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Congratulations to Patrick Reed backers from last week, I know there were masses of you judging by our Social Media channels. Overall Reed more than deserved his first Major Championship, playing really well across the tricky opening 36 holes where many of the world's elite blew their chances. In a trend-breaking renewal, Reed was nowhere near the top of the bogey avoidance or greens in regulation charts, instead blowing the opposition away with his putting and par-4/par-5 scoring. 2 Eagles and 22 Birdies were ultimately too much for the rest of the field and that 33% Birdie or Better conversion number has only been bettered by Jordan Spieth when he broke the Masters scoring record in 2015.
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.
We're back to regular European and PGA Tour action this week so will take this opportunity to highlight Golf Betting System's unique guide outlining which online bookmakers offer the very best golf each-way terms. Covering both the PGA Tour and European Tour, the results including March are in with Coral leading the way for each-way places provided, ahead of Betfair Sportsbook and Paddy Power. The full analysis, which we update monthly, is valuable insight for all golf punters and is well worth a read here.
Over on the European Tour, 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 at Innisbrook Resort in 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 (putting surfaces were re-laid for the 2016 renewal) that are incredibly difficult to hit in regulation. Hitting fairways is an advantage to minimise approach shots being blocked by trees, and it's very much a golf course where ball-striking and creative shot-shaping are required to get close to tricky pin positions.
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: Celebration Bermudagrass; Rough: Celebration Bermudagrass 1.25"; Greens: 3,700 sq.ft average TifEagle Bermudagrass; 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. 2016: 72.29 (+1.29), Rank 8 of 50 courses. 2017: 70.68 (-0.32), Rank of 29 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Harbour Town and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Pete Dye designs include:
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 at least 18 greens over the week, so sound scrambling is essential. Harbour Town Golf Links pretty much plays as tough as the wind conditions dictate - benign and soft course conditions in the past have seen plotters reach scores of -18/266 to -20/264. If it's firm and windy, sub -10/274 can suffice.
With fresh TifEagle Bermudagrass putting surfaces laid for 2016, which have been particularly firm since their introduction, it'll be interesting to see how they've settled a further 12 months down the line. Primarily though the same skills-sets are key: power hitters who have little regard for strategy are at a distinct disadvantage and Greens in Regulation numbers here are always in the top 10 toughest on the PGA Tour, even when the wind doesn't blow as per 2015. 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 new TifEagle Bermudagrass greens are also tricky for putts from 10-15 feet, making another key requirement the ability to hit the ball close on approaches. The course though rewards all-round ability. Look for those who can take advantage of scoreable conditions across both the par-4s and the par-5s. Players have plenty of opportunities around Harbour Town with wedge in hand.
Winners: 2017: Wesley Bryan (-13); 2016: Branden Grace (-9); 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 this week's event 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. NEW! Combined Current and Course Form is now available here.
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Brian Harman, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey, Adam Hadwin, Emiliano Grillo, Cameron Smith, Kevin Streelman and Matt Kuchar.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Waste Management Phoenix Open / Maybank Championship and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2017: Bryan 80/1; 2016: Grace 40/1; 2015: Jim Furyk 25/1; 2014: Kuchar 18/1; 2013: McDowell 40/1; 2012: Pettersson 55/1; 2011: Snedeker 35/1; 2010: Furyk 14/1; Average: 38/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 41/1. For a full summary of winner's odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.
2017: Thursday: Sunny with a high of 75. Light and variable wind. Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 77. Light and variable wind. Saturday: Sunny with a high of 73. Wind ESE 5-10 mph. Sunday: Sunny with a high of 78. Wind SSE 4-8 mph.
2016: Thursday: Mostly cloudy and windy. High of 64. Wind NE at 15-20 mph, gusting to 30. Friday: Mostly cloudy and windy with occasional showers. Temperatures in the low 60s. NE wind at 15-20 mph, gusts to 35. Saturday: Mostly sunny. High of 68. Wind ENE at 10-15 mph, gusting to 20. Sunday: Sunny and warm with high of 70. NE wind at 10-15 mph, gusting to 25.
2015: Thursday: Cloudy, breezy and cool. High of 69. Wind NE at 10-15 mph, gusting to 20 mph. Friday: Cloudy. High of 69. Wind NE at 6-12 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy. High of 78. Wind SSE at 5-10 mph. Sunday: Morning showers turned to some periods of sunshine. High of 78. Wind SSE at 7-12 mph.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Hilton Head, South Carolina, is here. The players well be greeted by a lush course, with rain hitting Harbour Town Golf Links across the weekend, with more rain forecast on Tuesday. Thursday and Friday looks pretty ideal with a lush course, warm enough conditions and light breeze. Wind picks up on Saturday likely gusting 20mph, but Sunday could be very tough. Wind averaging 20 mph and gusting higher, rain and likely thunderstorms could present problems for players and tournament officials alike.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 8 winners of the RBC Heritage since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Let's take a view from players as to how Bay Hill sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Wesley Bryan: "I mean this is one of the best golf courses that we're going to play all year. A lot of the guys rave about it because you have to work the ball both ways off the tee. You have to work the ball both ways going into the green. You have to miss it in the right spots around the green to have a chance. And it just one of the only courses on Tour where you'll see that you have to play every single shot in your bag. And I love it. I'm not a super technical guy, so the guy that kind of imagines shots going both ways. I work the ball probably a little more than the average guy out here. This is a course when I looked at the schedule starting off that this is one of the places I thought that I had the best chance to contend at. And I guess after all the dust settled my intuition was correct."
