It's sometimes hard to get enthusiastic the week after a major but I never struggle to get energised by this tournament. First staged in 1969, this will the 47th edition of the RBC Heritage - an entertaining event at a wonderful location.
Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, South Carolina
Par 71, 7,101 yards. Stroke Index in 2014 - 72.04
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 a coastal links style track that's greatly affected by the wind.
It's one of the players favourite stop-offs on the PGA Tour and it's not quite up to the splendour of Augusta National, but it's still very easy on the eye.
Alternative Weather Forecast
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2014 - Matt Kuchar -11
2013 - Graeme McDowell -9 (playoff)
2012 - Carl Pettersson -14
2011 - Brandt Snedeker -12
2010 - Jim Furyk -13 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win The RBC Heritage?
This event is one for the ball strikers - the accurate players that can find the right spots on the fairways and that can find the small greens with regularity. It doesn't happen often enough for my liking but this is one of those weeks when driving distance is irrelevant. The last six winners have an average ranking of 51.6 for driving distance yet only one of them, Carl Pettersson, ranked outside the top-ten for driving accuracy.
The last three winners have ranked first or second for Greens In Regulation and brilliant scrambling is also key, with the top scrambler for the week finishing inside the top-eight in each of the last seven years.
The very early forecast suggests breezy conditions, especially on Saturday, so as is so often the case at Harbour Town, look to the really good wind players to shine again this 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 McGladrey Classic, is well worth considering. There have only been five editions of that event but the first three McGladrey Classic winners all had a top-six finish here on their CV. It's a very similar exposed, wind-affected, seaside course and I expect we'll see form here and there to continue to correlate well.
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 the last two 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.
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 my conclusion is that a high finish isn't necessarily a big plus and a missed cut is certainly not a huge negative but a finish in and around the top-20 at Augusta looks ideal.
Regardless of your result in the US Masters, recent history suggests you need to be bang in form. Listed below is the form figures of the last five winners, from the beginning of March onwards, before they arrived at Harbour Town and all five had - had a top-4 finish in one of their three previous starts.
Kuchar - 38-4-2-5
McDowell - 9-3-45-MC
Pettersson - 36-MC-MC-2
Snedeker - W-4-MC-15-4
Furyk - 37-1-11-MC
Is there an identikit winner?
A look at the list of past Heritage champions is like a who's who of golf with legendry players, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Bernard Langer, Greg Norman, Hale Irwin and Nick Price, all having taken the title.
Harbour Town is a tricky track that doesn't suit everyone and course form stands up really well. In its 46 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!
In contrast to last week's US Masters, 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. Kuchar trailed by four with a round to go last year, as did Graeme McDowell 12 months previously, and Brandt Snedeker beat Luke Donald in a playoff in 2011, having trailed by six after 54 holes, but Stewart Cink easily trumps all of 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.
If you're planning to trade in-running, the finish is tricky. The par 3 14th is a very difficult hole (averaged 3.39 last year) and the par 5 15th is not a given birdie hole, it averaged 5.05 last year. The par 3 17th was the third hardest hole in round four last year and the tough par 4 finishing hole ranked the second hardest. A par is always a good score and a one-stroke lead through 71 holes can't be considered a safe lead - unless your name's Matt Kuchar. If, like me, you backed Luke Donald (matched at 1.558/15 in running) in last year's renewal I wouldn't suggest you relive this moment but here's Kuchar holing his bunker shot 12 months ago to so cruelly deny Donald and his followers.
If Jordan Spieth withdrew this week it wouldn't be a big surprise and if he were to play but played poorly, due to exhaustion, that wouldn't be the biggest shock ever either but I thought that last week! He's so young and level-headed that the chances are he'll defy logic and contend yet again - for the fifth week in-a-row!
In two starts at Harbour Town he's finished 9th and 12th so this is a stop-off he's enjoyed previously and he can't be dismissed at all - especially given his 12th last year immediately followed the disappointment of losing the Masters to Bubba Watson.
It's very hard to say what price he should be now but he's too short for my liking and I'm happy to leave him out.
I was more than a bit peeved watching Zach Johnson play so well at Augusta, and it was especially irritating that he go so much coverage given he was never really in it. He was the one I had in mind for this week but I backed him in this event two years ago at 50/1, 12 months after he'd finished runner-up, so I simply can't take around 20s this time around.
This will be Zach's 11th appearance at Harbour Town and his record here is very mixed. In addition to that second place in 2012, he finished 6th n 2007, a week after winning the Masters but that's his only other top-30 finish, which is why I'm not diving in at around 20/1.
Course specialist, Jim Furyk, and defending champion, Matt Kuchar, are vying for third favouritism with both Ian Poulter and Patrick Reed and of the four I much prefer the latter. Furyk and Kuchar are poor in-the-mix and Poults has still never won a strokeplay event is the States.
I was tempted by the in-form Reed, but in his two visits here he's never broken 70. He missed the cut on debut in 2013 and finished a distant 48th last year.
This is one of those tournaments in which I could very easily back quite a few and by the time they tee-off on Thursday I may well have gotten a few more onside, and if and when I do, I'll update Twitter and I'll republish the preview but so far, I've backed just two, Kevin Streelman and John Huh.
Streelman ticks a number of boxes and I'm quite surprised he was bigger than 50s. In his last four starts he's ranked 1st, 2nd, 15th and 3rd for Driving Accuracy and he was third here two years ago so he has already shown an aptitude for the venue. He finished 12th at Augusta on Sunday, where he ranked 10th for Greens In Regulation and 2nd for Scrambling, and if he carries that form forward he's bound to figure here.
Like Streelman, John Huh hasn't got that top-4 finish that the last five winners have achieved and that's a negative for both my men but there are a number of positives to suggest he's also over-priced.
Huh ranks 15th for Driving Accuracy on the PGA Tour and he was 3rd here 12 months ago. He hasn't done anything spectacular this year yet but he looks to be going in the right direction and his 17th in the Houston Open last time out was a decent effort. He ranked 4th for Driving Accuracy and 5th for putting there and the fact that he comes here fresh after a fortnight off may also be a positive.
Kevin Streelman @ 65.064/1
John Huh @ 120.0119/1
I'll be back tomorrow with my Shenzhen International Open preview.
18:20 - April 15, 2015
I'll always aim to get my main preview of the week published on a Monday but that does mean that there will be occasions when I add a few more picks after publication and that's been the case this week. In fact, I've added five more but they're all for small stakes and they're all at huge prices...
I've followed Paul Krishnamurty in with two-time winner, Boo Weekley, and I've also now backed Johnson Wagner, who's won a Sony Open (similar course- see above) and who was in great form last time out in Texas. Roberts Streb has gone off the boil a bit but he won the McGladrey Classic in October (similar course again- see above). Brian Harmon is another that's cooled off of late but he was 7th last year and if he can find some form, the test fits his game perfectly and last but not least, I've thrown a few pounds at Scott Brown who was 5th last and who showed only recently in Puerto Rico, that if the examination's the right one, he can lift his game.
One player I was hoping to see drift was Chris Kirk but his price has actually hardened so I just hope I don't regret turning my nose up at the perfectly acceptable 70.069/1 that was available on Monday.
Boo Weekley @ 170.0169/1
Robert Streb @ 220.0219/1
Johnson Wagner @ 250.0249/1
Brian Harmon @ 260.0259/1
Scott Brown @ 310.0309/1
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter