Following a pulsating four days at Augusta National, the PGA Tour heads off to South Carolina for the RBC Heritage.
A Star is born. Hideki Matsuyama’s nerve-jangling victory at the Masters elevated his status in Japanese golf from superstar to god. For a few moments there it looked dicey. Matsuyama seems intent on committing golfing hara-kiri over the final few holes. Luckily for him, Xander Schauffele inexplicably hit one of the worst iron shots of his career at the 16th. I really thought he was going to stuff it there and lay untold pressure on Matsuyama. Ultimately, this victory is perhaps one of the best results for the game. It will help broaden the reach of the sport and bring light to the fanaticism of Japanese golfing enthusiasts. The tour stays in the Deep South this week for the traditional post-Masters party: the RBC Heritage. The tournament was first played in 1969 and it is played on the Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island.
This week could not contrast more sharply with the Masters. The wide-open spaces of Augusta National are exchanged for the comparatively claustrophobic feeling of Harbour Town Links. This Pete Dye design is a coastal links that is famed for strong winds and picturesque lighthouse. Everything about this test will be different. Firstly, this is one of the shortest layouts on the PGA Tour. It is also extremely tight from the green, with strategic golf and accurate iron-play key to success. It also features some of the smallest green complexes on the entire PGA Tour, a far cry from the rolling monoliths of Augusta. One similarity with Augusta is the slickness of the greens. Players will need to scramble well and use precise iron-play: little wonder that Webb Simpson is a perennial contender here. Shorter hitters such as Kevin Na and Matthew Fitzpatrick certainly come into play this week.
Despite last week’s Masters, Harbour Town has assembled a stellar field this week, including World Number One Dustin Johnson. Despite a downturn in form, culminating in a missed cut at Augusta, Johnson is still priced as the favourite this week. That despite an anonymous record in this event. Webb Simpson was solid at Augusta while current media darling Will Zalatoris is also teeing it up this week. The likes of Cantlay, Berger and Morikawa make for a star-studded line-up. There’s also a strong English contingent this week, with the likes of Hatton, Fitzpatrick and Casey in contention. You also can’t discount the likes of Kevin Kisner and Zach Johnson, players sometimes crippled by their relative lack of distance.
2020: Webb Simpson (-22)
2019: Pan Cheng-tsung (-1)
2018: Satoshi Kodaira (-12) *playoff
2017: Wesley Bryan (-13)
2016: Branden Grace (-9)
To Win Outright:
Dustin Johnson 11/1 | Webb Simpson 12/1 | Patrick Cantlay 16/1 | Collin Morikawa 20/1 | Daniel Berger 22/1
Shane Lowry- To Win 45/1 | To Place 19/2
I think that Ireland’s Shane Lowry could be a real dark horse this week. Clearly the man is a fan of coastal golf. The as-of-yet-still-reigning Open Champion is usually an executioner with those short irons (clubs which must be dialled-in this week). He also has some history in this event, tying for 3rd two years back. He is also coming off a hugely encouraging showing at Augusta, where he posted four steady rounds to finish inside the top 25.
Branden Grace- To Win 70/1 | To Place 15/1
Branden Grace was in the golfing doldrums for some time, seemingly unable to buy a cut on the PGA Tour. But a final round 62 to win last year’s SA Open underscored his class. This year he has slowly started to rebuild his reputation on the PGA Tour. Outside of the Players, he has finished inside the top 35 in each of the last six events. That included a spectacular victory at the Puerto Rico Open. That highlighted his affinity for these smaller, coastal courses. Lest we forget, Grace won this event in 2016. Grace is traditionally a master in the wind, and he comes into this in good form. 70/1 seems like a bargain.
The Man to Beat: Brian Harman- To Win 35/1 | To Place 15/2
I’m going against traditional wisdom here. Success at Augusta very seldom equates to success at Hilton Head. However, we can’t underestimate the significance of Harmon’s 12th place finish at Augusta. The lefty finished in a tie for 12th despite his obvious lack of brute force. That course management is what draws me to him this week. He also doesn’t possess the most amazing course form, with just two top 10 finishes in eleven visits to Hilton Head. I just think this course suits his game. It is a short, tight course that puts a premium on your wedge game. I’m just hoping that his decent form translates into success this week. He also picked up a tie for 3rd at the Players earlier this year.