RBC Heritage: Favourites worth taking on at Harbour Town

Golfer Dustin Johnson
Pre-event favourite, Dustin Johnson

We're off to South Carolina this week for the traditional post-Augusta event - the RBC Heritage - so read The Punter's in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

"Given we’ve seen some shocks here recently, that Augusta form doesn’t appear to stand up brilliantly and that this has been a great event for off-the-pace winners, it looks an ideal event in which to lay the market leaders before the off and take it from there."

Tournament History

The late great Arnold Palmer won the inaugural staging of the RBC Heritage in 1969 so this will be the 53rd edition of the tournament.

Having been played a month later than usual last year, due to the pandemic, the tournament is back in its traditional post-US Masters slot.

Venue

Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, South Carolina

Course Details

Par 71, 7,099 yards. Stroke Index in 2020 - 69.14

With the assistance of Jack Nicklaus, Peter Dye designed Hilton Head. Dye 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 spots on them to attack the tiny Bermuda greens that usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter. I have read that they could be a bit faster this year - up to 12.5.

HARBOUR TOWN 1 2021.jpg

It's one of the players' favourite stop-offs on the PGA Tour and it's very easy on the eye.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 17:30 UK time on Thursday.

Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Webb Simpson 32.031/1
2019 - C.T Pan -12 460.0459/1
2018 - Satoshi Kodaira -12 500.0499/1
2017 - Wesley Bryan -13 200.0199/1
2016 - Branden Grace -9 44.043/1
2015 - Jim Furyk -18 (playoff) 25.024/1

What Will it Take to Win the RBC Heritage?

This is a strategical track and Driving Distance is an irrelevant stat. The best any winner has ranked over the last 10 years for DD is 31st and the last seven have ranked 33rd, 55th, 65th, 51st, 37th, 75th and 56th!

Driving Accuracy is of more importance but the stats suggest it's not vital. When the 2018 winner, Satoshi Kodaira, ranked fourth for D.A he was the seventh winner in 10 years to rank inside the top-10 for that stat. Last year's runner-up Abraham Ancer found more fairways than anyone else but last year's winner, Simpson, ranked 33rd. The 2019 champ, C.T Pan, only ranked 55th and the two winners before Kodaira, Wesley Bryan and Branden Grace, ranked 55th and 57th.

Kodaira ranked seventh for Greens In Regulation three years ago and, as was the case with D.A, that was the seventh time in a decade that the winner had ranked inside the top-10 but again, it doesn't appear to be an essential statistic.

In addition to topping the DA rankings, Ancer also ranked first for GIR (putted terribly) but Webb only ranked 12th last year, the 2019 winner, Pan, only ranked 37th and Bryan ranked 66th in 2017.

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. It looks like being a key stat once again. Simpson had a Putting Average ranking of third, Tyrrell Hatton in tied third ranked fourth, and the first and second in 2019 ranked second and fifth but strangely, the six winners between 2013 and 2018 ranked only 24th, 36th, 11th, 21st, 16th and 47th.

The last two winners have ranked only 27th and 16th for Scrambling but I'd still consider that the most important stat to ponder.

The three players behind Simpson ranked tied fifth, first and tied fifth, the three best scramblers in 2019 finished sixth and tied third and the first and second in 2017, Wesley Bryan and Luke Donald, ranked first and second for Scrambling.

Grace ranked third in 2016, the playoff protagonists six years ago, Jim Furyk and Kevin Kisner, ranked first and second, and in 11 of the last 12 years, whoever has topped the Scrambling stats for the week has finished inside the top-10. Five years ago, eight of the top ten scramblers finished tied ninth or better.

The defending champion, Simpson, currently tops the latest PGA Tour Scrambling stats so they might be worth a look.

Being a seaside links, Harbour Town is exposed and wind-affected so great wind exponents do well here although the very early forecasts suggest the wind won't be too harsh this week.

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 round 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 11 editions of that event, there are plenty of examples of players playing well at both tournaments.

For example, last year's winner, Simpson, was beaten in extra time at Sea Island in 2019 and 2011. Kevin Kisner, who was beaten in a playoff at the RSM Classic in November, won the event 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 Grand Reserve Country Club, home of the Puerto Rico Open, and Colonial Country Club, which hosts the Charles Schwab Challenge. Arguably the best new correlating course is the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, home to the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.

Although a terrible final round saw him finish tied for 48th, this year's Corales winner Joel Dahman was sitting just one off the lead with a round to go here in June and the 2018 edition of the Corales was won by the 2013 Heritage winner Graeme McDowell.

Finally, although not a coastal course, and designed by Donald Ross and not Pete Dye, Sedgefield Country Club, host of the Wyndham Championship, also correlates superbly.

Augusta hangovers worth factoring in

The US Masters was shifted to November last year and this event was staged in June but prior to 2020, except for 2011 and '12, this event has traditionally followed the year's first major since 1983 so I've looked at how the winners here this century had fared at Augusta.

2019- C.T Pan - Didn't play at the Masters
2018 - Satoshi Kodaira - 28th 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

Given 10 of the last 13 winners have either not played at Augusta or they've missed the cut there, a high finish in last week's major could be construed as a bit of a negative - especially if the player's price has been cut significantly.

