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Congratulations to Danny Willett who won the Masters Tournament with a fabulous display on Sunday and also to his backers of which there were quite a few judging by the response on social media. The World Number 12 played a firm, fiery and for the most part windy Augusta National with a conservative approach which eventually paid huge dividends when Jordan Spieth disintegrated through Amen Corner. He won with a score of even par across the par 5s (that de-bunks many a theory) and amazingly was the only top 5 finisher within the top 10 of the greens in regulation category. That in tandem with some consistent putting eventually delivered the final round 67 which nobody at the top of the leaderboard could respond to. Yet again both the World Number 1 and the defending champion failed to capture the Green Jacket (Tiger Woods in 2002 was the last player to achieve both) and lots of win-only bets went down with golf's top-3 failing to deliver.
Plenty of the Masters field have taken the relatively short journey down to the South Carolina coast for this week's RBC Heritage at the stunning Harbour Town Golf Links. Royal Bank of Canada's sponsorship (RBC) attracts a decent field in the week after The Masters and we should be in for another interesting renewal on a tight course where strategic thinking is key.
This week's other main Tour tournament sees the much warranted return of the classical Valderrama course in Spain - Paul Williams previews the Open de Espana, you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: Harbour Town Golf Links is no typical coastal course, instead I categorise it as a Carolina track - i.e. sharing features with Quail Hollow, Sedgefield and Pinehurst No.2. It also has extremely close form associations with Copperhead in Palm Harbor, Florida, which plays far more as a Carolina-type course than a typical Florida track. Carolina courses are traditionally tree-lined with narrow sight lines from the tee and Harbour Town is a Pete Dye design that also features tiny dome-shaped Bermuda TifEagle greens overseeded with Poa Trivialis that are incredibly difficult to hit in regulation. Hitting fairways is a prerequisite and it's very much a golf course where ball-striking and creative shot-shaping are required to get close to tricky pin positions. Driving accuracy is paramount as errant tee shots aren't so much punished with severe rough but instead blocked out by trees.
Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, South Carolina: Designer: Pete Dye with 2000 re-design; Course Type: Carolina, Technical; Par: 71; Length: 7,099 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 10; Fairways: Bermudagrass overseeded with Paragon Rye; Rough: Bermudagrass overseeded with Paragon Rye 1.25"; Greens: 3,700 sq.ft average TifEagle Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 11 ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 72.29 (+1.29), Difficulty Rank 9 of 49 courses. 2013: 72.04 (+1.04), Difficulty Rank 11 of 43 courses. 2014: 72.04 (+1.04), Rank 9 of 48 courses. 2015: 70.49 (-0.51) Rank 26 of 52 courses.
Harbour Town Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the Harbour Town Golf Links and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on the PGA Tour:
Course Overview: Harbour Town Golf Links is a specialised test that appeals to players who thrive on gnarly TifEagle Bermudagrass putting surfaces and who have a short game to cope with the inevitable missed greens. Undoubtedly a shot-makers course, precision from the tee rather than brute power is the key this week to avoid live oaks, pine trees and strategically placed bunkers. Greens which average only 3,700 sq.ft. are typically dome-shaped (a Dye design trait) and that's a critical point this week because even the very best Ball Strikers will miss 16+ greens over the week so sound scrambling is essential. With wind a factor for the second consecutive week, scoring will be around the levels we saw in 2013 and 2014 making this a technical challenge. Scrambling and putting therefore will be even more of a premium on greens where the unwary struggle to convert from within 15 feet.
Harbour Town Golf Links pretty much plays as tough as the wind conditions which are prevalent. Benign conditions can see plotters reach scores of -18/266 to -20/264. However when the wind blows hard as per 2013, Graeme McDowell won with a winning score of -9/275. Primarily though the same skills-sets are key. Power hitters who have little regard for strategy are at a distinct disadvantage and GIR numbers here are always in the top-7 toughest on the PGA Tour. That's hardly surprising as the Dye design features green complexes which are the smallest on Tour.
At a test where hitting 70% greens in regulation is a tough task, the ability to scramble across the greens missed is absolutely essential - those who struggle to get up and down simply haemorrhage too many bogeys. The TifEagle Bermuda Poa Trivialis greens are also notoriously tricky for short putts from 5 feet and in, especially when the wind blows. Avoid players who struggle with short putts.