Branden Grace: "I like this place. It's completely different. It's short and fiddly. Obviously the winds do defend here. And there's a couple of shots that I've got up my sleeve, that I like hitting, that I grew up hitting and I think it goes well with this place. It's one of those golf courses that suits my eye. I grew up playing in the wind and I grew up playing fiddly courses like this. I would think this is a bit more of a ball-striker's golf course. It doesn't matter if you miss a couple of fairways, a couple of greens, you can get your way around it. I just like coming back to this place. I have spoken to Ernie in the past about this event. And he thought it's one that's really going to suit my eye. It reminds me a little bit of Fancourt Links back home, because it's linksy. You really have to see your thoughts. You have to hit a couple of different shots, not shots that you hit often."
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 8 RBC Heritage winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
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 Branden Grace, 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. Three exceptions to that trend come in the form of Brian Gay (2009), Carl Pettersson (2012) and last year's winner Wesley Bryan. Gay and Pettersson were experienced professionals who both have a good record on tight Par 70s. Wesley Bryan was both a Tour and tournament rookie who many, despite a great start on the PGA Tour, discarded due to his lack of course experience. Unfortunately few had read this article prior to his victory!
Winner's Association - Finish at Previous Masters: 2017: Wesley Bryan - DNP; 2016: Branden Grace - MC; 2015: Jim Furyk - MC; 2014: Matt Kuchar - 5th; 2013: Graeme McDowell - MC; 2012: Carl Pettersson - DNP; 2011: Brandt Snedeker - 15th; 2010: Jim Furyk - MC; 2009: Brian Gay - DNP; 2008: Boo Weekley - 19th.
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 5 finishes on the TifEagle Bermudagrass greens at coastal Kapalua seem to be a huge indicator and that link to TifEagle Bermudagrass performances shouldn't be overlooked be that on the PGA Tour or the European Tour.
Harbour Town shares TifEagle Bermudagrass grass greens as Copperhead and, as mentioned before, the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook shares Carolina course overtures in its setup. 7 of the 9 winners from 2009 onwards had all finished in the top 10 around Copperhead prior to winning here. Broadening the TifEagle link out slightly, excellent performances on the pure TifEagle greens featured at Kapalua, PGA National, Doral and Bay Hill (from 2016 onwards) link in perfectly as well.
My selections are as follows:
Brian Harman has a decent enough record here and we know that the 33/1-40/1 price point is a sweet spot for previous RBC Heritage winners. 3rd at Kapalua and 4th at Waialae (we were on board) at the very start of the year highlights a player who's comfortable on Bermudagrass greens and he also managed to escape from his WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play group in Austin last month, beating no less than Rory McIlroy. Austin Country Club features TifEagle Bermudagrass and is a Pete Dye design and Brian has a very strong record as a rule across Dye designs. 3rd at PGA West (2017) which features the TPC Stadium Course, 8th (2015) at TPC Sawgrass and 7th (2014) and 9th (2017) here at Harbour Town Golf Links highlight a player who clearly goes well on Pete Dye tracks and he was even 13th in 2016 at Crooked Stick, which at just under 7,600 yards is a little on the long side for the St. Simons Island, Georgia resident who was born just up the coast in Savannah. Instead the 31 year-old thrives on shorter tests. Both of his PGA Tour victories at Deere Run (2014) and Eagle Point (2016) came on sub-7,400 yard set-ups. Brian knows this course very well, has 2 top 10s across 8 appearances and he also played masses of successful junior golf here at The Sea Pines Junior Heritage. There's also a U.S. Open theme that winners here from 2010-2016 all have - so Harman's 2nd at Erin Hills last year ticks that box nicely. He loves this tournament and will be 100% focussed to land the title this week and take a huge leap towards Ryder Cup qualification. Result: T23
I think Adam Hadwin is progressing nicely at the moment and he's added to my RBC Heritage team. On a course where most of the battle is tee-to-green, the Canadian sits 23rd in Strokes Gained Approach, 7th in Strokes Gained Around the Green and 22nd in Strokes Gained Tee to Green. He also sits 2nd in my 10-week Greens in Regulation tracker. 24th last week at Augusta was Hadwin's best ever Major Championship finish and he's bound to take heart from a performance where he was 4th after 18 holes. However I don't see last week as a flash in the pan for the Canadian who's based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Comfortable moving the ball both ways, it's worth remembering that he captured his first PGA Tour title last year at Copperhead. That came after finishing 2nd at PGA West - a result he backed-up with 3rd place this year. Naturally the CareerBuilder features the Dye-designed TPC Stadium course so we know his game shapes up well to the rigours that Dye throws at players. Since his 2017 win, 5th at Firestone showed he can mix it with the very best and after a sluggish end to 2017 which was probably down to fatigue, Adam is certainly now on an upward trajectory. The aforementioned 3rd in California has been followed by 9th in the WGC in Mexico, 12th when defending at Copperhead and he went unbeaten at the WGC Dell Match Play. Form of 30th (2016) and 24th (2017) is progressive here and he's ripe for a contending performance. Result: WD Pre-Event
