Augusta to Hilton Head for the 50th edition of the RBC Heritage. Read The Punter's in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
“Harbour Town is a tricky track that doesn't suit everyone and course form stands up really well. In its 49 - year history, ten men have won the event more than once already and Davis Love III has won it five times!”
The late great Arnold Palmer won the inaugural staging of the RBC Heritage back in 1969 so this will be the 50th edition of the tournament.
Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Par 71, 7,099 yards. Stroke Index in 2017 - 70.68
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.
Live on Sky Sports all four days with Featured Group coverage starting at 13:00 UK time on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Wesley Bryan -13
2016 - Branden Grace -9
2015 - Jim Furyk -18 (playoff)
2014 - Matt Kuchar -11
2013 - Graeme McDowell -9 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the RBC Heritage?
This is certainly not a bombers track and six of the nine winners have ranked inside the top-ten for Driving Accuracy but I'm not sure I'd give it too much credence given the 2016 winner, Branden Grace, ranked 52nd for DA and the first two home 12 months ago ranked Tied 55th for DA and two if the three to tie for third ranked tied 64th. Although William McGirt, who finished tied for third also, ranked first for DA.
Last year's result was a bit bizarre stats-wise given six of the previous nine winners had ranked inside the top ten for Greens In Regulation. The first two home last year ranked 66th and 58th!
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 five winners have ranked 24th, 36th, 11th, 21st and 16th and the most important stat by far is Scrambling.
Last year's one and two ranked first and second for Scrambling, Grace ranked third in 2016, the playoff protagonists three years ago, Jim Furyk and Kevin Kisner, ranked first and second, the last ten to top the Scrambling stats for the week have all finished inside the top-ten and incredibly, eight of the top ten scramblers two years 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 and the early forecasts suggest it might get quite breezy over the weekend.
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, formally the McGladrey Classic, is well worth considering. It's only around the corner so it makes sense that it should correlate nicely and it does.
Last year's RSM Classic was won by Austin Cook, who makes his debut here this week but the places were filled with players with form here. The runner-up, J.J Spaun, was sixth here last year on debut, Brian Gay in third, won here in 2009, and Kevin Kisner in tied fourth, was beaten in the playoff here three years ago. Kisner also won the RSM Classic in 2015 when the 2013 winner of this event, Graeme McDowell, finished third.
There have only been eight editions of that event but there are plenty of examples of players playing well at both events and 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 five 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.
2017 - Wesley Bryan - Didn't play at the Masters
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 nine of the last 11 winners have either not played there or missed the cut at Augusta, a high finish in last week's major could even be construed as a negative.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
We've just seen the fourth major winner in-a-row aged 27 or lower, but the old guys have been performing well this year, with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey and Bubba Watson all winning in the last month and this is another opportunity for the more seasoned pros to succeed.
The last two winners were both 27, 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 17 winners have been in their 30s and Furyk was 44 when he won three years ago. Experience usually counts for plenty at Harbour Town.
Harbour Town is a tricky track that doesn't suit everyone and course form stands up really well. In its 49 - year history, ten men have won the event more than once already and Davis Love III has won it five times!
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 leaders are always vulnerable here and four of the last five winners have trailed by four strokes with a round to go. The odd one out was Grace and he trailed by three. In addition to those last five results, Brandt Snedeker beat Luke Donald in a playoff in 2011, having trailed by six after 54 holes, but Stewart Cink easily trumps them all. 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
Dustin Johnson is in the line-up because he's just signed up with the sponsors. On previous course form, two missed cuts in 2008 and 2009, he's hard to fancy. He was never really in-contention at Augusta before finishing inside the top-ten again so that was a fair effort but he's not for me here.
Paul Casey nearly missed the cut at Augusta, having started slowly due to a bad back, caused by a hard bed in his rented accommodation, but he flew over the weekend with rounds of 69 and 65 to finish 15th. He has form figures here reading 11-22-18-MC and he's ranked inside the top-ten for Scrambling, so his chance is obvious but he's too short given how infrequently he wins.
Matt Kuchar loves this track and he's in decent form but he's another top-class player with a poor win ratio. His last victory came here in 2014 so if he's going to win again, Harbour Town is as likely a place as any but he too looks short enough to me.
Cameron Smith was superb last week, finishing tied for fifth in his second US Masters. He's played here twice before, finishing 15th and 29th and if Augusta has taken it out of him, he's the value towards the head of the market. Currently ranks 11th for that all-important Scrambling stat.
Cameron Smith has impressed me greatly of late - in addition to his fifth last week, he also played really well in his penultimate start at the WGC Match Play - and so I've had a small bet on him and I've also played four outsiders...
William McGirt looked too big at 90.089/1, given his course form figures read MC-MC-MC-9-31-9-3 and I'm happy to chance the reigning Players champion, Si Woo Kim at a massive price. the RSM Classic winner, Austin Cook, is an interesting debutant at a big price and Kevin Streelman, who currently ranks third for Scrambling and second for GIR, was third here in 2013.
I'll be later with my Open de Espana preview.
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