RBC Heritage Preview, Picks & Analysis
Last week they were playing for a Green Jacket on one of the most beautiful golf courses on the planet. Nothing much changes this week - the course is another stunner and the jacket is tartan (whoever thought that was a good idea?).
With the sand barely raked in the bunkers on the season's first major, the PGA Tour heads to the iconic Harbour Towns links at Hilton Head for the RBC Heritage. In case you need any help, it's the course with the quaint clubhouse and the red-and-white clubhouse framing the 18th green.
And it is unlike any other event on the PGA Tour, played over a relatively short course that calls for strategy. Stand up on the tee and try to bring Harbour Town to its knees and you will very quickly end up pulling your hair out and signing for an 80. The course is a masterpiece, a throwback to an era when players did not pound out 360-yard drives for fun.
If you doubt it, just take a look at the list of recent winners. In 2010 it was won by Jim Furyk, in 2011 by Brandt Snedeker, in 2012 by Carl Pettersson, in 2013 by Graeme McDowell, in 2014 by Matt Kuchar, in 2015 by Furyk again, in 2016 by Branden Grace, in 2017 by Wes Bryan and last year by Satoshi Kodaira. It is also a tournament at which Luke Donald, one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour, has enjoyed a great deal of success.
The common denominator among all of those golfers is that if you take a look at the PGA Tour's stats when it comes to the longest drivers of a golf ball, none of them will feature. But take a look at driving accuracy, greens in regulation and putting and you will soon discover that in the years each of them won, they were all close to the top of all of those categories.
So the first thing you do when searching for this year's champion is to eliminate anybody who finds fewer than 60% of fairways.
Look, let's just cut to the chase and make it easy for you. The man to put your each-way money on is Kuchar. he is not only a former champion but is enjoying the most remarkable year of his career. Already a two-time winner this season, he has put the on-course travails of 2017-18, when he failed to make the 30-man field for the Tour Championship and missed out on the Ryder Cup, firmly behind him and it seems that every time he tees it up these days he contends.
McDowell will also relish a return to the scene of his 2013 triumph. He has already won once this season and showed some decent form in Texas as he tried in vain to secure the final invitation for Augusta. The Northern Irishman would be the first to admit that he has put family first in recent years, and he is to be lauded for that. But he has been working hard on his game and is determined to get back to where he feels he belongs. He is a former US Open champion and it is not so very long ago that he was a fixture in the world’s top 10. This course is made for his game - he may be short off the tee, but he hits it straight, is a superb iron player and appears to have rediscovered his putting touch.
Last year, Kodaira, 29, from Japan, overcame strong winds and Si Woo Kim of Korea for his first PGA Tour win. After coming from six shots back at the start of the day, he holed a birdie putt of 25 feet at the par-three 17th hole, the third hole of a sudden-death playoff, and watched as Kim failed to match him with a birdie attempt of his own.
“I wasn’t really thinking about winning,” Kodaira said of his thoughts early on that final day, when he teed off almost an hour before the final threesome of Kim, Ian Poulter and Luke List. List, who lost a playoff to Justin Thomas in The Honda Classic, had a chance to join the playoff but missed a birdie putt from just outside 10 feet on the last hole of regulation. He and 36-hole leader Bryson DeChambeau (66) tied for third at 11-under. Kim had a chance to end the tournament in regulation after knocking his approach shot to six feet on the 72nd hole, but his birdie effort grazed the lip and stayed out.
Third-round leader Poulter, who was in the middle of a hot streak of form, shot a 40 on the back nine. List bogeyed four of his last eight holes, with just one birdie at the par-five 15th. Kim, after taking the lead when he reached the turn in 33, shot a three-over-par 38 on the way home. The past five winners of the RBC Heritage had trailed by at least three shots after 54 holes. Kodaira, who started the day six off the lead, had nothing to lose and attacked the flags all day. After reducing the course to 63 blows on Saturday, he began the final round with three straight birdies and finished with seven overall. Given the tougher conditions Sunday, he said his 5-under 66 was the more impressive of the two rounds.
The two playoff combatants parred the first two extra holes, both at the par-four 18th, the most tenuous moment being Kodaira’s terrific up-and-down for par from behind the green the second time around. He made a five-footer to stay alive before his winning birdie on the 17th. “I wasn’t that nervous on the last putt,” he said, “compared to the first two putts on 18. This is a stage I’ve been dreaming about. And having this opportunity to play on the the PGA Tour full-time is a dream come true.”
Matt Kuchar. Its a no-brainer
Patrick Cantlay. Hugely underrated
Tommy Fleetwood. This course could be made for him
Matt Kuchar. In the form of his life
Patrick Cantlay. Fresh from a terrific Masters
Tommy Fleetwood. Seems to contend every time he plays
Luke Donald. Great memories
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Will adore this place and has the game to win here
Branden Grace. Former winner
Cameron Smith. It’s about time he broke his duck
Zach Johnson. Does anybody remember when he last missed a fairway
Brandt Snedeker. Still battling to find consistency
Rafa Cabrera Bello. Impressive Spaniard
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