The Punter

RBC Heritage: Four fancies at Hilton Head from 47/1 to 84/1

Golfer Matthew Fitzpatrick
Matthew Fitzpatrick after his playoff win 12 months ago

The PGA Tour stops off in South Carolina for its traditional post-Masters event - the RBC Heritage - so read The Punter's in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

  • Super scrambling and strong putting required

  • Swerve the Augusta contenders

  • Course form counts for plenty

  • Read my Corales Puntacana preview here


Tournament History

The late great Arnold Palmer won the inaugural staging of the RBC Heritage back in 1969 so this will be the 56th edition of the tournament.

As usual, the RBC Heritage is the first event after the US Masters in neighbouring Geogia so as per, it's a strong line-up that includes four of the world's top five - assuming Scheffler plays after Sunday's success at Augusta.

The RBC Heritage is the fourth Signature Event of 2024 so it's a limited field with less than 70 in the line-up.


Venue

Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, South Carolina


Course Details

Par 71, 7,191 yards. Stroke Index in 2022 - 70.74

Assisted by Jack Nicklaus, Hilton Head was designed by the late great 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 spots on them to attack the tiny Bermuda greens that usually run at around 12 on the Stimpmeter.

HARBOUR TOWN 2023 1.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 12:00 UK time on Thursday


Last Eight Winners with Pre-event Prices

2023 - Matt Fitzpatrick -17 38.037/1 (playoff)
2022 - Jordan Spieth -13 50.049/1 (playoff)
2021 - Stewart Cink -19 120.0119/1
2020 - Webb Simpson 32.031/1
2019 - C.T Pan -12 460.0459/1
2018 - Satoshi Kodaira -12 500.0499/1 (playoff)
2017 - Wesley Bryan -13 200.0199/1
2016 - Branden Grace -9 44.043/1


What Will it Take to Win the RBC Heritage?

Last year's playoff protagonists, the winner, Matt Fitzpatrick, and the defending champion, Jordan Spieth, ranked 15th and 11th for Driving Distance and the 2021 winner, Stewart Cink, ranked third for DD but this is a strategical track and Driving Distance is usually an irrelevant stat.

The seven winners before Cink ranked 33rd, 55th, 65th, 51st, 37th, 75th and 56th and Spieth ranked 45th when winning in 2022.

Historically, Driving Accuracy has been of more importance than distance. 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 but that stat appears as irrelevant as Driving Distance now.

The last five winners have ranked 31st, 57th, 33rd, 55th and 59 for DA and the two winners before Kodaira - Wesley Bryan and Branden Grace - ranked only 55th and 57th. The rough is minimal and missed fairways aren't a disaster. The first four home last year ranked 59th, 64th, 33rd and 42nd for DA.

Kodaira ranked seventh for Greens In Regulation six years ago and, as was the case with DA, that was the seventh time in ten years that the winner had ranked inside the top-ten but again, it doesn't appear to be as an essential stat as it once was.

Last year's playoff protagonists ranked 26th and 11th and the two men to make it to extra time in 2022, Spieth and Patrick Cantlay, ranked ninth and first.

Matt Fitzpatrick at Harbour Town.jpg

The 2021 winner, Cink, topped the GIR rankings but the 2020 winner, Webb Simpson, only ranked 12th, the 2019 winner, C.T Pan, ranked 37th and Wesley 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 and prior to last year it looks like it's a key stat once again.

Fitzpatrick ranked second for PA 12 months ago, Cink had a ranking of seventh, the two winners before him ranked third and second although Spieth putted deplorably in 2022!

When asked what he was most proud of in terms of his performance his answer was unequivocable.

"Well, I won this golf tournament without a putter!"

And he wasn't wrong. Spieth's putting stats really were incredible. He ended the week ranking 60th for Strokes Gained Putting with a -2.55 strokes gained figure, which was the worst SG putting number by a PGA Tour winner since Sean O'Hair in 2009 at Quail Hollow (-3.29), and he ranked 37th for putts Per round and 40th for Putting Average but he did rank highly for the two most essential stats - Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and Scrambling.

Spieth ranked first for Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and sixth for Scrambling in 2022 and they're the two key stats to consider.

The last seven winners have ranked first, sixth, seventh, 11th, seventh, first and third for SG: T2G and Scrambling has been and although the 2019 and 2020 winners only ranked 27th and 16th for Scrambling, I'd still consider that the most important traditional stat to ponder.

These greens are smaller than average, and everyone is going to miss plenty of them so getting up-and-down to save par is crucial.

