The Masters….what can we say about that? Jordan Spieth led from wire-to-64 holes, before a meltdown of epic proportions allowed Englishman Danny Willett – who played fantastically well all weekend and that should not be forgotten in the fullness of time – to take the legendary Green Jacket.
This week marks the return to the two tournament format across the PGA and European Tours, and we will be focusing on what looks to be an intriguing proposition at the RBC Heritage event played at the Harbour Town Links course at the Sea Pines Resort in South Carolina.
The tournament is another of those with invitational status, hence the rather topsy-turvy 132 man field, although the likes of Jason Day, Zach Johnson and Paul Casey are here for the ride. All in all, there’s nine of the world’s top 30 in tow.
This track will make a refreshing change following the trials and tribulations of Augusta last week. Winning scores have ranged from -9 to -18 in the last five renewals, so there should be plenty of respite for those enduring nightmares of The Masters.
This course represents a different challenge: neat-and-tidy players, rather than boomers, will be en vogue here, as the list of former winners testifies: Davis Love III (five wins), Stewart Cink (x2), Boo Weekley (x2) and Jim Furyk (two wins and two runners-up spots). Other notable winners include Brandt Snedeker, Graeme McDowell and Matt Kuchar, and they are all in the field here.
The Harbour Town Links features narrow fairways, plenty of big old trees overhanging the good stuff and dark lagoons. Designed by Pete Dye, the stretch is a reachable 6,973 yards – good news for the more pragmatic players – and thus accuracy off the tee is more important than hacking it 320 yards.
It is the margin of error that is crucial. Tee shots need to be placed rather than powered, with lay-up shots more prevalent than attacking the green in two. The dancefloor is of Bermuda grass, and so will be slick and full of subtle breaks. A decent short game is essential then.
Normally we extol the virtues of good form in this column, and while of course that is important still the make-up of previous winners suggests we can go a bit easy on that. Last year’s champion Jim Furyk had missed the cut at The Masters the week before, while second and third-placed Kevin Kisner and Troy Merritt didn’t play in the major. In 2014 the champ was Matt Kuchar, and while he finished fifth at Augusta a week prior his runner-up, Luke Donald, missed the cut. The 2013 winner, Graeme McDowell, also had a torrid time at The Masters the week prior to victory in the RBC.
One thing all three of the past winners here had in common was top-10 finishes that season….and lots of them: Furyk (three), Kuchar (five) and McDowell (four). That is our angle in.
We won’t be supporting Jason Day this week – at 6/1 he is a bit short for our liking, and a return of 9-DNP-33-DNP-DNP is hardly mind-blowing anyway.
So who are the lucky three?
Brandt Snedeker (20/1)
There is a catalogue of repeat winners in this tournament so we have no qualms about promoting the chances of the 2011 champion. In addition, Snedeker has returned top-30 finishes in 2012 and 2015, so this is clearly a stretch he enjoys.
The 35-year-old has been one of the form horses on the PGA Tour this term, with victory in the Farmers Insurance Open backed by four other top-10 returns. He played well at the Masters last week and was rarely out of the top-10 all weekend – testament to how well he is striking the ball – so taking a step down in quality on a more forgiving track should be a chance for Snedeker to return to the winners’ circle.
He boasts all of the key stats we need too, and ranks 27th on tour for putting – a key trait here. Snedeker’s tidy play from tee to green, and a hot putter, should see him contend.
Kevin Kisner (28/1)
He’s been out of form for a while, but this could be the tournament that sees Kisner return to his undoubted best.
He flew out of the traps at the start of the 2016 campaign, rattling up a Tour victory at the RSM Classic and two other top-5 finishes shortly after. But after missing the cut at the Phoenix Open, things started to go a little awry for the talented 32-year-old.
But like a phoenix he has risen in recent weeks: a 23rd at a highly competitive WCG Cadillac Championship was backed by some good performances at the World Matchplay, and just last week he made the cut with ease at Augusta. Two even par rounds there – which is more impressive than it sounds – suggests that the old confidence is returning just in time for Kisner, who finished second in this event last year.
Bill Haas (40/1)
Another who has impressed this term is Bill Haas, the folically-challenged right hander who has recorded four top-10s already.
He’s played well at Harbour Town in the past – finishing 24th and 31st here in recent times – but we feel like he is playing as well as ever right now, and as such he can improve upon those returns.
A noted ball striker (he’s ranked 25th on tour for Driving Accuracy and 51st for Greens in Regulation), Haas’ current form reads MC-49-2-9-24, with that 24th coming at the ultra-tough Augusta last week. He should enjoy the more agreeable conditions this weekend.