Best bets for PGA Tour's RBC Heritage

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Hideki Matsuyama ended a four-year winless drought by capturing his first major championship last weekend at the Masters. Matsuyama (40-1) fired a 30 on the back nine after a two-hour rain delay Saturday to seize control. While he had some wobbles along the way, he won his first green jacket by one stroke over Will Zalatoris. Being the face of Japanese golf can impose a great deal of pressure, and it certainly has for Matsuyama, once ranked No. 2 in the world. But now he has his elusive major championship, a first for a Japanese male, and has the potential for more at just 29. He is not in this week’s field at the RBC Heritage, but five of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are. That includes favorite and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson (10-1), who returns to his home state smarting after missing the cut at Augusta. Last year’s RBC Heritage victor, Webb Simpson (12-1), returns to defend his title off a top-12 Masters finish. Patrick Cantlay (16-1) missed last year’s event but went 3-7-3 from 2017-19 and is looking to rebound from a missed cut last week. Collin Morikawa (20-1), Daniel Berger (22-1), Tyrrell Hatton (25-1) and Cameron Smith (25-1), who posted his third Masters top-10 in four appearances, follow in the market. They’re just ahead of Paul Casey (28-1), Matthew Fitzpatrick (30-1), last year’s runner-up Abraham Ancer (30-1) and Zalatoris (30-1). Hatton and Berger tied for third here last year.
 
The Event
 
The RBC Heritage was established in 1969 as the Heritage Classic. The inaugural event was won by Arnold Palmer at just 1-under 283, still the highest score to win this tournament. Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island has been the host since its inception. The tournament returns to its customary mid-April dates following the Masters after being rescheduled to June last year due to COVID-19. It is an invitational that hosts just 132 players, with half of the Masters field participating.
 
The Course
 
Harbour Town Golf Links was designed in 1967 by Pete Dye, assisted by Jack Nicklaus in the Golden Bear’s first foray into course design. Harbour Town plays as a par-71 of 7,099 yards. It is a tree-lined coastal links with doglegs and narrow sight lines off the tee, as you will find with most courses in the Carolinas. The trees can also disguise the wind. Harbour Town annually ranks as the course with the fewest drives over 300 yards and shortest average driving distance on tour at just 267 yards, compared with the average of 284. The fairways and rough are Celebration Bermudagrass, and the greens are TifEagle Bermudagrass. This event will likely have the usual overseeding of perennial rye for fairways and rough and Poa Trivialis for the greens. The average fairway width is about 29 yards, less than the tour average, so ball striking is of great importance. The tiny, dome-shaped greens are a Dye trademark. They average about 3,700 square feet and are some of the smallest on the PGA Tour.
 
 
The PGA Tour schedule includes a fair number of Dye courses every year if you are looking for a course correlation. They include:
— Austin Country Club: WGC Dell Match Play since 2016
— Crooked Stick: 2012 and ’16 BMW Championships
— Ocean Course, Kiawah Island: 2012 PGA Championship
— TPC River Highlands: the Travelers
— TPC Louisiana: Zurich Classic of New Orleans
— TPC Sawgrass: the Players Championship
— TPC Stadium, PGA West: the American Express since 2016
— Whistling Straits: 2010 and ’15 PGA Championships
 
Recent History/Winners
 
2020: Webb Simpson (-22/262) 30-1
2019: C.T. Pan (-12/272) 160-1
2018: Satoshi Kodaira (-12/272) 200-1*
2017: Wesley Bryan (-13/271) 66-1
2016: Branden Grace (-9/275) 40-1
2015: Jim Furyk (-18/266) 25-1**
2014: Matt Kuchar (-11/273) 18-1
2013: Graeme McDowell (-9/275) 40-1***
2012: Carl Pettersson (-14/270) 55-1
2011: Brandt Snedeker (-12/272) 35-1****
2010: Jim Furyk (-13/271) 14-1*****
 
* - playoff win over Si Woo Kim
** - playoff win over Kevin Kisner
*** - playoff win over Webb Simpson
**** - playoff win over Luke Donald
***** - playoff win over Brian Davis
 
