Hilton Head draws loaded PGA field

By Wes Reynolds  () 

The PGA Tour returned with a bang after a 91-day hiatus. Daniel Berger, at 70/1, defeated likely future superstar Collin Morikawa in a playoff at the Charles Schwab Challenge for his third career tour win. After Berger’s 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th gave him a share of the lead, Morikawa missed a 6-footer that would have given him the victory and then missed a 3-foot par that would have extended the playoff. Morikawa, 23, wasn’t the only one to experience the “Horrible Horseshoe” in the final round at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Xander Schauffele was tied for the lead, but his 3-foot par putt on the 17th dipped into the hole on the right side and came out on the left. He ended up tied for third with Justin Rose, Jason Kokrak and Bryson DeChambeau, who also missed a makable par at 17. 

DeChambeau, looking more like the Incredible Hulk these days, led the field in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee by nearly 0.6 strokes per round and led the tournament in Scrambling along with Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green and was third in Greens In Regulation. Berger has a streak of 28 rounds of par or better (with an average score of 68.5) and can be had as high as 50/1 at Westgate Superbook USA and Circa Sports. Morikawa (25/1) also has an impressive streak, having now made 21 of 21 cuts on the PGA Tour since he turned professional last summer. Schauffele and DeChambeau are also back this week to play the RBC Heritage at prices of 20/1 and 14/1, respectively. 

The favorite this week at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C., is world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at 11/1. McIlroy was within striking distance of the Schwab leaders heading into Sunday before a 4-over 74 pushed him down the leaderboard to a tie for 32nd, breaking a streak of seven worldwide events in the top five. World No. 2 Jon Rahm (16/1), like McIlroy, will be making his Hilton Head debut and is hoping last week’s missed cut is attributable to rust after the long layoff. Like last week, the entire OWGR top five is in action this week. No. 3 Justin Thomas (16/1) was also in contention Sunday but never could get going and tied for 10th. No. 4 Brooks Koepka, another RBC Heritage rookie, and No. 5 Dustin Johnson also appear this week at Harbour Town at much higher prices than usual. Both are listed at 40/1 at Westgate Superbook USA and as high as 46/1 at Circa Sports. Like Rahm, Johnson missed the cut last week, as did other notable names such as Webb Simpson, Marc Leishman, Matt Kuchar, Shane Lowry and Sergio Garcia. But world No. 14 Rose (30/1) tied for third and looked as comfortable as he had in over a year now that he has changed equipment from Honma back to TaylorMade. 

The Event

The RBC Heritage was established in 1969 as the Heritage Classic. Arnold Palmer won the inaugural event at just 1-under-par 283, still the highest score to win this event. Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island has been the host since its inception. The event is usually held in mid-April during the week after the Masters. It is an invitational that hosts just 132 players in typical years but will have 155 this week. The Heritage’s traditional spot the week after Augusta often keeps some top players away. That’s not the case this time around, with eight of the OWGR top 10, 15 of the top 20 and 19 of the top 25 teeing it up. 

The Course

Harbour Town Golf Links was designed in 1967 by Pete Dye, assisted by Jack Nicklaus in his first foray into course design. Harbour Town plays as a par-71 of 7,099 yards. It is a tree-lined coastal links course with doglegs and narrow sight lines off the tee, as you will find with most courses in the Carolinas. The trees can disguise the wind. Players were able to cut most of the doglegs at Colonial, but some of these doglegs will force them to lay up off the tee with less than a driver. The fairways and rough are Celebration Bermudagrass, and the greens are TifEagle Bermudagrass. With the event in June, golfers won’t have the usual April overseeding of perennial rye for fairways and rough and Poa Trivialis for the greens. The average fairway width is about 29 yards, slightly more amenable than Colonial but still less than tour average, so ball striking is of great importance. The tiny, dome-shaped greens — a Dye trademark — average about 3,700 square feet.

The PGA Tour schedule features a fair number of Dye courses every year if you are looking for a course correlation. They include:

— Austin (Texas) Country Club: WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play since 2016.

— Crooked Stick (Carmel, Ind.): 2012 and 2016 BMW Championships.

— Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (S.C.): 2012 PGA Championship.

— TPC River Highlands (Cromwell, Conn.): The Travelers.

— TPC Louisiana (New Orleans): Zurich Classic.

— TPC Sawgrass (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.): The Players Championship.

— TPC Stadium, PGA West (La Quinta, Calif.): The American Express since 2016.

— Whistling Straits (Kohler, Wis.): 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships.

Scrambling and a strong tee-to-green game are most important here. Over the last four years, the eventual winners had average field rankings of eighth in Scrambling and seventh in Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green.

Tournament Angles and Trends

— In the last seven years, the winner has been two or more strokes off the lead after 54 holes (in-play wagering): ’19: Pan 2 back; ’18: Kodaira 6 back; ’17: Bryan 4 back; ’16: Grace 3 back; ’15: Furyk 4 back; ’14: Kuchar 4 back; ’13: McDowell 4 back.