In this day and age a Webb Simpson win would fit in nicely. Patrick Reed winless for 19 months just captured a Green Jacket. Ian Poulter, never a stroke play winner in the United States, just won the Houston Open - his first worldwide victory since 2012. Paul Casey won the Valspar Championship last month, his first main Tour victory since 2014, and we all know about Phil Mickelson's 5 year drought ending with a cracking victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship the week before Casey's victory. So in Simpson we have a 4-time PGA Tour winner who hasn't won since October 2013. Players undoubtedly take inspiration from others and with Webb arriving in Hilton Head to play one of his favourite courses, he may well feel that this week could be the one. 2nd here in 2013 to G-Mac, Simpson was the 54-hole leader here last year before capitulating like leaders do here on Sunday. However we should be encouraged this week as Webb is in great form and, unlike last year, is putting nicely. 4th at Waialae, 5th at PGA National and 8th at Copperhead all featured positive Strokes Gained Putting displays on Bermudagrass greens. Webb is also driving the ball straight and hitting a level of greens which is making him more than competitive. Throw in his U.S. Open victory at Olympic Club where he defeated Heritage champions Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk into the bargain and you can see that Webb is ticking plenty of boxes. Statistically he's perfect for me this week and after shooting -5/67 on Sunday at Augusta to finish a career-best 20th, he's arriving with momentum. Result: T5
Ryan Moore 1pt EW 60/1 with Get a £/€20 risk-free bet** for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
I will close with Ryan Moore who I think will be the kind of plotter who could thrive at Harbour Town. A player who's traditionally gone from Augusta direct to Quail Hollow in terms of schedule, Ryan now finds himself outside of the OWGR top 50 and needs to move quickly if he wants to avoid having to qualify for the U.S. Open. So the tight, Carolina course set-up at Harbour Town clearly appeals to Moore who hasn't visited these South Carolina shores since 2008 (he missed the cut, then finished 2nd at the Byron Nelson a week later). Logically though the test this week at Harbour Town should suit him down the ground. Accurate off the tee, Ryan sits 20th in Scoring Average and has an exquisite wedge game to boot. Far more comfortable on soft, short golf courses, some cut in the ground should suit this week and it's worth noting that Ryan has been 1st, 3rd and 15th for Greens in Regulation across PGA National, Bay Hill and Augusta in 3 of his last 4 appearances. 28th last week in Augusta was preceded by 5th on the TifEagle Bermudagrass greens of Bay Hill. 10th at the 2009 U.S. Open, Moore has great correlating course form across the likes of Kapalua (TifEagle), Copperhead (TifEagle), Deere Run, (Par 71) Sedgefield (Carolina) and TPC Summerlin (Par 71). Result: T16
First Round Leader Market
I've prepared this selection with the use of our RBC Heritage First Round Leader stats, unique statistics that we construct for every tournament we cover. As regular readers will know, Matt Every is always a player to keep a very close eye on when it comes to courses which feature Bermudagrass greens and he's a streaky sort who, when confident, can score heavily. So it's been interesting to note his up-trend across recent outings. 35th in the Corales Championship featured a 2nd Round -6/66 which was the 3rd best round of the day and powered Every into contention - he eventually finished 35th. The week after in Houston, which has MiniVerde Bermuda base greens, Every shot a Round 1 -5/67 good enough for 10th. A Sunday -6/66 then propelled Matt into an 8th place finish, good enough for a $182,000 pay cheque. So he arrives on the South Carolina coast in buoyant mood and we know he's a dangerous FRL runner. That can be seen when looking across his PGA Tour career, which goes back to his rookie season of 2010. 7 times he's been the leader after Round 1, 3 of which were last year. Indeed we scored last August when we were on-board at 200/1 at the Wyndham Championship. In total, Every has placed in the FRL market 15 times on the PGA Tour and interestingly Harbour Town Golf Links is his most productive course when it comes to Thursdays: from 6 appearances he's been 4th (2012), 5th (2014) and 1st (2015) after 18 holes. With a lush golf course and green light conditions to go low on Thursday, I can definitely see Every in the mix again. Result: Lose
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