It was a case of ‘no damage done’ for us at The Masters as we ended up with a tiny profit on the week courtesy of full place returns from Shane Lowry and Justin Thomas.
To be honest the week had started really poorly for us as only one of our team Tony Finau managed to break par on Thursday and with our main hope Thomas having a real struggle on day one it looked like our Masters might be over before it really got started.
Gradually though Lowry and Thomas worked their way up the leaderboard and in the end I was happy to take the ‘honourable draw’ and move on.
The man who’s week it undoubtedly was though was Scottie Scheffler. The recently anointed world number one is on one of those tears at the moment that players can only dream of and he produced another tremendous display to bag his fourth title in six starts and his first Major Championship.
How long the Texan can continue this for remains to be seen but there is no doubt he is on the crest of a wave at the moment and it would be no surprise to see him bag a second Major this year.
So we move on and after the tension and high pressure stakes of Augusta the tour heads to one of the most iconic stops of the year, the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head.
Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head has been the host course for the Heritage since 1969 and with the exception of 2020 when the schedule was re jigged due to the Covid-19 pandemic the event has pretty much owned its traditional slot of the week following the Masters since 1983.
The current sponsors RBC [Royal Bank of Canada] have been in place since 2012.
This year we have a very strong field on display with Justin Thomas just edging favouritism from Collin Morikawa. This duo are then followed in the market by Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay.
Harbour Town is a par 71 measuring just on 7100 yards.
The course is a Pete Dye Design so do look at form on other Pete Dye courses currently played on tour, particularly TPC Sawgrass as well TPC River Highlands and the Stadium Course used for the American Express.
The greens are TiffEagle Bermuda.
Harbour Town is known as one of the most unique tests played on the PGA tour all year. It is seen as a Marmite type of course, the players either love it or hate it. Some players go there once and say “never again”, to others it’s their favourite stop on the tour all year.
What makes Harbour Town so different is the precision required of the tee. length is not important but positioning of your tee ball is.
Finding the fairway isn’t enough at Harbour Town. On most holes finding the correct portion of the fairway is key as otherwise you will be blocked out on your second shot by the trees.
It’s for this reason that shorter hitting, precision players such as Kuchar, Furyk, Gay and Donald have peppered the leader boards over the years.
In addition as players will inevitably miss their fair share of the smaller than average greens scrambling is a key stat this week and one that recent winners here have tended to feature highly on for the week.
Harbour Town is also a true links test with winds normally blowing to 20mph + at some stage of the week.
When assessing this event historically the most significant factor to weigh up is the mental fatigue that players feel when arriving here on the back of an arduous week at Augusta and there is no doubt this point has had a big bearing on the outcome here over the years.
Therefore while this was not relevant in 2020 due to the events revised slot in the schedule every other year over the recent decades it has been a key factor this year.
It’s a recognised fact that winning back to back on the PGA Tour is an incredibly tough thing to do and Bernhard Langer is the only player to notch ‘back to back’ wins at Augusta and Hilton Head [in 1985].
Throw in the mental reserves required to compete and contend right in the thick of a Major over the weekend and it is again not unsurprising that winners at Harbour Town tend not to have been in the hunt at Augusta the week before. To back this up let’s look at the last ten winners at HH and see how they fared at the Masters.
Winner - Masters Finish
2021 S Cink 12th
2020 W Simpson [Not played in traditional post Masters slot.]
2019 CT Pan DNP
2018 S Kodaira 28th
2017 W Bryan DNP
2016 B Grace MC
2015 J Furyk MC
2014 M Kuchar 5th
2013 G McDowell MC
2012 C Pettersson DNP
So, as we can see if we put the 2020 edition to one side when the event did not directly follow the Masters in the other nine outings only two players, Stewart Cink last year and Matt Kuchar have won at Harbour Town after featuring near the top end of the leaderboard at Augusta the week before and of those two Kuchar is the only one who was in serious contention at any point.
