The RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head, South Carolina returns to it's traditional post-Augusta spot on the PGA Tour and for me it's one of the hidden gems on the calendar. At 6,973 yards it's a short test that plays as a Par 71, although realistically I categorise it as a Par 70 due to it's tight and technical nature.
Don't be fooled into thinking though that Harbour Town Golf Links is actually a links golf course. 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 Tif Eagle greens that are overseeded with Poa Trivialis, which are incredibly difficult to hit in regulation. It's very much a second shot golf course, where ball striking and creative shot shape is required to get close to tricky pin positions. Driving accuracy is paramount as errant tee shots aren't punished with severe rough, instead blocked by trees.
It's an incredibly tight Par 71, where scoring is pretty much dictated by weather conditions, rather than unplayable rough. Expect a target of mid double digit red numbers being the required number for victory, with wind a definite factor throughout, but particularly on Friday and Saturday. This is a serious 'horses for courses' tournament where mature play is required to contend.
World Number 1 Luke Donald is quite rightly the clear favourite this week and in my mind he has a real shot at winning his 2nd tournament in 3 attempts on his favoured Bermuda carpet this week. There is also absolutely no doubt that Bodog are dominating the RBC Heritage betting market this week especially as they are continuing to pay out 6 places Each Way. On top of that their risk-free account opening proposition is perfect for covering Luke off this week. Open an account and they will give you a no risk-free £10 bet which is refunded into your account as a bonus if your bet doesn't pay out. So for new golf punters place a £10 win bet on Luke and a victory returns £70 at current prices. If the Hemel Hempstead boy doesn't triumph you get the £10 back to use on another bet. Click here for full details and bonus rollover requirements.
Our very own Paul Williams highlighted Jim last week as a great Top 20 selection at 2/1 and the Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida resident duly obliged with a decent 11th place finish at Augusta. ANGC is about as 'alien' as it get's for Mr Furyk as the effective 7,800 yard course length created to keep scoring relatively high renders Jim's 275 yard driving game uncompetitive. So 11th last week puts me on red alert for Harbour Town which suits Furyk absolutely perfectly. 2012 has seen a rejuvenated Furyk play somewhere close to his consistent best with recent form being 11-11(Bay Hill)-2(Copperhead)-MC-11(Riviera). The only thing that's missing is his first victory since East Lake in 2010 and a win here in South Carolina on a course that has yielded 1st (10), 2nd (05 & 06) and a 4th (08) is a distinct possibility this week, especially when you consider the mental frame of mind Jim is likely to be in right now. Furyk currently sits 46th in the World Golf Rankings and in 19th spot in terms of US Ryder Cup qualification. So his recent up-swing in form is no real surprise to this commentator - after all player motivation is always key and Furyk will do all in his power to re-establish a solid Top 50 world birth and qualify automatically for what would be his 8th straight Ryder Cup. Jim's positive momentum is also clear to see when comparing key PGA Tour skill categories 2012 vs 2011. Scoring Average: 6th vs 40th, Driving Accuracy: 1st vs 18th, Proximity to Hole: 10th vs 3rd Strokes Gained Putting: 35th vs 150th. An absolute must back this week and our clear Golf Predictor Model Number 1
Like Jim Furyk, I love the momentum of 'Big Easy' going into Hilton Head this week which again has been fuelled by the Florida based South African slipping outside of the World's Top 50. Remember a place at golf's Top 50 table guarantees entry to every Major and WGC tournament and Ernie has who has just missed his first visit to Augusta since 1994 will be determined to jump up from his current WGR of 59 as quickly as possible to avoid a prolonged absence from the biggest tournaments. Harbour Town this week will be a huge target. Fact is Els is in great nick right now as his recent form line highlights: 12(Redstone)-4(Bay Hill)-5(Copperhead)-21(PGA National)-59(Riviera)-52(Torrey)-2(Fancourt). The big news for me though is that Els, who has always been Bermuda green positive - his last 3 PGA Tour wins have been at Bay Hill (10), Doral (10) & PGA National (08) – has at last started to putt better. Indeed he gained 1.1 stokes on the field on the Bermuda Poa Trivialis greens of Bay Hill 3 weeks ago which was his best PGA Tour putting performance since………you guessed it his wins at Bay Hill and Doral back in 2010. Tie that in with his excellent tee to green game where he currently sits 16th in the season to date Greens in Regulation category and everything points to a huge week for the popular South African at a course that has yielded 7 Top 10s in 12 appearances. Like Furyk a must back for me.