Fitzpatrick ranked fourth for Scrambling last year, the front three in 2021 ranked fourth, second and third and in 13 of the last 15 years, whoever has topped the Scrambling stats for the week has finished inside the top-11. And eight years ago, eight of the top ten scramblers finished tied ninth or better.

Being a seaside links, Harbour Town is exposed and wind-affected, so great wind exponents do well here year after year.


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

For example, the 2020 winner of this event, Webb Simpson, was beaten in extra time at Sea Island in 2019 and 2011 and Kevin Kisner, who was beaten in a playoff at the RSM Classic in 2020 also 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 the FedEx St Jude in August, the Grand Reserve Country Club, home of the recent Puerto Rico Open, and Colonial Country Club, which hosts the Charles Schwab Challenge all correlate nicely. However, arguably the best new correlating course is the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, home of this week's other PGA Tour event - the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.

Although a terrible final round saw him finish tied for 48th, the 2022 Corales winner, Joel Dahman, was sitting just one off the lead with a round to go here in 2020. Last year's Corales winner, Matt Wallace, finished 18th here in 2021, having sat fourth through 54 holes, and the 2018 edition of the Corales was won by the 2013 Heritage winner, Graeme McDowell.

And 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.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

Matt Fitzpatrick won here last year having finished tied for 10th at Augusta the week before and the 2021 winner, Stewart Cink, had finished 12th in the US Masters but those two appear to be the exceptions rather than the rule and most winners haven't contended in the year's first major.

Stewart Cink at Harbour Town.jpg

The US Masters was shifted to November in 2020 and this event was staged in June but prior to 2020, with the exception of 2011 and '12, this event has traditionally followed the year's first major since 1983 so I've looked at how the winners here had fared at Augusta on every occasion that this event has followed the US Masters this century below.

2023 - Matt Fitzpatrick - 10th
2022 - Jordan Spieth MC at Augusta
2021 - Stewart Cink - 12th
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

In addition to Fitzpatrick and Cink, Matt Kuchar's fifth at Augusta a decade ago is the result that stands out and every other winner here has either not played at Augusta, missed the cut at Augusta, or finished no better than 15th.

And it's perhaps worth highlighting that all those that have performed well here after a top-20 finish in the US Masters had very strong and usually winning form here anyway.

A high finish last week could be construed as a bit of a negative and it was his weekend of at Augusta that inspired the 2022 winner, Spieth.

"Last week was really a killer for me. My favourite tournament in the world (the US Masters), not getting to play on the weekend, so I tried to come in and work a little extra hard this week, and game felt in a good place, just needed to give myself a chance and it felt really good to make a putt that mattered on 18 in regulation."


Course form counts at Harbour Town

Although we've witnessed a few younger winners of late, prior to 2016, 12 of the previous 14 winners were in their 30s and Jim Furyk was 44 when he won here in 2015. Cink was 47 when successful in 2021 so experience often counts for plenty at Harbour Town.

Harbour Town is a tricky track that doesn't suit everyone, and course form stands up well. In its 55-year history, ten men have won the event more than once and Davis Love III has won it five times.

Fitzpatrick had finished fourth two years before he won but we've also seen a few first-time shock winners of late too.

Cink was a big price three years ago and C.T Pan was the third consecutive big outsider to take the title in 2019. Pan was also the fourth winner in-a-row winning for the first time on the PGA Tour.

It's tempting to think that being a Signature Event with a limited field may result in one of the fancied runners winning but the first two Signature Events were won by someone that was matched at a triple-figure price before the off.

Despite being major champions, Wyndham Clark was a big price before winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Hideki Matsuyama was relatively unfancied before winning the Genesis Invitational.

Scottie Scheffler won the third Signature Event - the Arnold Palmer Invitational.


Winner's Position and Price Pre-Round Four

2023 - Matt Fitzpatrick - led by one 3.613/5
2022 - Jordan Spieth - T9 - trailing by three 22.021/1
2021 - Stewart Cink - led by five 1.51/2
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


In-Play Tactics

Fitzpatrick led with a round to go, Cink won from the front in 2021 and Simpson was tied at the top in 2020, so three of the last four winners have been leading or tied for the lead but this isn't an easy track to make the running.

The third-round leader in 2019, Dustin Johnson, having traded as short as 1.564/7 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.

Until 2020, 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 in 2020, the winners had trailed by four, four, four, three, four, six and two strokes, and Spieth was three adrift with traffic in front of him two years ago.

In addition to those seven results between 2013 and 2019, Brandt Snedeker beat Luke Donald in a playoff in 2011, having trailed by six after 54 holes, but Cink easily trumps them all.

Back in 2004, when winning the second of his three titles, 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 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 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.