Of the other 7 winners one of them, Kodaira in 2018, played all four rounds at Augusta, four of them missed the cut and the other three had not been in the Masters field at all.
Furthermore if we look at the 2020 RSM Classic the event that followed the 2020 Masters in the schedule and we’ll see that this was won by Robert Streb, another player who didn’t tee it up at Augusta.
So the message is clear, do not be put off if the player you fancy for the week performed badly at the Masters, In fact the opposite seems to apply, as it is possible if your hunch for the week performed well at Augusta they will turn up at Harbour Town jaded and will under-perform.
So what more can we tell from this list? well firstly for want of stating the blindingly obvious Hilton Head is not a course that historically has rewarded the bombers of the game, on the contrary short and straight has always been the order of the day and with the exception of Branden Grace and Cink, who as a two time former winner could be considered something of a course specialist, you would have to go a long way down the driving distance charts each year to find the above ten names.
With regards to the relevancy of previous course form here we have a bit of a mixed bag. Some players like the aforementioned Cink, Furyk, Kuchar and more recently Grace and Simpson clearly seem to perform well here consistently, however the 2018 and 2017 winners, Kodaira and Bryan, were making their debut in the event, while the 2018 winner CT Pan had finishes of 44 and 23 in his two previous starts.
With regards to form coming in as touched on above this is muddled by the Augusta factor, however it is worth noting that only one of the past five winners, Cink last year, had posted a top 20 finish in their previous two starts and in 2019 CT Pan pitched up here having finished no better than 42nd in the calendar year to date before taking home the trophy. In In 2020 with the event being the second back Simpson won having missed the cut at the Charles Schwab the previous week however if we go back further the 2014 and 2012 winners, Kuchar and Pettersson had posted a top ten in their start prior to victory here.
Not unsurprisingly for a links course the winning score tends to be dictated by the weather and how much the wind blows.
The lowest winning score over the past ten years was delivered by Simpson in 2020 who triumphed with a -22 total. The lowest total when the event has been played in its traditional April slot came from Cink last year when he shot -19.
The average winning score though tends to come in around -13 or -12 and the latter was the number that CT Pan triumphed with in 2019.
The lead in to the week looks dry with temperatures sitting around the high 70s and this is also the case for Thursday and Friday.
Moving ahead in to the weekend though things start to cloud over a bit with a storm a small possibility both on Saturday and Sunday.
The wind, which is the most important factor here, looks like it will keep the players honest with 15mph+ gusts a possibility in the forecast all week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
MATT KUCHAR – 50/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED T3rd
First off the bat this week in an event that has been kind to veterans over the years I am going to give a chance to Matt Kuchar.
Kooch missed out on his first Major Championship last week since the 2015 Masters and there is no doubt that will have stung the Georgia Tech grad.
While sat at home smarting though Matt will I am sure have taken the positives from two far more positive displays of late that saw him firstly finish 16th at the Valspar Championship and then more recently runner up in Texas.
Prior to those two efforts 2022 had been a struggle for Kuchar as a whole with only a seventh place at the Sony Open in January to show for his efforts. Looking at his stats for the season and it is clear to see that a large chunk of the reason for Matt’s struggles has been in his iron play as he has dropped down to 134th in strokes-gained-approach-to-the-green on the seasons rankings.
In his two starts at the Valspar and Valero though Matt has shown some solid signs of improvement in those areas ranking 52nd and 32nd respectively.
This week then the 43yr old now arrives at a course that he has a long history of success at having bagged the trophy once to go with a runner up finish as well. Add this to the fact that Matt’s most recent two wins came at the Mayakoba and the Sony, an event, which he was also seventh at earlier this year, and that he is a former winner at another Pete Dye design, TPC Sawgrass and it is clear what type of track he is at his best on these days.