Tournament Angles and Trends
Masters Hangover
— From 2010-19, only one player finished in the top 5 the week before at the Masters as well as at the RBC Heritage. In 2011, Luke Donald tied for fourth at the Masters, then tied for second at the RBC Heritage.
— From 2010-19, only two players finished top 10 the week before at the Masters as well as at the RBC Heritage. In 2010, Ricky Barnes tied for 10th at the Masters, then tied for fifth at the RBC Heritage. In 2019, Patrick Cantlay tied for ninth at the Masters, then tied for third at the RBC Heritage.
Year RBC Heritage Winner Masters Finish
2019 C.T. Pan DNP
2018 Satoshi Kodaira T-28
2017 Wesley Bryan DNP
2016 Branden Grace MC
2015 Jim Furyk MC
2014 Matt Kuchar MC
2013 Graeme McDowell MC
2012 Carl Pettersson DNP
2011 Brandt Snedeker DNP
2010 Jim Furyk MC
 
— In seven of the last eight years, the eventual winner has been two or more strokes off the lead after 54 holes. In 2020, Simpson was tied for the lead. In ’19, Pan was two back; in ’18, Kodaira was six back; in ’17, Bryan was four back; in ’16, Grace was three back; in ’15, Furyk was four back; in ’14, Kuchar was four back; and in ’13, McDowell was four back.
— The last outright 54-hole leader to win here was Carl Pettersson in 2012.
 
Statistical Angles
 
At the 2020 RBC Heritage, of the top 11 field leaders in strokes gained: approach, seven appeared in the top 10 on the leaderboard.
 
Strokes gained: approach (last 24 rounds)
1. Collin Morikawa 31.4
2. Charley Hoffman 28.2
3. Corey Conners 24.6
4. Cameron Davis 22.2
5. Will Zalatoris 21.2
6. Matthew NeSmith 20.2
7. Tyrrell Hatton 19.7
8. Harry Higgs 19.2
9. Dustin Johnson 18.5
10. Chez Reavie 18.2
Over the last 11 RBC Heritage events, the tournament winners have averaged 10th for scrambling.
 
Strokes gained: scrambling (last 24 rounds)
1. Jim Furyk 15.8
2. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 13.7
3. Andrew Putnam 12.5
4. Kevin Na 10.2
5. Paul Casey 10.1
6. Robert Streb 10
7. Sergio Garcia 9.9
8. Denny McCarthy 9.3
9. Webb Simpson 8.7
10. Brian Gay 8.6
The last two RBC Heritage winners, Simpson in 2020 and Pan in 2019, ranked second and fifth, respectively, in the field for strokes gained: putting in their winning weeks.
 
Strokes gained: putting (last 24 rounds)
1. Sungjae Im 30.1
2. Brendon Todd 21.5
3. Chesson Hadley 21.3
4. Ryan Armour 21
5. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 19.7
6. J.T. Poston 17.1
7. Ian Poulter 16.9
8. Mackenzie Hughes 16.5
9. Matthew Fitzpatrick 15.8
10. Andrew Putnam 15.6
Selections
 
Harris English 45-1
 
English arrives off his best career Masters finish (T-21). Now he is back on the coast where he has thrived during his career.
 
He lives just a couple of hours down Interstate 95 in Sea Island, Ga., where he was sixth on another coastal layout at the RSM Classic last fall. English won this year at Kapalua. He also has finished ninth (2013), fourth (2014) and third (2015) at Waialae and second (2015) and eighth (2018) at Torrey Pines. He also was fifth (2018) at the Corales Puntacana and has a victory (2014) and two fifths (2020-21) at El Camaleon.
 
Sergio Garcia 46-1
 
Garcia missed the cut at Augusta last week and has missed cuts in 10 of his last 12 majors. However, this looks like a good spot for a rebound, just as he did last fall at the Sanderson Farms Championship in his first start after the U.S. Open.
 
Last year he finished fifth here and led the field for strokes gained: tee to green but ranked 70th of 75 players for strokes gained: putting. Garcia typically plays well on Dye designs, especially at TPC Sawgrass, where he has won and posted another top-10 just a few weeks ago.
 
Si Woo Kim 49-1
 
Two of his three PGA Tour wins have come on Dye designs, including this season at PGA West for the American Express.
 
He also has won the Players Championship (2017) on another Dye design at TPC Sawgrass. Many players who have had success at Harbour Town have also had success at Sedgefield for the Wyndham Championship, which Kim won in 2016.
 
Christiaan Bezuidenhout 60-1
 
Bezuidenhout started with a 2-under 70 at the Masters but had a tough weekend and ended up T-40.
 
The South African ranks second in scrambling and fifth in strokes gained: putting among those in this week’s field over the last 24 rounds.
 
Kevin Streelman 80-1
 
Streelman missed the cut here last summer but has three career top-7 finishes in this event.
 
