With 15 players within two of the lead, the RBC Heritage is wide open with a round to go and our man's back with his final in-running thoughts for the week here...
“We have to go back to 2012 for the last time a third-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win at Harbour Town and we’ve seen some unbelievable off-the-pace victories here.”
11:40 - June 20, 2020
With very little wind, and in different conditions to those ordinarily encountered in April, Harbour Town is yielding some super low scores. As many as six players shot eight-under-par 63s on Moving Day yesterday and the RBC Heritage is absolutely wide open. There are 15 players within two of the lead and 35 players within five.
In both 2015 and 2018, seven players were sitting at 10-under-par or better through 54 holes - this year there are 35 players at -10 or better and four men have already got to 15-under-par. That's as many that had previously done so in the tournament's entire history - dating all the way back to 1969! Here's the top of the leaderboard with prices to back at 11:35.
Webb Simpson -15 [5.8]
Tyrrell Hatton -15 [8.0]
Abraham Ancer -15 [8.0]
Ryan Palmer -15 [13.0]
Daniel Berger -14 [13.0]
Joel Dahmen -14 [21.0]
Carlos Ortiz -14 [38.0]
Matthew Fitzpatrick -13 [23.0]
Joaquin Niemann -13 [34.0]
Ian Poulter -13 [34.0]
Sergio Garcia -13 [36.0]
Corey Conners -13 [36.0]
Erik Van Rooyen -13 [40.0]
Michael Thompson -13 [80.0]
Chris Stroud -13 [120.0]
Bryson DeChambeau -12 [22.0]
Brooks Koepka -12 [30.0]
Dustin Johnson -12 [36.0]
-12 and [100.0] bar
As detailed in the In-Play Tactics section of the preview, we have to go back to 2012 for the last time a third round leader or co-leader has gone on to win at Harbour Town and we've seen some unbelievable off-the-pace victories here.
Trailing by two, last year's winner, C.T Pan, was a [34.0] chance at this stage and he was the seventh winner in-a-row to come from at least a couple of strokes adrift and from outside the final pairing. The 2018 winner, Satoshi Kodaira, sat tied for 12th and six shots adrift at this stage and he was a [440.0] chance with a round to go! Brandt Snedeker beat Luke Donald in a playoff in 2011, having also trailed by six after 54 holes, and Stewart Cink, back in 2004, came from an incredible nine shots back to win. This is absolutely wide open so where do we start?
Scrambling has been the most important stat here over the years and it's noticeable that the four tied for the lead, so far this week, rank tied-third (Hatton), ninth (Ancer), 11th (Palmer), and 49th (Simpson) for that stat. Given no leader or co-leader has won in seven years and Webb Simpson's Scrambling stats are as poor as they are, he starts to look an unattractive proposition at less than 5/1.
Sam Ryder, tied for 22nd and four off the lead, is the number one scrambler so far this week, and that makes him worthy of a tiny investment at a massive price but the man currently ranking second is my idea of the biggest danger to the leaders - last week's winner, Daniel Berger.
It's always hard to win back-to-back tournaments but this track was always going to suit Berger and he's maintained his excellent form brilliantly. Of the leading pack, he's the most likely to continue to play well today and although the price is only fair, at 12/1, he's the one that makes most appeal.
A few of my pre-event picks are in with a very slight chance (the best of which being Joaquin Niemann who trails by two) but in addition to Ryder and Berger, I'm going to add two more...
Michael Thompson, who won the Honda Classic in 2013, ranks tied-third for scrambling so far this week and he would be a fantastic winner on Father's Day. He and his wife adopted their second child during the lockdown.
And finally, ranking sixth for Scrambling and just two off the lead, Chris Stroud was just too big to ignore at [120.0].
10:45 - June 20, 2020
Early evening electrical activity caused a delay to Friday's play at the RBC Heritage but they managed to get back out on the course and the second round was completed by all, apart from Nick Watney, who withdrew after round one, feeling unwell...
Rumours had started circulating mid-round that one of the competitors had tested positive for the coronavirus and everyone put two and two together and correctly came up with four. It was indeed Watney that had contracted the virus.
So, what now? It seems we're to carry on as normal but what wasn't crystal clear was the PGA Tour's statement, which appeared to contradict some of the players versions of events. The official line began...
"PGA TOUR member Nick Watney has withdrawn from the RBC Heritage prior to the second round after testing positive for COVID-19. On Friday, prior to arriving at the tournament, he indicated he had symptoms consistent with the illness and after consulting with a physician, was administered a test and found to be positive."
