They say The Masters starts on the back nine on Sunday and after the tournament looking ominous on more than one occasion, it proved to be the most enthralling major I can remember for a while, with Danny Willett the man to eventually don the Green Jacket, once again putting the spotlight on the "Nappy Factor" theory.
There's no better stop on tour than Hilton Head for the players to recover from the stresses of last week as they head 150 miles down to the South Carolina coast. Some people like to avoid backing players that teed up at Augusta but I'm the opposite; you may recall we had Louis Oosthuizen onside in Malaysia 2012 following his loss to Bubba in a Masters playoff. Lee Westwood made the long trip to Asia in 2014 after a T7 at The Masters and repeated Louis' winning feat with a runaway victory.
RBC Heritage Overview and markets
It's back to normal now but we have two great events and venues to look forward to this week for the Masters come down. We concentrate here on the PGA Tour and, as alluded to, it hits one of its resort stops at Harbour Town for the RBC Heritage, and a number of the big names and Masters contingent make the trip. Jason Day - 7.00 - is a surprise inclusion for me and leads the market. Zach Johnson - 26.00 - will look to put a penalty decision behind him that may or may not have mentally cost him a chance at the Masters cut but he seemed to take it in good spirit on Twitter. Brandt Snedeker - 17.00 - was back in Masters contention with a new driver and new golf ball and Brandt is of course a former winner here back in 2011.
The course: Harbour Town Golf Links - par 71, 7,099 yards
It's the same theme on both sides of the Atlantic this week and that's positional play from the tees and a tidy short game. The Pete Dye Harbour Town Links design boasts some of the smallest greens and narrowest fairways on tour. Finding the fairways isn't enough on some holes, with doglegs and overhanging branches blocking you out if you don't find the correct side of them. Like Valderrama, coastal winds will also affect the Heritage and add to the test. Changes have been made to the course with different strains of Bermuda taking over, while subtle alterations to the design have been implemented on a number of holes.
Key Stats and Trends
The top 10 at the RBC Heritage managed to hit a huge average of 79.823% of fairways between them in 2015, while the driving distance average of the whole field was just 264.3 yards. Greens in regulation % here has been sub 60% in all but three editions of the event, further identifying the a premium on scrambling.
Top RBC Heritage Tips
Matt Kuchar - 21.00 or 5.00 - refers to Hilton Head as "like a retreat for the ST. Simons Island boys" and this is one of Kuchar's favourite stops with the family in tow. Kuch had a consistently good record at Harbour Town before turning it up a notch to win in 2014 and back that up with a 5th place on his defence in 2016. For what it's worth, Kuchar led the field in driving accuracy at Augusta with a clip over 82% enroute to a t24 which keeps up his simmering form line showing 3 from 5 top 20s prior. Kuchar excels in the short game department, with an average scrambling ranking of 12.5 through seasons 2014-15. The putter is warming up nicely this season with the American lying 22nd in the total putting stats.
Kevin Kisner - 21.00 or 5.00 - lost out in a playoff here to Jim Furyk in 2015 having closed with a 64. The South Carolina native carded 19 birdies, an eagle and just 3 bogeys along the way. Kisner was 3rd in driving accuracy and T8 in GIR enroute to the playoff. I mentioned a link with ST. Simons Island and Kisner finally grabbed his maiden victory at the RSM Classic last year following 3 playoff defeats. KK currently sits 7th in driving accuracy and 3rd in putting average.
Matt Fitzpatrick - 31.00 or 7.00 - was T23 here back in 2014 as an amateur and calls Harbour Town his "favourite course in the world". Fitzpatrick led the Greens in reg stats enroute to a T7 at the Masters in only his 2nd appearance there. "I flushed it and holed some putts" were Matt's words following a Sunday 67. Fitzpatrick hit 76.36% GIR (7th) and 72.2% (10th) of fairways on the European Tour in 2015 where he picked up his first win at the British Masters at Woburn.
Plenty of others make the staking plan this week including Danny Lee, Colt Knost and even Davis Love but it's Webb Simpson - 46.00 or 10.00 - who gets the last spot here. Simpson is a self confessed lover of Pete Dye designs and indeed has previous at Harbour Town having lost out in a playoff to Graeme McDowell in 2013. Simpson is a US Open winner so he's proven on tracks where fairways are a must: He sits 34th in strokes gained tee to green in 2016. He's been simmering this year with a number of top 30 finishes and could go well again after a decent showing in The Masters.