While Kuchar has struggled with his approach play this season his putter and short game in general continues to fire strongly and if he can continue to build on the improvement in his iron play again this week I can see Kooch following in the footsteps of the most recent veteran winner here last year, Stewart Cink, and punching his return ticket to Augusta next year.
TROY MERRITT – 80/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 12th
Next up for me this week is another chance for a player we have been tracking closely of late Troy Merritt.
Troy it must be said has been a cause of some frustration for us recently as having benefited from his really strong showing at Pebble Beach earlier this year we could only sit and watch in anguish as he produced a horror front nine at the Valspar recently on Sunday when we were on board again to blow any chance of a return. Needless to say he then backed that up with an assured Sunday last time out to finish fourth in Texas!
In all honesty though that historically has been what you get from Troy, hot one week and freezing cold the next. This season though it mut be said he has been producing a far more consistent run of results missing only three cuts in 14 starts with five top 25 finishes to his name.
Returning to Troy’s strong effort at Pebble Beach and the reason we were onboard that week was his previous strong history at the venue and of course with its links to this weeks event there to see as another short coastal track of the same ilk it would make sense that the 36yr old would also enjoy his time on Hilton Head Island.
To rubber stamp this we only need look at Troy’s record here, which boasts a tenth and third place finish over his last five visits.
At the Valero Merritt had a strong week on the greens to thank mainly for his high finish however at the Valspar the week before it was his tee to green game that did the damage before his poor Sunday showing.
To sum up looking at Merritt’s results of late and stats and it is clear that he is trending towards that one big week where he puts it all together and on a course, which he has shown when his game is ‘on’ he can perform strongly on I am happy to chance him again this week.
MATTHEW NeSMITH – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 12th
For our final four picks in an event that can throw up shocks at big odds as the elite names suffer from a Masters hangover I am going to roll the dice at big each way odds. Two of these players are also players I was on here last year and the first of these is Matthew NeSmith.
Actually to enlarge further and this is now the third year running I have sided with NeSmith in this event so here we go again for the reasons why!
To go back two years and when putting NeSmith in 2020 I stated that “If you are going to roll the dice on PGA Tour rookie Matt NeSmith once this season at huge odds then this is the week” and after he opened up with rounds of 66 and 67 to be right in the mix through 36 holes it looked like we might be rewarded.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be though that week for Matthew as his lack of experience in contention showed on Saturday as he struggled to a 73 before bouncing back on Sunday.
Looking at Matthew’s stats that week though and in keeping with his games main strength he finished sixth for the week in approach play and 15th from tee to green. Also in keeping with his main weaknesses it was the putter, which let him down.
What that performance did as a whole though is rubber stamp what we already know, which is Harbour Town is a venue, which NeSmith feels hugely comfortable on.
A University of South Carolina graduate and resident of Aiken, a couple of hours or so away from Hilton Head, Nesmith hit the golfing headlines by proposing to his now wife Abigail on the 18th green at Hilton Head some three years ago.
NeSmith and Abigail fell in love with Hilton Head during his regular visits to events in the area in his college days, one being a five shot victory in the 2015 Players Amateur played at nearby Bluffton.
Roll the clock forward to 2021 and it was a slightly disappointing showing from Matthew here as he could only manage a 48th place finish.
Bringing us up to the present day then and the 28yr old return once more for his third PGA Tour start at Hilton Head on the back of a recent performance at the Valspar, which saw him come close to landing his maiden Tour title before ultimately finishing third.
While NeSmith didn’t quite get the job done that week he can certainly be proud of how he held up on Sunday in the final group on the back of a superb Saturday 61 that had vaulted him right in to the hunt. After two early bogeys in the final round NeSmith played his final 11 holes 2- under and bogey free so he certainly showed he can hang tough in the big arena.
The highlight of Matthew’s play that week was his approach play for, which he ranked first on the week and as we know that is the strength of his game. The hope this week then is that buoyed by the confidence gained from that performance he can bring his strengths to a venue, which fits then perfectly and go even better this time around.
