The PGA Tour moves from Texas to South Carolina for the 52nd edition of the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head. Read The Punter's in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
“Bubba lost a playoff at the US PGA Championship at another Pete Dye track and he’s won next week’s event, the Travellers Championship, also played at a Pete Dye venue, three times. After his eye-catching seventh at Colonial, I’m surprised to see him priced so high and he’s my idea of the best value in the field.”
The late, great Arnold Palmer won the inaugural staging of the RBC Heritage back in 1969 so this will be the 52nd edition of the tournament. It's traditionally played in April, one week after the US Masters, but after the enforced break, the event has been pushed back a couple of months this year and it now follows last week's Charles Schwab Challenge - a tournament that should correlate very nicely.
Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, South Carolina
Par 71, 7,099 yards. Stroke Index in 2019 - 71.77
Assisted by Jack Nicklaus, Hilton Head was designed by Pete Dye, who also designed Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship, and it's 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 it's very easy on the eye.
Live on Sky Sports all four days with Featured Group coverage starting at 11:45 UK time on Thursday. Full coverage begins at 20:00.
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - C.T Pan -12 [460.0]
2018 - Satoshi Kodaira -12 [500.0]
2017 - Wesley Bryan -13 [200.0]
2016 - Branden Grace -9 [44.0]
2015 - Jim Furyk -18 (playoff) [25.0]
What Will it Take to Win the RBC Heritage?
This is a strategic track and Driving Distance is an irrelevant stat. The best any winner has ranked over the last ten years for DD is 31st and the last six have ranked 55th, 65th, 51st, 37th, 75th and 56th!
Driving Accuracy is of more importance but it's not a totally vital stat. When the 2018 winner, Satoshi Kodaira, ranked fourth for D.A he was the seventh winner in ten years to rank inside the top-ten for that stat but last year's winner, C.T Pan, only ranked 55th and the the two winners before Kodaira, Wesley Bryan and Branden Grace, ranked 55th and 57th.
Kodaira ranked seventh for Greens In Regulation two years ago and, as was the case with D.A, that was the seventh time in ten years that the winner had ranked inside the top-ten and Scott Piercy and Shane Lowry finished tied for third last year when ranking first and fifth for GIR, but again, it isn't the key stat to concentrate on. Last year's winner, Pan, only ranked 37th for GIR last year, the runner-up, Matt Kuchar, ranked 28th and the other player to finish tied for third, Patrick Cantlay, ranked only 42nd.
Putting used to be the go-to skillset, with six of the seven winners between 2006 and 2012 having a Putting Average ranking of sixth or better and the first and second last year ranked second and fifth but the six winners between 2013 and 2018 ranked only 24th, 36th, 11th, 21st, 16th and 47th and although Pan only ranked 16th last year, the most important stat to ponder looks to be Scrambling...
The three best scramblers last year finished tied sixth (J.T Poston), and tied third (Lowry and Cantlay).The first and second in 2017, Bryan and Luke Donald, ranked first and second for Scrambling, Grace ranked third in 2016, the playoff protagonists five years ago, Jim Furyk and Kevin Kisner, ranked first and second, and in ten of the last 11 years, whoever had topped the Scrambling stats for the week had finished inside the top-ten. And incredibly, eight of the top ten scramblers four 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.
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, is well worth considering. It's only around the corner so it makes sense that it should correlate nicely and it does.
The first three RSM Classic winners all had a top-six finish here on their CVs and although there have only been ten editions of that event, there are plenty of examples of players playing well at both tournaments. Webb Simpson, for example, who was beaten in extra time at Sea Island in November, was also beaten in a playoff here in 2013 and Kevin Kisner won the RSM Classic in 2015, just months after losing in a playoff here. 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, TPC Southwind, which hosts WGC FedEx St Jude, the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, home to the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, won last year the 2013 heritage winner, Graeme McDowell, and Colonial Country Club, which hosted last week's Charles Schwab Challenge, and that has to be the place to start.
Given the 13 week hiatus, and given how well the two venues correlate, form at last week's event has to be given the utmost respect. A nice warm-up around Colonial is the perfect preparation for Harbour Town this week.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
We've seen a bit of a shift in the profile of the winners here of late. Kodaira was 28 when he won here two years ago and Pan last year, as well as the two winners before Kodaira were both 27, but 12 of the previous 14 winners were in their 30s. And Furyk was 44 when he won here five years ago so experience often counts for plenty at Harbour Town.
Harbour Town is a tricky track that doesn't suit everyone and course form used to stand up really well. In its 51-year history, ten men have won the event more than once and Davis Love III has won it five times but that's another thing that appears to be shifting of late.
Pan was the third consecutive big outsider to take the title and he was the fourth winner in-a-row winning for the first time on the PGA Tour.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - C.T Pan - T5 - trailing by two [36.0]
2018 - Satoshi Kodaira - T12 - trailing by six [440.0]
2017 - Wesley Bryan - T6 - trailing by four [30.0]
2016 - Branden Grace - T5 - trailing by three [15.0]
2015 - Jim Furyk - T5 - trailing by four [13.0]
Last year's third round leader, Dustin Johnson, having traded as short as [1.56] during round three, eventually finished tied for 28th and as you can see by the data above, this is a venue where many a winner comes from way off the pace.