Winners: 2015: Jim Furyk (-18); 2014: Matt Kuchar (-11); 2013: Graeme McDowell (-9); 2012: Carl Pettersson (-14); 2011: Brandt Snedeker (-12); 2010: Jim Furyk (-13); 2009: Brian Gay (-20); 2008: Boo Weekley (-15); 2007: Boo Weekley (-14).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for the RBC Heritage that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published RBC Heritage predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Brandt Snedeker (Predictor Number 1) Jason Day, Bill Haas, Kevin Na and Luke Donald.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Waste Management Phoenix Open / Dubai Desert Classic and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Jim Furyk25/1; 2014: Kuchar 18/1; 2013: McDowell 40/1; 2012: Pettersson55/1; 2011: Snedeker 35/1; 2010: Furyk 14/1; 2009: Brian Gay 80/1. Average: 36/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Harbour Town is here. Rain pre-event should leave Harbour Town Golf Links in perfect, receptive condition but the main issue again this week will be wind. A consistent north-easterly will be in-play across all 4 days. Strength-wise think 2013 and 2014 so expect scoring around the -9/275 to -11/273 range which is technical for the PGA Tour.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of The Masters since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how Harbour Town sets up and what specific skills it requires:
Matt Kuchar: "It's so unique, uniquely different, with the tree‑lined fairways, with the ability to basically recall and remember every hole. Every hole stands out. Even though you have a lot of holes that have similar characteristics of just tight on the left side, tight on the right side with trees, they have slight doglegs that make it exciting to play, make it exciting to try to truly play chess around this golf course, and positioning your tee shot in the right spot in the fairway. If it's not, you get to play all sorts of fun recovery shots. If you're off line, it's not that your ball is necessarily in a hazard and you're playing a drop. You find it and have a recovery shot, and you have a play. All the greens are made so that you do have a play. They're basically on the same level as the fairway. They're not perched up with bunkers everywhere, where you're just trying to leave yourself a bunker shot. You can actually run them all up on the greens. They're small greens. If you're on the green, you have a shot at birdie. It's a great layout, a great design, a memorable golf course. And I don't think it necessarily rewards a typical type of player. It's not a short hitter that always wins. You take Davis Love, who's won here more than anybody, and he, in his prime, would have been longer than the longest guy we've got today. He could hit it further than anybody. So you have guys like Davis, that can overpower courses, that play well here. And then you've got guys like myself, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Jim Furyk, as kind of not your power players, that can also play well here."
Graeme McDowell: "You just have to stay really patient. You have to position the ball well at times. You have to be really aware of the wind on this golf course. It's tough to pick them out on the back nine today. There's some really tough shots on this golf course. And you've just got to pick your targets and flight the ball as well as you can. Some good memories and some good visuals for me on this golf course, and it was nice to plug back into some of those and make a few birdies."
Jason Day: "It's an amazing golf course. It really is. It's one of the pretty much old‑school golf courses we get to play on the PGA TOUR. Most courses become more modern, where they're getting really long. And they're getting difficult by length. This course shows that you don't really need length to make a golf course difficult. For me, personally, there's a lot of irons, long irons off the tees and a lot of 4‑woods. I don't believe, obviously with weather, how the weather goes this week will depend on if I'm going to pull the driver out a lot. But just thinking about it, there's only maybe four or five drivers out there. Most of them are pretty much 4‑woods and long irons. So it's difficult. You've got to shape your shots both ways. And the greens are so small, you have to be really sharp with your irons to hit the greens."
Jim Furyk: "I think it's all about working the golf ball. There's a lot of strategy involved. But you have to be able to control the golf ball. You have to hit high shots, low shots, curve it right to left, left to right. If you don't have control of the golf ball you're going to struggle at this golf course. You're not going to skank it around for very long, and eventually you're going to be in trouble. It's about hitting fairways, but a lot of times it's about hitting the proper side of the fairway, and that may depend on day to day, with the pin placements. Nine is a good example and 11 is a good example. If you don't hit the right side of the fairway, you have to carve a shot around trees and hit it low or hit it high or hit it around branches. It's actually a very fun golf course to play."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Harbour Town is undoubtedly a course where patience, experience and guile is rewarded. Played traditionally the week after Augusta (apart from 2011 when TPC San Antonio was played the week in between), it won't surprise you that the majority of recent champions played down the road in Georgia at The Masters prior to triumphing here namely Jim Furyk (twice), Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell, Brandt Snedeker (he'd also finished 4th the week before at TPC San Antonio) and Boo Weekley who successfully defended. Two exceptions to that trend come in the form of Brian Gay (2009) and Carl Pettersson (2012) - again experienced professionals who both have a good record on tight par 70s.
For those looking for Pete Dye course specialists check out results at Stadium Course, TPC Sawgrass (The Players), TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic of New Orleans), Whistling Straits (2010 and 2015 PGA Championship), the Ocean Course - Kiawah Island (2012 PGA Championship) and Crooked Stick (2012 BMW Championship). This year's CareerBuilder Challenge was hosted for 36 holes at PGA West's Dye designed Stadium Course and the web.com Tour Championship has been hosted at the Dye's Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass since 2013. The Jacksonville Open was also hosted there from 2010-2012 featuring top-5 finishes from Kyle Reifers (2010), David Lingmerth (2011), Danny Lee (2011), Russell Henley (2012) and Ben Martin (2012).
Another strong trend is the fact that all winners here going back to 2006 (Aaron Baddeley) had at least a single Top 12 on Bermudagrass greens in the season prior to placing the Harbour Town Plaid Jacket on their shoulders. Course form-wise, top-4 finishes on the TifEagle Bermudagrass greens at coastal Kapalua seem to be a huge indicator and that link to TifEagle performances should not be overlooked.