Last year's RSM Classic was played in the week following Dustin Johnson's Masters success and it was a very similar tale there, with Augusta contenders failing to shine.

Of those inside the top-six and ties that did play in the US Masters, the beaten playoff protagonist, Kisner, had missed the cut at Augusta. Bernd Wiesberger, who finished tied fourth, had finished way down the field in 58th. Andrew Landry, who finished alongside him, had shot 78 - 82 in the Masters. Zach Johnson, who finished tied for sixth at the RSM, had finished 51st in the US Masters.

Canada's Corey Conners, who finished tied for 10th at both events was the only player to perform fairly well at both tournaments and there were some really poor efforts from a lot of quality players who had played the week before.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Between 2016 and 2019, the four winners were aged either 27 or 28 and that was something of a change to the norm given prior to 2016, with 12 of the previous 14 winners were in their 30s, while Jim Furyk was 44 when he won in 2015. Simpson was 34 last year so experience often counts 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 52-year history 10 men have won the event more than once - Davis Love III has won it five times - but that's another thing that appears to be shifting of late.

Pan wins Heritage.jpg

Prior to taking the title in June last year, the experienced multiple winner Simpson had finished second in 2013. But Pan was the third consecutive big outsider to take the title in 2019 and he was the fourth winner in-a-row who was winning for the first time on the PGA Tour.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 - Webb Simpson - tied for the lead with three others 5.85/1
2019 - C.T Pan - T5 - trailing by two 36.035/1
2018 - Satoshi Kodaira - T12 - trailing by six 440.0439/1
2017 - Wesley Bryan - T6 - trailing by four 30.029/1
2016 - Branden Grace - T5 - trailing by three 15.014/1
2015 - Jim Furyk - T5 - trailing by four 13.012/1

In-Play Tactics

Although Simpson was tied for the lead through 54 holes in June, this is an event in which frontrunning is tough. The third round leader in 2019, Dustin Johnson, having traded as short as 1.564/7 during round three, eventually finished tied for 28th. As you can see from the data above, this is a venue where many a winner comes from way off the pace.

Until June, we hadn't seen a 54-hole leader convert since 2012 and the winner had 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 36.035/1 shot after three rounds.

Since Carl Pettersson converted from the front in 2012, and Prior to Webb's win last year, the winners had trailed by four, four, four, three, four, six and two strokes.

In addition to the last seven results before Webb, 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. Taking on the leaders with a round to go has been a profitable exercise in many a year.

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 fairways missed and the exposed par three 17th has tripped up many contenders. 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.

Market Leaders

It's going be interesting to see how Dustin Johnson reacts to missing the cut last week as the defending champion at the Masters. But it may be a futile exercise trying to work out how he'll respond.

The world number one is a laid-back character and I doubt the weekend off will phase him as much as it may have done others. He finished 17th last year following his bizarre collapse in 2019 and with course form figures reading MC-MC-16-28-17 he doesn't have an encouraging bank of course form. RBC is one of his sponsors so perhaps he's obliged to line-up and I can't fancy him at the price.

The defending champ, Webb Simpson, finished 12th last week, despite failing to break 70 all week and he makes no appeal at the prices. Far and away the closest he's come to defending a title was his fourth at the 2013 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and I'm happy to swerve him too.

Webb Simpson wins Heritage.jpg

With course form figures reading 3-7-3, Patrick Cantlay loves it here and his woeful performance last week, when he too missed the cut after rounds of 79-73, could even be considered a positive. But that wasn't Cantlay's first bad effort of late. He seems to have lost his way a bit since finishing second at The American Express and third at Pebble Beach in February and he's another that I'm very happy to dismiss.

Selections

This is a very top-heavy market and there have been some big reactions to last week.

For example, my three Find Me a 100 Winner selections at Augusta, Corey Conners, Brian Harman and Kevin Na, who all played well to finish tied 12 or better, are this week trading at 42.041/1, 44.043/1 and 44.043/1. I backed them last week at 160.0159/1, 240.0239/1 and 400.0399/1!

Given we've seen some shocks here recently, that Augusta form doesn't appear to stand up brilliantly. This has been a great event for off-the-pace winners and it looks an ideal one in which to lay the market leaders before the off and take it from there.

I will definitely have at least a couple of Find Me a 100 Winner picks here and I'll be back with that later today or on Wednesday but for now I've layed everyone trading at 60.059/1 and below at a combined price of approximately 4/5.

I may go a bit deeper before the off but for now, DJ is my biggest loser, taking out £420. Should I leave it like that, and anyone priced at 60.059/1 and above wins (currently everyone listed below Sergio Garcia in the market), I stand to win just over £500.

I'll be back later with the Austrian Golf Open preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

Get a Free £/€20 Exchange Bet

  • Join Now - Open account using promo code VAL225
  • Bet - Place a £/€20 Bet on the Exchange
  • Earn We'll Refund You £/€20 If the Bet Loses

T&Cs apply.

Discover the latest articles

Read past articles