We haven't seen a 54-hole leader convert since 2012 and the winner has come from outside the final pairing every time since. Pan was the seventh winner in-a-row to come from at least a couple of strokes adrift and although he was quite close to the lead compared to some winners, he was still unfancied and a [36.0] shot after three rounds. Since Carl Pettersson converted from the front in 2012, the winners have trailed by four, four, four, three, four, six and two strokes.
In addition to the last seven results, Brandt Snedeker also 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. And taking on the leaders with a round to go has been a profitable exercise of late.
The par five 15th is the last hole in the woods at Harbour Town and it's a tricky finish after that. The par four 16th is a tough hole if the fairway is missed and the exposed par three 17th trips up many a contender. The fairway is ridiculously generous on 18 but it's a tough second shot, even from the fairway so great rounds can untangle at the end quite easily.
It's often hard to fancy any of the market leaders at this event as they've usually just experienced a gruelling week at Augusta, attempting to win the year's first major, and they're hard to fancy this time around for differing reasons. Most are in the field because there's been so little golf and few have much experience of a venue that may not, or simply doesn't suit. Starting with the world number one, Rory McIlroy.
Rory finished tied for 58th here back in 2009 on his only previous visit and after his disappointing weekend at Colonial last week, at a venue, like this one, that doesn't have a premium on driving, and therefore isn't ideal for his game, he's easy to dismiss, despite being a much bigger price.
Second favourite, Justin Thomas, is slightly harder to rule out. He was 11th on debut here in 2015 but 75th 12 months later so it's not surprising he's not been back since. He did remarkably well last week, considering how poor his long game was, and his chances will be increased significantly here if his caddie, Jimmy Johnson, snaps his driver on the first tee. If the world number three can keep his tee-ball on the short grass he'll contend but that's a sizable if given he missed the fairway 59% of the time at Colonial.
I took a look at the beefed-up Bryson DeChambeau in yesterday's de-brief and he's the only one towards the head of the market that I'm remotely interested in. I don't think it will be long before he wins again and although his new found length off the tee will be almost worthless here, the rest of his game is in reasonable nick anyway. He's returned to the fray in good form, having been in fine fettle before the break, and he also has course form in the book to boot.
DeChambeau finished fourth here on debut, in his very first event as a professional, and he was third two years ago, beaten by a stroke, despite a third round 75! He missed the cut here in 2017 and again last year but both weekend offs can be excused. The 2017 missed cut was the first of seven missed cuts in-a-row - his leanest streak to date - and I doubt he felt his best last April given he'd only finished 29th at Augusta having led after round one. He looks a fair price at [19.0].
World number two, Jon Rahm, is making his debut here after his surprising missed cut last week and there's not much to suggest he should take to Harbour Town. He's a fine links exponent but I'm more than happy to swerve him.
This is great event for outsiders so I've enjoyed going through the field looking for value and in addition to having a tiny stakes saver on Bryson DeChambeau, I've finished up with a dozen selections for small stakes but I could have easily backed a few more!
Matt Kuchar missed the cut last week but he absolutely loves Harbour Town. He won here in 2014 and he was second last year. J.T Poston caught the eye last week at Colonial and he was sixth here on debut last year. Harris English was a disappointment to many last week when he missed the cut but he still shot 67 on Friday and this place is ideal.
Bubba Watson missed the cut here on his one and only visit in 2007 but having the event follow the Masters, which he's won twice, is far from ideal scheduling so it's no surprise that this isn't an event he plays as a rule.
Bubba lost a playoff at the US PGA Championship at another Pete Dye track - Whistling Straights - and he's won next week's event, the Travellers Championship, also played at a Pete Dye venue - TPC River Highlands - three times. After his eye-catching seventh at Colonial, I'm surprised to see him priced so high and he's my idea of the best value in the field.
Joaquin Niemann is an interesting course debutant. The recent Greenbrier winner only finished 32nd last week but he shot two 65s - in rounds two and four. Christiaan Bezuidenhout is a promising young player I want to keep the right side of and Graeme McDowell is a ridiculous price given he's a major champion that won here in 2013 and given he's won twice fairly recently - at the 2019 Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship and the Saudi international in February.
I've always felt this place should suit Russell Henley so I'm chancing him again and I'm sticking with a couple of plays from last week in Brendon Todd and Mackenzie Hughes.
Sam Burns traded at just [5.9] on debut last year so he's chanced again and the RSM winner, Tyler Duncan looks a huge price too.
Matt Kuchar [55.0]
J.T Poston @ [100.0]
Harris English @ [130.0]
Bubba Watson @ [120.0]
Joaquin Niemann @ [170.0]
Christiaan Bezuidenhout @ [210.0]
Graeme McDowell @ [220.0]
Brendon Todd @ [240.0]
Russell Henley @ [300.0]
Sam Burns @ [500.0]
MacKenzie Hughes @ [640.0]
Tyler Duncan @ [650.0]
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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