Winner’s Share: $1,044,000
What way to cure the post-Masters hangover than another quality-filled four days of golf. Last week at Augusta we saw a fine display of attacking golf from Bubba Watson whilst Jordan Spieth properly announced himself on the world stage. It was some week but we’re expecting another exciting tournament this week with a great field lined up. Spieth, Kuchar, Day, Z.Johnson, Snedeker and McDowell, just to name a few, are all teeing it up in South Carolina.
We absolutely love tight little tracks like this as it brings out the best in people’s short game. This week is not about how far you can hit it off the tee but where can you put yourself in the fairway. Pete Dye’s Harbour Town Golf Links is playing 7,101 yards and is one of the shortest tracks on the PGA Tour. Accuracy off the tee has never been more important whilst the small greens means accuracy with the irons is also needed! McDowell, Weekley and Furyk have all won here and we all know what their middle names are – accuracy. With the greens so small, everyone will be missing them at some point, so scrambling and bunker play needs to be firing on all cylinders. And let us not forget wedge play with so many approaches coming from between 75-125 yards.
As the usual post-Masters event, RBC Heritage’s winners have notoriously not really featured at the top end of the leaderboard, most either not playing or missing the cut. So we have kept this in mind. The weather is also expected to play a part, with rain and thunder predicted but the winds of 2013 are not expected to blow as hard. It’s going to be a tough yet interesting week.
Zach Johnson (25/1 Ladbrokes)
Zach will be well aware that this course suits him more than pretty much every other player in the field. He has made a living out of picking apart longer tracks but this week the ball will be in his court and his game will need no adapting. Things didn’t go to plan at Augusta with an opening round of 78. His 72 on day 2 was not enough to make the cut but still showed his game was there. And he only missed 6 fairways over those two days. But the fact he didn’t figure is a positive for this week and will have had an extra couple of days to prepare.
His best finish here was a 2nd place in 2012 where Carl Pettersson comfortably won by 5 shots. Whilst he came 6th in 2007 off the back of his victory at the Masters.
His late 2013 and early 2014 form must not be forgotten either. He was the hottest player on the planet. Back-to-back wins at the World Challenge and Tournament of Champions were accompanied by a T8 and T3 at the Sony Open and Humana Challenge respectively. After a month away from the game, Zach has slowly been building back up to his early season form.
And finally his statistics. They make for incredible viewing. 6th driving accuracy, 15th GIR%, 20th ball striking, 13th scrambling, 11th approaches from 50-125 yards, 12th proximity to hole and 52nd strokes gained-putting.
Luke Donald (22/1 Paddy Power)
Another person who is renowned for being a short-hitting genius is the Englishman. His accuracy with all clubs is something that will give him a huge advantage around the Harbour Town track. Since 2009, Luke has had somewhat of a love affair with the course, finishing outside the top 3 only once, in 2012.
It has been a steady decline now for Donald over the past couple of years since he reached number 1 in the rankings. 2011 and 2012 brought him 7 wins and propelled him into the golfing elite. He has struggled for form ever since but in recent months we have been very impressed with how he has played. He has only missed one cut (last week at Augusta) and finished in the top 10 twice in his last 5 starts. And as we say, his course form and game means he is a very mean prospect.
Last week he ranked 1st in putting stats on arguably the toughest greens in golf indicating his short game is working fine. He also shot a -2 round of 70 on day 2, so he will take lots of confidence from that. 7th strokes gained-putting, 3rd scrambling and 31st sand saves makes for impressive reading. Just needs the irons to start firing on a course he knows intimately.
Billy Horschel (66/1 Ladbrokes)
After really asserting himself in the world of golf in 2013, picking up a victory and contending on a regular basis, 2014 has been somewhat of a disappointment. But we see the strong signs that he is back. He ranked 2nd behind Jordan Spieth in GIR% last week at Augusta and was 29th in driving accuracy. His putting let him down but it is understandable on those greens. His win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in 2013 was also on a Pete Dye track and his courses are notorious for having the same golfers do well on them.
His recent form has not been scintillating but Billy’s game has been there, it just needs that bit of consistency and a few putts to drop. A solid four rounds at Augusta on his first attempt will give him lots of confidence.
He’s ranking 16th driving accuracy and GIR%, 8th total driving and 3rd ball striking. His short game will need to improve if he is to win but after finishing 9th last year on his maiden time around the course, he knows what it takes around here.
Stewart Cink (110/1 BetVictor)
A previous champion of this tournament and a man who we are very confident in. His victory in 2004 and the fact he has only missed two cuts in 11 years shows he knows the course very well. In recent months we have seen a new Stewart Cink, glimpses of the form that saw him win The Open and finish at least 3rd in all three other majors. His Open win shows his prowess on tough, links tracks.
Cink finished T14 at the Masters last week which was very respectable. Even more impressive was his 68 that he shot on the final day which was only one shot off round of the week. Other than the 2013 Father Son Challenge, Cink has not put any silverware in his cabinet since the 2009 Open where he famously beat a 59-year-old Tom Watson in a play-off. So he will be itching to do well.
In 2014 he ranks 13th GIR%, 25th ball striking, 55th approaches from 50-125 yards and 10th proximity to the hole. He also ranked 6th in GIR% at Augusta last week. One worry is his accuracy off the tee but his iron play at the moment is more than capable of making up for it.
Justin Hicks (110/1 Bet365)
The 39-year-old American is someone who consistently gets branded around in the DownThe18th boardroom and on the face of it, it is a strange one. He is most noted for being leader of the 2008 US Open after the first round. But when you look at his statistics you cannot deny how well he is playing in 2014. And even more interesting is how these statistics suit this track down to a tee.
He ranks 7th driving accuracy, 3rd GIR%, 53rd strokes gained-putting, 3rd ball striking, 33rd approaches from 100-125 yards and 40th proximity to the hole. Combine this with 2nd driving accuracy and 13th GIR% at the Shell Houston Open a couple of weeks back, we have a genuine outside shot on our hands.
18th in 2013 will give him a lot of confidence and he is someone you should definitely put a few spare coins on.
He didn’t quite make our final 5 but Kevin Streelman (66/1 BetVictor) is someone who will more than likely go well around this track. His game is based on accuracy and has finished 3rd and 17th in his last two starts at Harbour Town. His name featured sporadically at the top of the leaderboard at Augusta last week and ranked 18th in driving accuracy. Claimed his first win on the tour at a similar course last year and there is no reason why he can’t bag number 2 this week.