He took down Abraham Ancer and Bernd Wiesberger to advance to the round of 16 at the WGC-Dell Match Play three weeks ago on a Dye design at Austin Country Club. One of his two PGA Tour wins came on a Dye layout at TPC River Highlands for the Travelers Championship.
 
J.T. Poston 110-1
 
Poston has missed four of eight cuts this year but has consecutive finishes of eighth or better here the last two years.
 
He also won two years ago at Sedgefield, so he is yet another player with that Sedgefield-Harbour Town correlation.
 
Matthew NeSmith 150-1
 
NeSmith played college golf at the University of South Carolina and lives in Aiken, just two hours from Hilton Head. He proposed to his wife on the 18th green here three years ago.
 
He can be shaky with the putter, but he is one of the tour leaders for strokes gained: approach and greens in regulation.
 
Austrian Golf Open
 
The Austrian Golf Open was the first hastily organized event to step up to the plate for the European Tour last summer as lockdown restrictions started to ease. This year it moves to April to replace the canceled Portugal Masters. Belgium’s Thomas Detry (8-1) has four runner-up finishes over the last 3.5 seasons and is still seeking his maiden European Tour victory. Sam Horsfield (14-1) won two events last summer on the European Tour and comes in off his best result of 2021 with a T-3 at the Kenya Savannah Classic. Matthias Schwab (16-1) carries the banner as the shortest-priced Austrian native in the field. Justin Harding (18-1) won four weeks ago at the Magical Kenya Open. The runner-up in that event to Harding was Kurt Kitayama, who shares a 20-1 tag with Martin Kaymer.
 
The Event
 
The Austrian Open was founded as a European Tour event in 1990 and held regularly until 1996 before dropping down to the Challenge Tour in 1997 and remaining there through 2005. The tournament returned to the main tour in 2006 and was held as a traditional open event through 2017. In 2018, the open became the Shot Clock Masters, which was the first major professional tournament to use a shot clock on every shot. The regular Austrian Open returned last year, after being absent from the 2019 schedule, as a co-sanctioned European Tour and Challenge Tour event due to the revamping of the tour schedules in the aftermath of COVID-19. Previous winners include Bernhard Langer, Alex Čejka, Paul McGinley, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Bernd Wiesberger, Joost Luiten, Dylan Frittelli and native Austrian Markus Brier, a three-time Austrian Open champion. 
 
The Course
 
The Diamond Course at the Diamond Country Club in Atzenbrugg, about 75 minutes northwest of Vienna, plays host to the Austrian Open. Diamond was designed in 2002 by Jeremy Pern, one of the more experienced course architects in Europe. The track is a relatively flat and exposed par-72 that measures 7,458 yards. Half the holes feature water, including two par-3s to island greens, and the premium around Diamond CC is very much on finding greens in regulation after a successful tee shot into the fairway. Anything else will leave players struggling for par with tough scrambling conditions around the putting surfaces. The greens are a bent/poa mix and are very smooth. 
 
Recent History/Winners
 
2020: Marc Warren (-13/275); 150-1
2019: No event
2018 (Shot Clock Masters): Mikko Korhonen (-16/272); 28-1
2017 (Lyoness Open): Dylan Frittelli (-12/276); 40-1 
2016: Ashun Wu (-13/275); 160-1
2015: Chris Wood (-15/273); 12-1
2014: Mikael Lundberg (-12/276); 250-1*
2013: Joost Luiten (-17/271); 25-1
2012: Bernd Wiesberger (-19/269); 25-1
2011 (Austrian Golf Open): Kenneth Ferrie (-12/276); 55-1**
2010: Jose Manuel Lara (-17/271); 66-1***
 
* - playoff win over Bernd Wiesberger
** - playoff win over Simon Wakefield
*** - playoff win over David Lynn
 
Selections
 
Joost Luiten 22-1
 
The 2013 event champion was priced at 13-2 last summer and is triple the price this time around. His course form at the Diamond Country Club reads 3/1/3/6/7/18. 
 
Luiten is also back with his old caddie, Martin Gray, with whom he won this event in 2013.
 
John Catlin 50-1
 
This week’s layout is conducive to great ball strikers like Catlin, who is playing well.
 
He was eighth on debut here last year.
 
Masahiro Kawamura 60-1
 
Perhaps Kawamura will take some inspiration from Japanese compatriot Hideki Matsuyama this week.
 
Kawamura comes in off a top-15 finish in Kenya a few weeks ago.
 
Darius Van Driel 72-1
 
Van Driel finished fourth here last year and comes in off his best finish of 2021 with a top-10 in Kenya.
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