Market Leaders

Last week's US Masters winner, Scottie Scheffler, heads the market at just fractionally shorter than the 6.05/1 he went off at last week, and it's hard to make a strong argument for taking him on at that price.

Scottie Scheffler wins US Masters again.jpg

Scheffler didn't play here after winning his first Green Jacket two years ago, but he finished 11th on debut 12 months ago, having sat tied for second at halfway.

Sheffler's wife, Meridith, is still two weeks away from her due date for their first child so it looks like he's going to line up and given he has current form figures reading 1-1-2-1 he may well take all the beating again but he's not for me this week.

It's very hard to imagine him being focused enough to contend strongly after last week's gruelling triumph.

Xander Schauffele, who was a little disappointing on Sunday at Augusta, finished fourth last year but that was the first time he'd played well here after three previous visits had seen him finish 32nd, 63rd and 64th.

Last week's runner, Ludvig Aberg, won the RSM Classic around the corner at the end of last season so he should enjoy the venue on his first visit but as highlighted above, a strong performance last week is something of a negative at this event.

Patrick Cantlay has been well supported and that makes sense given his exceptional course record. He's played here six times previously and with course form figures reading 3-7-3-MC-2-3, it's very difficult to make a case for taking him on.


Selections

Russell Henley is someone that really should love this venue and I'm happy to chance him after last week's disappointing tied 38th at Augusta.

As highlighted in Monday's De-brief, it's common for players that contend in the US Masters to underperform the following year and that's what happened to Henley last week.

He'd finished fourth behind Jon Rahm in 2023 and having finished fourth at the Texas Open in the final event before last week, he was quietly fancied at Augusta but he never really got going.

He did finish the tournament nicely after a slow start on Sunday though, signing for a one-under-par 71 after playing his last 12 holes in a bogey-free three-under-par.

His sixth placed finish on debut here in 2013 after a slow start is still his best finish at Harbour Town but he looks primed to improve on that this time around.

Back Russell Henley @ 48.047/1

Bet Here

This is Tom Kim's first visit but he's a winner at Sedgefield Country Club so he should take to the venue and he was a huge eye-catcher on Sunday.

Kim hasn't been at his best throughout 2024 so his six-under-par 66 that saw him climb into a tie for 30th was a very encouraging effort.

If that wasn't just a flash in the pan, and it may well have been, he looks over-priced at 70.069/1.

Back Tom Kim @ 70.069/1

Bet Here

I was more than happy to take 85.084/1 about this year's Sentry winner, Chris Kirk, who also caught the eye at Augusta.

In tough conditions, only two men broke 70 on Saturday, Collin Morikawa, who shot 69, and Kirk who fired an extremely impressive four-under-par 68 which helped him to finish tied 16th.

Kirk's seventh placed finish here in 2021 is his only top-20 finish so his course form figures aren't spectacular but given he's won at Sea Island and he's finished inside the top-five four times at Waialae, he really should love Harbour Town.

Back Chris Kirk @ 85.084/1

Bet Here

My final selection is Sam Burns who I thought I might be able to include in the Find Me a 100 Winner column.

Burns' wife, Caroline, is expecting very soon so there's a risk that he could withdraw and that must be the reason for him being matched at odds in excess of 100/1101.00!

He's understandably shortened up since touching 140.0139/1 for a couple of pounds and he's still a terrific price at 85.084/1.

I backed Burns here at 360.0359/1 when he made his course debut way back in 2019 and he was matched at a low of 5.95/1 when he hit the front with a birdie at the 13th hole on Sunday, but he eventually finished ninth in the end.

He was very much an up-and-coming raw talent at the time, and he reacted badly to hitting the front, finding water off the tee on the tough par three 12th, but he clearly took to the track.

Following that debut, he missed the cut here in 2020, finished 39th in 2021, and 15th 12 months ago, when he signed off with a 65 on Sunday.

Sam Burns 1280.jpg

There's obviously a chance that Burns could withdraw at any stage but that's more than factored in with the price.

He missed the cut after a disastrous start at Augusta last week but that could even be a positive and there's numerous reasons to think he'll go well this week.

He played nine holes in three-under-par from the sixth hole on Friday last week and only failed to make the weekend after a poor finish to round two so he's shown glimpses of form and he'll be inspired by both his good friend Scheffler's victory on Sunday and the fact that he too is soon to be a father.

Back Sam Burns @ 85.084/1

Bet Here

With five PGA Tour titles to his name already, the 27-year-old has come a long way since that nervous finish here five years ago and he's an attractive price at 85.084/1.


Read my Corales Puntacana Championship preview here


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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