That suggests Watney was tested away from the venue but when interviewed after their rounds, both Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka let it slip that they'd seem Nick at Harbour Town on Friday morning. It doesn't look like the situation has been handled brilliantly if Watney's indicated he had symptoms, yet was still been allowed to travel to the course, but it does look like the show is going to go on so here's the halfway leaderboard with prices to back at 10:40.
Webb Simpson -12 [5.0]
Bryson DeChambeau -11 [4.9]
Corey Conners -11 [16.0]
Matthew Fitzpatrick 10 [15.5]
Ryan Palmer -10 [32.0]
Brooks Koepka -9 [14.5]
-9 and [25.0] bar
Playing together yesterday morning, Webb Simpson and Bryson DeChambeau put on quite a show and if they maintain that momentum, they'll take some beating. They're paired together for the third day in-a-row in the final two-ball and there's a danger the two could keeping towing each other along. Of course. The opposite is also possible, they could both stutter today, and given how hard it is to front run at Harbour Town, that's arguably the most likely outcome.
As detailed in the In-Play tactics section of the preview, winners here have come from some way off the pace so with so many players in contention (21 within four of the lead) caution is still very much advised.
I'm frustrated to see a couple of last weeks picks, Brooks Koepka and Corey Conners, in-the-mix and the presence of Matthew Fitzpatrick, who I fancied quite strongly here last year, is also maddening. Dustin Johnson, who led here with a round to go last year before finishing 28th, is an interesting runner too given he only trails by five, despite having a triple-bogey at the 14th on Thursday and Mexico's Abraham Ancer could be the answer. He hasn't putted very well over the first two days but the rest of his stats are brilliant.
Given the quality of the contenders, and in-particular, how easy it is to win from off the pace here, I'm happy to leave the event alone for now and take another look tomorrow when I'll be either looking to lay the leaders or to back a few from off the pace. The last seven winners have all come from outside the final group on a Sunday so I'm in no rush to fire any more bullets just yet.
09:30 - June 19, 2020
After opening up with seven-under-par 64s, Mark Hubbard and Ian Poulter are tied at the top following the opening round of the RBC Heritage and given three first round leaders or co-leaders have gone on to win in the last 15 years, their records are worth exploring.
Pre-tournament [1000.0] chance, Hubbard, is still a big price but that's perhaps understandable. He's led twice previously after the opening round on the PGA Tour and he went on to finish 27th (2015 Puerto Rico Open) and 35th (2015 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open). He missed eight greens in regulation yesterday but putted incredibly well. Yesterday's round looks like a one-off and he's very hard to fancy.
Poulter had an outstanding record when getting off to a fast start in the early part of his career. Between 2002 and 2011 he led or co-led after round one seven times and he went on to win on five occasions. The first of those five victories came in the 2002 edition of the Italian Open, an event reduced to just three rounds, but even so, that's an incredible strike-rate. He's been pretty poor since 2012 though - leading or co-leading five times after round one but finishing 25th, 42nd, 28th, 25th and 10th. He looks a fair price at around [16.0] but I'm more than happy to swerve him, for today at least...
The three players that have led or co-led after round one and gone on to win at Harbour Town this century - Peter Lonard (2005), Matt Kuchar (2014) and Branden Grace (2016) - all needed to rally after poor second rounds. It's always hard to back up a great opening round and this trio all failed. Lonard and Grace shot 74s in round two and Kuchar 73. Interestingly, of the 30 players this century to lead or co-lead after round one, only three were still in at least a tie for the lead after round two and all three were eventually beaten.
This is not a frontrunners course and as Justin Ray's tweet below demonstrates, even being in the top-ten after round one can't be seen as a big plus.
Average opening round score of last 20 winners at Harbour Town: 68.4. Only two of the last nine winners here were in the top-ten after day one.? Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) June 18, 2020
The old adage of "there's a long way to go" resonates loudly here so I'm more than happy to sit and see what today brings. Of my 12 pre-event picks, four are placed inside the top 16 and ties and I'm glad I had a few pounds on Bryson DeChambeau to save the week given he's tied for 16th and only three off the lead too.
Webb Simpson is the early favourite after an opening six-under-par 65 that could have been at least a couple of strokes lower but he's not a player I'm keen to side with as he often flatters to deceive.
I've had a very small in-play bet on Sebastian Munoz, who sits tied for third, as he was on my far-too-long shortlist before the off and he's still a big price but other than that, I'm leaving the event alone for now.
Bryson DeChambeau @ [19.0] (stakes saver bet only)
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]
Sebastian Munoz @ [70.0]
Daniel Berger @ [13.5]
Michael Thomspon @ [85.0]
Chris Stroud @ [120.0]
Samuel Ryder @ [550.0]
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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