Despite the dust still settling on arguably the greatest major win in the history of golf, the show must go on and this week the PGA Tour heads to Harbour Town for the RBC Heritage.
No Golf fan will ever forget the events that unfolded at the 83rd Masters, as Tiger Woods ended his baron run of 11 years without a major title. Back injuries, surgeries and off-course issues have interrupted much of the last decade for Woods but on Sunday he proved he is edging towards his brilliant best. The fact that there’s still another level for him to hit before we could truly say he’s back to his best highlights just how good he was in his prime and we are all just lucky to see him at the level he has shown in the last year.
Onto this week then and whilst Woods is not in the field, the RBC Heritage has done well to comprise a very strong field for this event, despite it coming a week after the first major of the year. Some of the players in the field are no doubt here because of their contractual obligation to RBC, namely Dustin Johnson but there are others that have made the trip regardless.
Johnson is the undoubted favourite here, as the World No.1 so often is and whilst he missed the cut in both 2008 and 2009, Johnson returned last year to finish in a tie for 16th and wasn’t far away from contending at all. Joining him is Bryson DeChambeau who has a 3rd and a 4th to his name in three starts here, as well as Francesco Molinari who was cruelly denied last week. Xander Schauffele returns after another brilliant showing in a major championship, as the former Rookie of the Year finished in a tie for 2nd with Johnson and Brooks Koepka, as does Patrick Cantlay who has two top-7 finishes here and temporarily held the lead late on last week, only to bogey two of his last three holes.
Former winners Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar play this week as do Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth and WGC Match Play winner, Kevin Kisner, making this a very strong field.
The Course and what it will take to win
Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, 7,099 Yards, Par 71
Whilst there are narrower fairways on Tour than here at Harbour Town, finding the right angle of attack for these greens is incredibly important, so although you won’t have to focus on those leading the season-long Driving Accuracy stats, the winner will have to find the short stuff more often than not. I say it is less important to look at the season-long stats because the longer and perhaps less accurate hitters have the opportunity to club down off the tee here.
SG: Approach is always a good stat to ponder each week as we can get a good idea of who is striking their irons and wedges well but it will be particularly important here as the players go into these tough to hit greens. These are some of the smallest greens on Tour so whilst they will be harder to hit, making Scrambling and SG: Around-the-Green big factors to consider, should you find the putting surface in the right number here you are going to have a good look at birdie.
Being a Pete Dye design, form on his courses will be worth looking at but do not get too hung up on all of them as this is a shorter, more demanding test. Form at the RSM Classic which is another coastal course just down the road from here will also be worth considering and lastly courses where driver off the tee is far from necessary will be good pointers as that will certainly be the case here.
As such form at these events are worth consideration:
RSM Classic (Sea Island)
Fort Worth Invitational (Colonial CC)
Sony Open (Waialae CC)
Valspar Championship (Innisbrook)
Wyndham Championship (Sedgefield CC)
Players Championship (TPC Sawgrass)
Jim Furyk 33/1 (Generally available – SkyBet 8 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
He would have been gutted to miss the Masters last week, especially given his recent form but Jim Furyk will be comforted by a return to his favourite course on Tour.
Furyk loves the setup here at Hilton Head, winning twice since 2010 and posting another two top-8 finishes in that span. The last couple of years have been uncharacteristically poor for him here, but the pressures that come with Ryder Cup captaincy meant his own game took a back seat.
1st in Driving Accuracy, 6th in Scrambling and Proximity to the Hole and 10th in SG: Approach, Furyk is clearly striking the ball as well as ever and his game is in great shape so far this season and that has yielded some positive results. 2nd at the Players, 6th at the Mayakoba and 9th at the Honda Classic are his best three efforts so far, and he has finished T23 and T18 in his last two stroke play events, with the latter coming at the Valspar. He had a chance to finish a lot better at Copperhead but a final round 74 cost him a fourth top-10 of the season.
It feels like Furyk will grab another PGA Tour win before riding into the sunset that is the Champions Tour and he’s got a couple of seasons to find it. This course probably provides him with the best chance of doing so, given the field-levelling nature of this test, and at 33/1 I am happy to back him in his current form.
Ryan Moore 50/1 (SkyBet 8 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
An in-form Ryan Moore is a bad sign for the rest of the field and this week he tees it up on a course that should suit his strengths.
He’s a superb iron player and currently ranks 22nd in SG: Approach, despite an inconsistent start to the season. A 2nd place finish at his season-opener, the Safeway Open was followed by just one top-20 in his next six starts.
That T20 finish came at the Players and he has since followed that up with a 3rd at the Valero Texas Open, as he looked to book the last spot in the Masters. Stupendous play from Monday Qualifier, Corey Conners denied him that week, but he can build on a successful debut here 12 months ago and claim his sixth PGA Tour victory.
He finished 16th last year, largely thanks to hitting the 2nd most greens and fairways and if he can improve his short game ever so slightly this week he has to have a great chance. This sort of test clearly suits his game, as we have seen from his 2009 victory at the Wyndham Championship and his 3rd place finish at the Valspar Championship in 2016.
If he misses too many greens this week his 105th place ranking in Scrambling will be a concern but given the way he strikes the ball you have to think he’ll avoid putting too much pressure on that area of his game, whilst in his current rich vein of form.
A second round 74 at the Players stopped him in his tracks that week, but he was brilliant for the rest of the week, and he was consistently good when 3rd last time out in Texas so you have to think he’ll go well here after watching the Masters from home last week. 50/1 about a proven winner a week after a lot of the favourites could well be dealing with a Masters hangover seems more than fair.
Justin Harding 100/1 (Unibet 6 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
In Justin Harding we are looking at a player that has revitalised his career, after a couple of tough years and he has taken his game to a whole new level this season.
He won on the Sunshine Tour in each of his first three seasons (2010, 2011, and 2012) before going three years without victory. Wins in 2015 and 2016 again in his home country boosted the confidence and since then his career has been on a sharp upwards trajectory.
Since this time last year, Harding has won five times, across three separate Tours (2 x Sunshine, 2 x Asia, 1 x European) with his most recent at the Qatar Masters his biggest. Aside from his win in Qatar it has been a very successful season for the South African who can also boast a 2nd (a week later in Kenya) and two more 4th place finishes.
It is perhaps his performances in stronger company that offer the biggest reason for optimism though as he backed up his T7 finish in Dubai, where DeChambeau won with a T11 finish in Saudi Arabia, where Dustin Johnson won and also finished T12 at Augusta last week. He was at the top of the leaderboard all week on his first Masters appearance which is no small feat and he’ll take confidence from that and his two group victories against Luke List and Matthew Fitzpatrick at the Match Play into this week.
He ranks 51st in SG: Approach on the European Tour, with a lot of those above him playing considerably less rounds, but he also ranks 3rd in Scrambling and 5th in SG: Around the Green, so he clearly has the short game to compete here. He struck the ball well enough at Augusta, finding the right portion of the tough greens more often than not and also led the field in Putting Average, so if he can carry that form over to this event, he must have a great chance.
Compatriot Branden Grace won here three years ago and Russell Knox was just behind him that week and these are two players that have made the step up from European to PGA Tour that Harding will hope to do himself. 100/1 for him to keep the good times rolling felt big enough to me, as the 33-year-old looks to further his career again.
Total points staked this week: 6
Profit/Loss for 2019: -74.1