I'm always 100% honest with you guys and I actually tipped Kevin Na for the corresponding tournament at TPC San Antonio exactly 12 months ago. The result was his infamous 16 shots at the 10th hole – truly the stuff of tipping legend! However I've always rated the talented Las Vegas-based American and was genuinely pleased to see him silence his doubters when he triumphed at 60/1 at TPC Summerlin last September to finally chalk up his first PGA Tour victory. Shame he beat my 100/1 tip Tommy Gainey into 3rd! Since then Na has gone from strength to strength and he actually has a real shot at breaking into the World's Top 50 for the first time this week and grabbing an automatic Ryder Cup spot – where he currently sits 16th in the standings above the aforementioned Furyk, Van Pelt, Simpson, Fowler, Toms and Zach Johnson. Na is crazily Bermuda green positive and he's already delivered 3 Top 10s this season at Bay Hill (Bermuda Poa Trivialis), Pebble Beach (tight classical Par 72) and TPC Scottsdale (Bermuda Poa Trivialis). A look at his career CV shows great results at a whole host of key link courses such as Cog Hill: 3rd(10) & 8th (09), Quail Hollow: 5th (11), TPC Sawgrass: 3rd (09), Bay Hill 4th (12) and 2nd (10), Riviera 3rd (11), Waialae: 4th (08) & 5th (09) and TPC Scottsdale: 4th (08), 3rd (09) & 5th (12). The last piece of the jigsaw for inclusion this week was his mature 12th place finish at Augusta last week which followed on from MCs on his first 2 appearances in 2010/11. Tying that in with his first major Top 10 he grabbed at the Bermuda greened Par 70 of Atlanta Athletic Club back in August simply adds fuel to the flames when Bodog are offering 10/1 for a Top 6 this week.
I think CH III has been seriously underrated for grabbing his first PGA Tour victory since 2007 at Harbour Town this week. That's exactly the same scenario as Brandt Snedeker faced when he beat Luke Donald in a play off here 12 months ago. The Orlando, Florida based Georgia boy who is a 2 time winner on the PGA Tour – Kingsmill GC(02), Riviera (07) - interests me this week for a number of reasons. Firstly he's in decent enough nick with 3 consecutive Top 20s at Augusta (19th), Bay Hill (20th) and Doral (17th) all naturally in top class fields. Charles also finished 2nd at the Bermuda greened and tree-lined Waialae back in January where he was pipped by Johnson Wagner by 2 shots. The closely associated Waialae is undoubtedly his favourite course as he has racked up a pair of 2nd place finishes (07 & 12), 3rd (05), a pair of 4th place finishes (02 & 09) and 5th (10) in 11 appearances in Honolulu. Recent previous champions here including Furyk, Gay and Weekley have all had great records at Waialae. On top of that Charles is hitting lots of Greens in Regulation at the moment and his Achilles heel i.e. the putter is improving by the week. 2011 contained 6th at East Lake, 4th at Sedgefield, 3rd at St Jude, 8th at TPC San Antonio, 10th at PGA National and 13th at El Camaleon. His WGR is upwardly mobile in 2012 - 65th from 76th at the turn of the year – and in my opinion the Oklahoma scholar who unsurprisingly is a decent player in windy conditions can grab a Top 6 this week at the very least.
I'm incredulous about the 150/1 on Big Bad Bobby this week - after all what does a player need to do to be taken seriously? Here's a guy that has worked seriously hard over the winter and throughout this season getting into serious shape and the results have been spectacular. The Scottsdale, Arizona resident has jumped 31 spots in the WGR to a career high 71st and he's already banked $935,000 so his full playing privileges for 2013 are already secured. But the 2012 Garrigus is a different animal with loftier targets powered by an incredible tee to green game. Here's a guy that averages 305 yards off the tee but sits 7th season to date in the Greens in Regulation category and that makes him a dangerous animal this season where he has already produced 2nd at Copperhead (Bermuda Poa Trivialis), 30th at PGA National (Bermuda), 20th at Pebble Beach and 2nd at PGA West (Bermuda Poa Trivialis). Yes, but Steve can he really produce the goods on a tight lay-out like Harbour Town? 3rd at the US Open held at Congressional last year and his famous 2nd behind Westwood on the Bermuda greens of TPC Southwind in 2009 would suggest a resounding yes as do 2 Top 30's and no missed cuts in 4 previous appearances at Harbour Town.
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!