Harbour Town shares the exact same green grass mix as Copperhead and, as mentioned before, the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook shares Carolina course overtures in its set-up. 6 of the 7 winners from 2009 onwards had all finished in the Top 10 around Copperhead prior to winning here with Graeme McDowell (the exception) never having played at the Valspar Championship until this year. Broadening the TifEagle link out slightly and excellent performances on the pure TifEagle greens featured at Kapalua, PGA National and Doral link in perfectly as well.
Bookmaker Offers. A number of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms again this week plus there's a couple of other offers out there:
My final RBC Heritage tips are as follows:
Team RBC want sponsored players to attend their 2 tournaments each year and, thanks to Jason Day's participation, grabbing Brandt Snedeker at 20/1 this week suits me just fine. Predictor Model No. 1 Snedeker's form on Bermudagrass greens over the past few months has been stunning: the winner of the Franklin Templeton Shoot Out with Jason Dufner last December then went on to finish 3rd at Kapalua (TifEagle Bermudagrass) and 2nd at Waialae. A visit to his beloved Torrey Pines then saw Snedeker play the round of his life and most likely the round of 2016 in tough windy conditions where he shot an amazing 69 the likes of which was a privilege to watch (despite being on leader Jimmy Walker). So at a course where multiple winners abound - Hale Irwin 3 times, Davis Love III 5 times, Stewart Cink, Boo Weekley and Jim Furyk all twice - Sneds makes a massive amount of sense this week.
Florida has never been the happiest of hunting grounds for Brandt, so it was interesting to see him fire a closing round 67 at Bay Hill (TifEagle Bermudagrass) a few weeks ago. He then went on to defeat Schwartzel, Hoffman and Danny Lee on TifEagle Bermudagrass greens at the Dell Match Play before being ousted 3&2 by eventual winner Jason Day. An eventual 10th last week at Augusta was Brandt's eighth Major top-10 and a couple of his wins (here in 2011 and Glen Abbey 2013) have come off the back of strong Major performances immediately beforehand.
On one of the tightest tracks on the PGA Tour and with gusting winds forecast for the whole tournament, I'm looking for experienced players this week who have an aptitude to plot their way around the course and who have a short game to minimise the impact of the inevitable missed greens. Zach Johnson won the 2015 Open Championship in breezy conditions and although St Andrews is a polar opposite to Harbour Town Golf Links, he won the title very much against the odds with his mix of accurate driving and top-notch short game skills defeating the brute power of Oosthuizen, Leishman and Day. 2016 has seen Zach switch to PXG clubs and naturally such a change has seen the St Simons Island resident have to invest plenty of his resources in the new clubs, much to the detriment of his razor-sharp putting. But with the PXG clubs now bedded in (he sits 10th in my rolling 10-week Greens in Regulation tracker), there have been signs of late that the World Number 17 is building momentum with the putter and that makes him a dangerous proposition on a course where he finished 6th the week after winning at Augusta in 2007 and 2nd in 2012.
5th at Bay Hill in mid-March featured a strong tee-to-green game and equally as importantly a putter that fired a +1.443 Strokes Gained Putting display (5th in that category) on the pure TifEagle Bermudagrass green complexes. A week later in Austin, Texas at the WGC Dell Match Play in windy conditions and again on TifEagle Bermudagrass greens, ZJ defeated Fraser, Kaymer and Lowry to win Group 14 and was only defeated 1up by eventual finalist Rory McIlroy. Last week Johnson led the very early going at Augusta National, but a grouping with Rickie Fowler and amateur Cheng Jin was a step too far and he missed the cut. However on the basis that 3 of the last 6 winners here have driven down to the Carolina coast early from Augusta, it's not putting me off a player who has obvious chances this week.
Lee Westwood put his hand up for inclusion in Darren Clarke's Ryder Cup team last week at Augusta and with Matthew Fitzpatrick (who is more than worthy of consideration this week on what he describes as his favourite course), Andy Sullivan, Thomas Pieters and Rafael Cabrera-Bello currently inside the qualification spots, core team members such as Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell need to up their games as Captain Clarke only has 3 picks.
Graeme McDowell played beautifully at the close of 2015 to win at El Camaleon and finish 3rd behind Kevin Kisner at Sea Island and those results have placed him in the qualification frame. 2016 though has been a huge disappointment apart from a strong 5th at the windswept PGA National and that's the point with G-Mac in recent years. He perennially performs nowadays at short, technical tracks where wind is often very much in play - think Pebble Beach, PGA National, Le Golf National, Fota Island and the trickier Open Championship venues. He loves the coast and strong finishes tend to come with very little lead-in form. So 1st (2013), 23rd (2014) and 26th here 12 months ago makes for positive reading at Harbour Town. With the wind set to play a role in proceedings, G-Mac makes real sense this week.
Our predictions for the 2017 RBC Heritage will be published here on the Tuesday before the event.
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel