Don’t be fooled into thinking though that Harbour Town Golf Links is actual links golf. Far from it, as only 2 of the 18 holes feature the shoreline. Instead let’s categorise Hilton as a “Carolina” course i.e. very much sharing features with Quail Hollow, Sedgefield and the daddy of them all, the Ross designed Pinehurst No2. Very much tree-lined, tight as you like and in the case of the Pete Dye designed Harbour Town, small dome shaped Bermuda greens, which are incredibly difficult to hit in regulation.
It’s an incredibly tight Par 70, where scoring is pretty much dictated by weather conditions, rather than unplayable rough. Expect mid double digit red numbers being the required number for victory, with wind a definite factor on Friday and to a lesser extent Saturday. Naturally I’m looking for a mix of players who are Par 70 and Bermuda specialists who, in a perfect world, have history on Carolina courses and Dye tracks. Players with a record at the tough El Cameleon (home of the Mayakoba Classic) Par 70 in Mexico also bear up to closer scrutiny.
If Pete Dye had a player in mind when he designed Harbour Town it had to be Jim Furyk. I rarely back those at the very top of the market, or defending champions, but this week I can’t oppose Furyk especially at 16/1. He was 14/1 last year when winning in that famous play-off from perennial Par 70 runner up Brian Davis and he’s actually in better overall form in 2011 as opposed to 2010. We remember Furyk’s triumph last year at Golf Betting Tower’s vividly. We’d tipped Big Jim for The Masters where he shot 79 in Round 1 and promptly missed the cut! Naturally he then went on to validate our pick by winning the very next week in South Carolina. Donald ticks all the boxes this week but at 9/1 I’m not convinced on a player that has only won 2 stroke-play events on the PGA Tour, so I’m sticking with Florida resident Furyk, who has twice defended tournaments successfully (TPC Summerlin & Canadian Open) in his career, especially on a course where “southerners” Payne Stewart (was based in Florida), Davis Love III and Boo Weekley have defended in recent history. RESULT: T21
Hilton Head has seen Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Brian Davis contend in recent years and I have a feeling in my water (its not too painful) that fellow Englishman Ian Poulter will go well this week in South Carolina on a course that should suit. Let’s face it (and so should Ian), for such a talented player Poulter has under-achieved in his career, especially in the States where he has an Orlando base. That said, he’s very much a momentum player and his form-line of 27(Masters)/12(Bay Hill)/45/36 shows improvement and a key factor behind my Poulter pick this week. All of Poulter’s appearances in the US this year have been on his favoured Bermuda carpet. He loves fast Bermuda and his 2010 wins in Hong Kong and the World Matchplay @ Dove Mountain plus his 2009 Singapore triumph were on fast Bermuda. The greens at Hilton Head will play 11.5 to 12 on the stimp so will suit Poults allied to the fact he finished 2nd in 2009 at the ultimate fast Bermuda test that is TPC Sawgrass…Pete Dye’s ultimate creation. RESULT: T36
Regular Bamford followers will know that I rate Simpson extremely highly. Where Poults and Furyk offer up winning experience, North Carolina boy Simpson adds a youth and energy to the team and he’ll be motivated to play well in what’s effectively a “home” tournament. Webb is playing the best golf of his 3-year PGA Tour career and his recent 2011 form line of 16-MC-2-24-8-MC-13 is mighty impressive. He also finished 4th at TPC Summerlin in October a tournament he led after 70 holes until he doubled the Par 3 17th which led to Jonathan Byrd’s spectacular “Hole in One” (remember the VCBet promotion this week) play off triumph over Martin Laird. Comfortable on both Bent and Bermuda, Simpson showed that he is becoming comfortable when playing in his home state when he finished 8th at Sedgefield and 14th here last year and anther performance that demands closer inspection was his 8th place finish at Liberty in 2009. Take a few seconds to look at that leaderboard and the calibre/type of players he mixed with on the water front at New Jersey in that tournament and you’ll learn all you’ll need about his chances. RESULT: T14
Hopefully many of you were on Florida resident Marino when he almost won at Bay Hill a few weeks back @ 80/1. Naturally the doubters will again cast their views that Marino “choked” and sure enough he should have won his 1st PGA Tour tournament, but instead opened the door for Martin Laird. However I took note of his fabulous birdie on 18 after just dropping 3 shots on 16 & 17 as real progress in terms of starting to develop the determination and character that every winner needs. He just needs to learn to actually be the guy that is coming from a couple of shots off the pace and is the hunter rather than the hunted and he’ll snare his first big win soon. That win could be this week and at the very least the generous 50/1 price makes him a great each-way shot. Marino’s tournament CV lists superb performances across a vast number of similar Par 70 tracks, like El Cameleon, Waialee, Sedgefield and Colonial and $1,492,000 of prize money so far in 2011, just shows the superb form that this talented Oklahoma born and Virginia educated all-round player is in right now. RESULT: M/C
Not the most inspired of tips I grant you, but Gay is an absolute “Ronseal” player this week at Harbour Town. This final member of the team is sooooooo obvious I won’t go into great detail around the reasoning for his inclusion, but, like Furyk, put simply he has the absolute perfect game for Hilton Head and Bermuda Par 70 golf in general. The former Mayakoba, Stanford and Heritage champion is in great nick in 2011 and I’d be hugely surprised if like Kevin Na last week he takes 16 at any point!?! RESULT: T36
Appleby is as short as 66/1 with Ladbrokes and the Australian ticks an awful lot of boxes this week for a speculative three digit wager. Australians go well at Hilton Head as former winner Baddeley and contenders Peter Lonard and Leaney signify. Appleby, who is based in Orlando Florida, has the coastal experience having grown up close to the world famous Melbourne sand belt stretch of courses where Baddeley also educated himself in his formative golfing development years. Stuart has delivered 1 Top 10 and 4 Top 20 finishes so far in 2011 and despite missing the cut in Augusta a fortnight ago didn’t disgrace himself. The “effective” 7,800 yard format of Augusta never suited him, but the tight Hilton Head Par 70 format, allied to small Bermuda greens will suit Appleby far more this week. He finished 8th here last year after a 13 year absence. RESULT: M/C
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2012 RBC Heritage will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!