WESLEY BRYAN – 250/1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next cab up this week I shall roll the dice on another player with South Carolina links Wesley Bryan.
Bryan was in the spotlight recently as he battled to fulfil a major medical extension criteria in his final start at the Valspar only to come up a few shots shy of where he needed to be.
Not to be down heartened for too long though Bryan headed the following week to the Corales Puntacana event and posted a solid 15th place finish.
Short off the tee Wesley’s main malaise since his return from injury is that his lack of length has been compounded by a lack of accuracy however this week of course that lack of length is not significant and most of the time the driver will be staying in the bag.
The good news is though for Wes’ fans that once he has got his tee ball in play the strength of his game this season comes to the fore as his he is currently ranked 32nd in approach play this campaign and that certainly ties in to what is needed here.
So we’ve established that Bryan has a solid finish to build on and that his approach play is firing however the key link to siding with him this week of course is that he is a South Carolinian native who’s finest hour came when winning here in 2017, becoming the first player born in the events home state to do so.
For Bryan to do so again is of course a huge ask based on his current standing in the game, however since that victory here he has made the cut on all three visits and last years 25th when in no form at all rubber stamped his affinity to the event.
This year then on the back of his eye catching effort last time out I am happy to chance him at huge odds to threaten the frame if no more.
BEN MARTIN – 350/1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 59th
Next up we have another South Carolinian who was in the spotlight at the Corales, Ben Martin.
That week Ben lead wire to wire only to be pipped by Chad Ramey literally at the 72nd hole, something, which lead to an outpouring of emotion from the 34yr old afterwards having come so close to a second PGA Tour title.
While Ben didn’t get the win that week what he showed again was that he really is at his best on coastal layouts and/or shorter tracks.
To back this up further and if we look back over Ben’s body of work we’ll see he has a fifth to his name on another Pete Dye design at Sawgrass, top tens at the Wyndham and the Sony, a third at Puerto Rico and most significantly a third place here back in 2014.
While Martin has undoubtedly lost his way of late there is no doubt he has the pedigree and class to win again out here and having come so close he makes huge appeal to me at the big each way odds on offer.
TYLER DUNCAN – 250/1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 12th
Finally in a week we are looking for shorter hitting accurate players who have flourished on this type of test before then a player who I can’t get away from at huge odds is Tyler Duncan.
Currently ranked third in accuracy this season on tour Duncan had quietly put a mini run of solid results together of late before a second round 82 derailed him last time out in Texas.
Duncan’s finest moment came when he saw off Webb Simpson at the RSM Classic in 2019, an event, which certainly links well here and it is clear to me that if and when he puts it all together again it will be on the type of test we face this week.
While Tyler hasn’t pulled up any trees here before a second round 63 in 2020 tells us he can certainly flourish on this track and I am happy to wrap things up by risking him at huge odds.
UPDATED 12th APRIL
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - DOUG GHIM - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED 35th - DK POINTS 68
First up this week in this section I will chance Doug Ghim.
Ghim has become a man to keep an eye on when the tour hits a Pete Dye design over the past couple of seasons having consistently performed well on the reverred designers layouts.
Ghim first caught the eye on a Dye layout at the 2021 Amex where he finished fifth before than producing a big performance at TPC Sawgrass a couple of months later.
This year Doug was at it again at Sawgrass finishing sixth and he now returns to Hilton Head where he finished 33rd on debut last year. He looks primed for another strong effort on a Dye design this week.
PICK 2 - LUKE DONALD - DK VALUE $6300 - FINISHED 56th - DK POINTS 64
Former world number one Luke Donald has endured a tough few years however there have been some glimmers of form this season not least in his approach play for, which he currently ranks fourth on the PGA Tour.
In his heydey althoiugh Luke never won here he was a standing dish for a big finish and with his game finally trending forward again I expect him to at least be with us for all four days this week.