With the start of the RBC Heritage just four days removed from Masters Sunday, it is no real surprise that a second-rate field assembles at Harbour Town, despite it being such an eye-catching design. Even with the biggest names taking the week off, there are still some great players teeing it up this week, several of whom are regulars at this event.
Tyrrell Hatton (#16) is the highest ranked player in the field this week, although this is his first start here at Harbour Town.
Just behind Hatton in the rankings however is Matt Kuchar (#17) who is making his 11th consecutive start at this event. Kuchar won the 2014 renewal and in the last three years has finished 1-5-9, so he will be full of confidence, coming off the back of his 4th place finish at Augusta this past weekend. The PGA Tour veteran made a hole-in-one at the 16th on Sunday, leading to the familiar echoes of “KUCHHHHHHHH” ringing around Augusta.
Another player who to is making his 11th consecutive start here is Brandt Snedeker, and just like Kuchar also has a win to his name round this course. Snedeker won here in 2011, but a 17th place finish the following year is his best finish since. Outside of his win, form figures of 47-16-53-MC-MC-17-59-74-26-MC around this Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus design suggests Snedeker will need to be at his very best to replicate his 2011 success.
Hatton and Kuchar are the only two players from the World’s top-20 teeing it up this week, but the likes of Snedeker, Bill Haas, Marc Leishman and Matthew Fitzpatrick will ensure there is still plenty of interest in the event.
Another player sure to be in the spotlight is defending champion, Branden Grace who in two starts at Harbour Town has posted a 7th and a win. The South African posted a first round 76 at Augusta last week, and it looked as though Grace was heading for his fourth consecutive missed cut at the Masters in just five starts. Instead, Grace progressively improved throughout the week, going 74-71-70 which was good enough for a T27 finish.
While the highest ranked players in the World aren’t here, four of the last five PGA Tour winners are as, Adam Hadwin, D.A. Points, Leishman and Russell Henley all make the trip.
The Course and what it will take to win
Harbour Town Golf Links, 7099 yards, Par 71
You have only got to look at the previous winners, and those that excel here every year to know that distance off the tee is a non-factor and given the course is 7,100 yards that should be no surprise.
Instead important factors to consider include Greens in Regulation, Scrambling and those that can handle windy conditions.
It is advantageous to find the fairway off the tee, but not imperative, however hitting these small Bermuda greens is key. If these small targets are missed, the play around the greens will need to be top notch, making the combination of Greens in Regulation and Scrambling a huge factor.
The rankings of the last five winners of this event in both Greens in Regulation and Scrambling for the week can be found below:
Branden Grace: Greens in Regulation – 14th Scrambling – 3rd
Jim Furyk: Greens in Regulation – 10th Scrambling – 1st
Matt Kuchar: Greens in Regulation – 1st Scrambling – 11th
Graeme McDowell: Greens in Regulation – 7th Scrambling – 1st
Carl Pettersson: Greens in Regulation – 1st Scrambling – 21st
Both Kuchar and Pettersson got away with ranking outside the top-10 for Scrambling thanks to leading the field in greens hit, whereas both Grace and Furyk relied on getting up and down after missing their share of greens. McDowell did both exceptionally well on the week he won, being the only one of the last five winners to rank inside the top-10 for both.
The windy conditions also need to be noted. If you are hitting plenty of greens over the course of the season that’s great, but doing so in blustery conditions is a whole different test altogether, so look for a players’ stats in the wind.
Those that played well at the RSM Classic (formerly the McGladrey Classic) and the Sony Open earlier in the season and in previous years should like this test, as both events feature windy conditions and the former is played at the nearby, Seaside Course, Sea Island. The Honda Classic also features strong winds at times, but PGA National is a different sort of test to this course.
With the RSM Classic a relatively new event (inaugural staging in 2010) we are yet to see a player win at both courses, but a few have played well at both to support the theory. Most recently, Kevin Kisner won the 2015 RSM Classic, just months after losing in a play-off here to Jim Furyk.
Graeme McDowell who finished 3rd behind Kisner at the 2015 RSM Classic is also a former winner of this event.
Furyk who now has two wins here, also finished T6 in this season’s RSM Classic.
Pete Dye is also responsible for three of the TPC Courses; Sawgrass, River Highlands and Louisiana, and whilst these courses don’t directly correlate, courses by the same designer often have similar features throughout. Kuchar has won the Players Championship at Sawgrass as well as around here, showing his affinity with Dye layouts.
