RBC Heritage: Honda hero Henley can conquer Hilton Head, says The Punter

Russell Henley – one of The Punter’s picks
Russell Henley – one of The Punter’s picks

Our man takes a detailed look at this week's PGA Tour event in South Carolina, where he fancies Russell Henley to play well in his home state. Read Steve's preview here...

“Harbour Town is a tricky track that doesn’t suit everyone and course form stands up really well. In its 45 year history, nine men have won the event more than once already and Davis Love III has won it five times!”

Tournament History

The RBC Heritage, formally known as the Heritage Classic was first staged in 1969. This will be the 46th edition. 


Venue

Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, South Carolina.


Course Details
Par 71, 7,101 yards. Stroke Index in 2013 - 72.04

Assisted by Jack Nicklaus, Hilton Head was designed by Pete Dye, who also designed Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship. It has been the event's sole 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 will be running at around 10.5 on the stimpmeter. It's a coastal links style track that's greatly affected by the wind - as it was during the final round last year.


Useful Sites

Event Site
Course Site
Twitter Link
Tee Times
Weather Forecast
Alternative Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 20:00 on Thursday and Friday and 18:00 on Saturday and Sunday.


Last Five Winners

2013 - Graeme McDowell -9 (playoff)
2012 - Carl Pettersson -14
2011 - Brandt Snedeker -12 
2010 - Jim Furyk -13 (playoff) 
2009 - Brian Gay -20


What will it take to win the RBC Heritage?

Given its coastal location, Harbour Town is very often wind-affected and unless the forecast changes dramatically, an ability to play in blustery conditions is going to be crucial over the first two days. I know a lot can change between now and Thursday but at this stage we're set for a very windy few days.

Stats wise, length of the tee is largely irrelevant and it's all about accuracy. It's often not just about finding the fairway though; it's about finding the right portion of the fairway to attack the smaller than average greens.

Everyone is going to miss these small greens at some point so it's perhaps not surprising that the key stat is scrambling. Over the last six years, the top scrambler for the week has finished 4th, 1st, 1st, 6th, 8th, and 1st and last year's playoff protagonists, Graeme McDowell and Webb Simpson were ranked 1st and 3rd.


Is there an identikit winner?

A look at the list of past Heritage champions is like a who's who of golf with the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Bernard Langer, Greg Norman, Hale Irwin and Nick Price, to name just some of the major champions that have taken the title. You could argue that some of the most recent winners aren't straight out of the top drawer but last year's playoff was fought out by two US Open winners.

Harbour Town is a tricky track that doesn't suit everyone and course form stands up really well. In its 45 year history, nine men have won the event more than once already and Davis Love III (yet another major champion) has won it five times!


Is there an angle in?

As it did 12 months ago, and also in the years 1983 - 2010, this year's renewal immediately follows the US Masters and that poses a problem.  If we go looking for major champions or highly ranked players, as the roll call of past winners suggests we should, we're in all likelihood going to hit a stumbling block. 

If you're any good, the chances are you've just had a gruelling week at Augusta and that has to be a worry but that might just be our best angle-in. G-Mac and Simpson both missed the cut at Augusta 12 months ago and when Jim Furyk won in 2010, he too had failed to make the weekend at the Masters. As had Luke Donald who finished third. 


In-Play Tactics

In contrast to last week's US Masters, where being up with the pace was absolutely crucial, this is a venue where the odd winner comes from way off the pace.  G-Mac trailed by four with a round to go last year and Brandt Snedeker beat Luke Donald in a playoff in 2011, having trailed by six after 54 holes, but Stewart Cink easily trumps both 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. 

Beware the tough par 4 finishing hole. A par is always a good score and a one-stroke lead through 71 holes can't be considered a safe lead. 


Market Leaders

The first two in the betting, Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar, arrive here after a tough week at Augusta and I'm more than happy to swerve them both. 

Spieth could still be on a high after his brilliant Masters debut and he finished tied 9th on debut here 12 months ago but it's a big ask for him to contend so soon after such a momentous week and given the forecasted windy weather, the fact that he shot 74 last year when it blew hardest is also a minor concern.

Having traded odds-on in the two Texan events in the fortnight prior to the Masters and having contended strongly at the year's first major at the weekend, Matt Kuchar has to be running on fumes and he's very easy to dismiss.


Selections

Zach Johnson certainly fits the mould given he's a major winner with course form that missed the cut last week but I backed him last year at 50.049/1 and I can't take half that price this time around so he's been reluctantly left out. I've still managed to find plenty of picks though!

Last year's final round could prove to be one of the best form clues we have given the weather forecast for Thursday and Friday and I've backed the only three men that managed to break 70 that day.

Luke Donald's Hilton Head form figures for the last five years read 2-37-2-3-2 and although he missed the cut at the Masters; his two-under-par second round was a good effort. He's one of the best scramblers in the world and I can see him putting the disappointment of last week's effort behind him very quickly here.

I've had a smaller bet on defending champion Graeme McDowell but I felt I couldn't leave him out. Payne Stewart, Davis Love III and Boo Weekley have already won the event back-to-back so it can be done and given the forecast and the fact that he missed the cut at Augusta, G-Mac could easily become the 10th man to win the title more than once.

The third man that broke 70 on day four 12 months ago was this year's Honda Classic winner, Russell Henley, and I thought 48.047/1 was more than fair about the South Carolina resident. His performance was perhaps the most eye-catching of the three given he was playing in the event for the first time and his finishing position of tied 6th was highly respectable. He coped with the blustery weather well when winning in Florida and his other PGA Tour victory at the Sony Open came at a similar venue to this one - Waialae Country Club in Hawaii. 

I've also thrown a few pounds at a myriad of outsiders - the aforementioned treble-seeking Boo Weekley, Major winners Ben Curtis and Justin Leonard (the 2002 Heritage champ). Wind-specialist and multiple PGA Tour winner, Mark Wilson, local lad, Scott Brown, who I fancy has the game for the course, and a pair of 1000.0 shots in the shape of Briny Baird and Woody Austin. Both men have finished runner-up here before and both have fairly recent form. Baird traded odds-on at the McGladrey Classic, played at a venue very similar to this one - the Sea Islands Golf Club in neighbouring Georgia. And Austin was a winner at the Sanderson Farms Championship in July. 


Selections:

Luke Donald @ 26.025/1
Graeme McDowell @ 27.026/1
Russell Henley @ 48.047/1
Boo Weekley @ 130.0129/1
Ben Curtis @ 270.0269/1
Justin Leonard @ 270.0269/1
Mark Wilson @ 330.0329/1
Scott Brown @ 400.0399/1
Briny Baird @ 1000.0
Woody Austin @ 1000.0


I'll be back later with my Malaysian Open preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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