— The last 54-hole leader to win was Carl Pettersson in 2012.

— Average driving distance of the last 10 winners is just 273 yards. The average tour winner’s average is 298 yards.

— The tournament has been decided via playoff in five of the last 10 years.

Recent History/Winners

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*****

* — Won playoff win over Si Woo Kim

** — Won playoff over Kevin Kisner

*** — Won playoff over Webb Simpson

**** — Won playoff over Luke Donald

***** — Won playoff over Brian Davis

Selections

Sungjae Im 30/1

Perhaps no player was more frustrated with the long layoff than the current FedEx Cup points leader. No player stays more active and plays more frequently than Im. He missed the cut at Colonial in 2019 but tied for 10th last week as he was one of only seven players to have positive Strokes Gained in all five areas (Putting, Off The Tee, Approach, Around The Green and Tee-To-Green). Last week’s finish was Im’s third straight in the top 10, including a win at the Honda Classic and a third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Im missed the cut at Harbour Town as a tour rookie, but last week indicated that he is a different player and can make the proper adjustments. Getting back into tournament play last week likely knocked off the rust. 

Matt Kuchar 53/1

Kuchar disappointed last week, missing the cut by a stroke. His putting was on point (+ 1.43 average strokes gained), but his iron game was definitely rusty. Nevertheless, he returns for the closest thing he has to a home game. He lives less than two hours away in St. Simons Island, Ga., and has logged more rounds in this event than anyone in the field. 

60 — Matt Kuchar

56 — Stewart Cink

52 — Lucas Glover

50 — Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Brian Gay

48 — Jim Furyk, Aaron Baddeley

47 — Kevin Na

44 — Luke Donald

Kuchar also ranks fourth in the field for Average Strokes Gained at the RBC Heritage at + 1.76 per round. His ball striking has been down this season, but his course experience should mitigate that. 

Branden Grace 56/1

Grace trailed by one shot after 54 holes at Colonial. He shot three straight rounds of 66 before a 73 on Sunday dropped him into a tie for 19th. He gained strokes everywhere except Off The Tee (-0.58 average per round). This week he returns to a place where he has had success, including a victory in 2016. Grace has finished 11th or better in three of four trips to Hilton Head. The South African got back in the winner’s circle for the first time since late 2017 with a win at the South African Open in early January, and that has seemed to build confidence. 

Matthew Fitzpatrick 60/1

Fitzpatrick has made 30 of his last 31 cuts worldwide, dating to Pebble Beach in 2019. In that span he has had five runners-up (Arnold Palmer Invitational, BMW International Open, Scandinavian Invitation, Italian Open and Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship) and 10 top-10s. He tied for 32nd last week but shot all four rounds in the 60s and ranked eighth in the field in SG: Putting. He should find this track a bit more to his liking than Colonial. 

Kevin Kisner 66/1

Kisner has done well at Harbour Town and took two-time winner and course ace Jim Furyk to a playoff in 2015. He is a native South Carolinian, born and raised in Aiken, about 2 1/2 hours northwest of Hilton Head. While he finished only T29 last week, he did shoot all four rounds in the 60s. The putter held him back last week, but now he’s back on his preferred Bermudagrass. Kisner also seems to have an affinity for Pete Dye designs, as he finished first in 2019 and second in 2018 at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at the Austin CC and made the playoff at the 2015 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. 

J.T. Poston 80/1

Poston is a Hickory, N.C., native who gained his first PGA Tour victory in the Carolinas last August by winning the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro. Like Kuchar, he lives nearby in St. Simons Island, Ga. Poston tied for 10th at Colonial against a top-flight field that he will see again this week. Poston rated highly in the following categories last week:

— Second in Scrambling.

— Fifth in SG: Off The Tee and Driving Accuracy.

— Eighth in SG: Around The Green.

— 14th in Greens In Regulation and SG: Putting.

— 17th in SG: Tee-To-Green.

Poston got caught on the wrong side of the Thursday/Friday draw here last year and had to play in the more adverse wind conditions, which led to him barely making the cut. However, he rallied to tie for sixth by shooting 67-66 (9 under) on the weekend, two shots better than anyone in the field. 

Ian Poulter 100/1

Poulter is a bit of a sneaky, under-the-radar horse for the course. He has finished 11th or better in each of the last three years at Harbour Town. Poulter tied for 29th last week but definitely fits this course better. Winners don’t have to overpower the course. Off The Tee is his weakness, but it can be mitigated here, and his Tee-To-Green and Scrambling game are still top-notch even at 44. 

Harris English 100/1

English is another resident of the St. Simons Island area. He missed the cut by one last week but shot a second-round 67 after a disappointing 72 to start. English improved his SG: Putting by + 2.25 strokes, SG: Approach by + 1.75 strokes, SG: Off The Tee by + 1.41 strokes and SG: Tee-To-Green by + 3.36 strokes from the first to second rounds. English also opened with a 7-under 65 in The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass — the last time the players saw a Pete Dye design — before play was halted.

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