RBC Heritage Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
AFTER all the drama at Augusta, the PGA Tour moves to South Carolina, more specifically to Harbour Town for the RBS Heritage, a tournament with a rich tradition played on one of the most delightful golf courses in the United States. With its red and white lighthouse near the 18th green, it is one of the most instantly recognisable venues in world golf.
Branden Grace will be defending his title, keen to rediscover the form that saw him earn the magnificent tartan jacket as he confirmed his status as one of the world's leading players, and just the latest to emerge from South Africa. Over the years, some of the best players the sport has ever seen have triumphed at Harbour Town, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Tom Watson and Davis Love III, who won the tournament on five occasions.
It was won in 2011 by Brandt Snedeker, in 2012 by Carl Pettersson, in 2013 by Graeme McDowell, in 2014 by Matt Kuchar and in 2015 by Jim Furyk. Luke Donald, of England, is also a four-time runner-up. All these players have one thing in common - they do not hit the ball prodigious distances. They are all shotmakers, and you can't win around Harbour Town unless you can put the ball in position time after time.
If you look through the record books you will quickly be struck by the fact that there are a lot of multiple champions. The course tends to suit the eye of certain players, and they come back year after year, even though the tournament is staged in the week following The Masters, when most of them would rather be taking the week off and recovering from their exertions at Augusta.
Donald has no such concerns, of course, because he didn't qualify to play at The Masters. Despite his recent struggles, one of his runner-up finishes came last year and he will arrive feeling fresh and with good thoughts going through his head. The Englishman has struggled for far too long and possesses too much talent to be missing out on majors. He has started to perform rather more brightly of late and will hope that all those good memories will help to get him in the right frame of mind to perform well again. You get the sense that a victory would turn everything around for him.
He will have to be at the peak of his powers if he is to come out on top though. I have a feeling that Snedeker is ready win here again, six years after he last did so. Like Donald, he suffered a spell in the doldrums but he has worked his way through it and plays well on all sorts of courses, but especially on those where controlling ball flight and direction is a prerequisite. The wind can blow at Harbour Town, which perhaps explains why the likes of Donald, Furyk, Kuchar and McDowell have all done so well in the past. McDowell grew up playing his golf in Northern Ireland and loves nothing more than the challenge of keeping the ball low in the wind, while Kuchar has arguably the lowest ball flight of any player in the world's top 50. Snedeker played much of his early golf in Texas, where the breeze can really howl. Additionally, he also happens to be a great ball-striker and a glorious putter. It is, perhaps, surprising that he has yet to win a major, but he still has time on his side.
Don't rule out another serious challenge from Grace. His career has only gone in one direction since he first burst on the European Tour - and that is up. It is true that he is prone to having some truly awful weeks but when everything is in synch, there are few better sights in golf. The worry for his fans is how quickly in his career he switched to the claw grip, a certain sign of a man with putting concerns. But it has not hindered his progress and he has quickly become an established player on the PGA Tour, a golfer who surely has the game to join fellow South Africans Ernie Els, Louis Ootshuizen and Charl Schwartzel as a major winner.
Harbour Town Golf Links was designed by Pete Dye, in association with Jack Nicklaus. The greens are small and tricky, hence the absolute premium on accuracy. And if you miss the fairways you can end up in places that you would never really want to visit with a golf club in your hand. At just 7,101 yards, it provides proof positive that a course does not need to be massively long to provide a magnificent test.
To Win: Brandt Snedeker. Ready to win here again
Each Way: Luke Donald. Wishes he could play at Harbour Town every week
Each Way: Branden Grace. Don't be surprised to see a successful title defence
Brandt Snedeker. Loves it when the wind gets up
Luke Donald. How is his short game?
Branden Grace. Brilliant ball striker
Aaron Baddeley. Another course specialist
William McGirt. Decent ball striker
Kevin Chappell. Vastly underrated
Kevin Na. He keeps knocking at the door
Russell Knox. Shared second with Donald 12 months ago
Graham DeLaet. Playing great golf once more
Bill Haas. On a high after WGC matchplay
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