Another event to look at for Pete Dye form is the CareerBuilder Challenge, as Dye was the architect behind one of the three courses used there, PGA West. I wouldn’t get too hung up on the link between these events though, as the CareerBuilder is a birdie-fest with all three courses playing as Par 72’s, whereas this week’s course is a Par 71. You do get the chance to go low round Harbour Town, but a lot depends on the weather, which is not a factor at the CareerBuilder.
With all this in mind, here are my picks for the 2017 RBC Heritage.
Matthew Fitzpatrick 35/1 (Betfred 1-5 1/4 odds) or 33/1 (StanJames 1-6 1/4 odds) 1pt e/w:
Matt Fitzpatrick is an extremely talented golfer, who will be looking to emulate the success of his countrymen before him. He looks set for a bright future, but already he is making moves, with three European Tour wins already to his name.
Fitzpatrick really announced himself on the world stage at the Masters last year, where he finished T7, just two years removed from his debut at the course as an amateur.
One week after that debut at Augusta he was invited here, and he finished T23 when still an amateur. Despite missing the cut this time last year, I feel Fitzpatrick has an excellent chance to make that splash on the PGA Tour that many are expecting.
His putting is a strength of his, just like his fellow countrymen, Luke Donald who has a brilliant track record here at Harbour Town. Fitzpatrick currently ranks T4 in Strokes-Gained: Putting, slightly ahead of Donald in 8th. I mention Donald because he graduated from Northwestern University, where Fitzpatrick enrolled for just one semester, and many have drawn comparisons between the two since the start of Fitzpatrick’s career. Donald has forged a mighty fine career for himself, reaching World No.1 in 2011 and winning 16 times as a professional. Donald’s most recent win came in Japan back in 2013, and whilst he has not won in America since 2012, Fitzpatrick can certainly draw inspiration from his career so far.
Fitzpatrick tweeted Monday evening saying “Now onto my favourite week of the year @RBC_Heritage”. Whether it be the fact he finished so well here as an amateur three years ago or just the fact they invited him during his time as amateur, who knows, but it can only be a positive that he speaks so highly of the event.
I am happy to discount the missed cut last year as he performed so well on Masters Sunday that he probably struggled to get going again when the following Thursday came around. He shot 72-73 to miss the cut last year, so it was hardly disastrous and I expect him to perform a lot better this time around. It was a lot less dramatic Sunday for him at Augusta last week, as he was already well out of contention after going 78-73 on Friday and Saturday. He shot 70 on Sunday to save face and ensure another decent, if unspectacular week at the Masters.
After starting so brightly last week, Fitzpatrick will naturally be disappointed with his 32nd place finish at Augusta, but he can put that all behind him with a win here. His 2017 highlights include a T5 finish in Dubai, a T16 in the WGC-Mexico and a T13 at Bay Hill, so he has definitely shown flashes of form since the turn of the year. He ended 2016 on a high with a win at the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour’s season-ending event, and his 2017 has started in promising fashion. A win here would further elevate his status in the game, and it looks to be a great event for him to do so.
Luke List 80/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Luke List looks exceptional value this week, as he looks to build on his 3rd place finish in Houston two weeks ago.
List ranks above average in both Greens in Regulation (33rd) and Scrambling (36th) on the PGA Tour this season and has some very good finishes as a result.
He opened up his 2016/17 PGA Tour campaign with seven straight made cuts, including a 2nd, a 7th and a further three top-15 finishes.
A missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open was then the first of three straight, but he has reversed fortunes once again, posting his second best performance of the season in Houston. That 3rd in Houston was his 4th straight cut made, so again he looks in impressive form. A T17 at Bay Hill in that time is certainly not to be sniffed at either, given the quality of the field.
It looks to be a matter of when, not if List is going to win on the PGA Tour and despite being known for his distance off the tee, he has played some of his best golf at the correlating courses highlighted.
T13 finishes at both the RSM Classic and the Sony Open earlier on this season prove he likes these short, wind-affected courses and hopefully he will continue his form on a similar layout this week.
Last season, List’s two best finishes of the season came at the CareerBuilder Challenge (T6), where two of the three courses are Pete Dye designs and the Honda Classic (T10) which is also well known for its windy conditions.
If List is going to get off the mark on the PGA Tour anytime soon, he is going to want to ride these patches of form he is going through, and he can go again after that T3 finish two weeks ago.
A T39 finish here last year was his first full week at Harbour Town, after withdrawing in 2013, where his 36-hole score of +5 would have missed the cut anyway. He can build on that showing last season, where a pair of 68’s in the 2nd and 4th rounds proved he has the game for this event. A third round 78 put to bed any chances he would have had of cracking the top-10, but he is in good form heading into this week so I am hopeful he can keep those costly rounds of his card.
Total Points Staked this week: 4
Profit/Loss for 2017: -46