The PGA Tour will continue this week with the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The course will play as a par 71, measuring 7,099 yards, and the putting will take place on Bermuda greens.
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RBC Heritage will be another event without fans with another bulked-up field, as it will host over 150 golfers. Similar to last week, the tournament will host the top-5 ranked golfers along with notables like Rickie Fowler, Collin Morikawa, Justin Rose, Jason Day and Gary Woodland. C.T. Pan, last year’s winner, will be defending his title in the deepest field this tournament has seen. Last season, the RBC Heritage was played right after the Masters, but with the shutdown stopping golf for over three months, the condensed (and revised) schedule along with the course set up should produce a similar leaderboard with some key names at the top. Of the players who finished in the top-5 at this tournament last season, only three played the week previous at Augusta: Matt Kuchar (RBC: 2nd, Masters: 12th), Patrick Cantlay (RBC: T3, Masters: 9th) and Shane Lowry (RBC: T3, Masters: MC). Patrick Cantlay is currently not in the field, but Matt Kuchar and Share Lowry are playing this week.
Pete Dye designed Harbour Town Golf Links back in 1969 with assistance from Jack Nicklaus. The coastal Carolina course played as the 11th most difficult in scoring relative to par last year, yielding the 19th most bogeys compared to the 24th most birdies. The course will feature tree-lined fairways, 20 water hazards, 54 sand bunkers and some of the smallest greens on tour (avg. 3,700 sq. ft). The average greens hit in regulation percentage totaled just under 58 percent, which is less than the Tour average (65.4). The course isn’t terribly long, but the golfers will have to contend with four par 4s between 450-500 yards and all the par 3s close to 200 yards.
Pete Dye is arguably the most acclaimed golf course architect, and many characteristics make his courses unique. For example, Dye is famous for creating sight lines off the tee that trick your eye, forcing players to trust in their shot and commit; if they don’t, it leads to more risk and less reward. Last season, the 13th hole, which is a 353-yard par 4, recorded 10 more bogeys than birdies. Like most Dye designs, the majority of the course’s layout does not feature similarities on back-to-back holes. There are stretches with multiple par 4s strung together, but they’ll differ in length, orientation and wind direction. Courses like TPC Sawgrass feature a similar layout. Coastal golf courses are mostly at the beck and call of the weather, and if it gets windy, the scoring will be difficult like it was last season and in 2017.
We should be looking for golfers who are elite with their irons again this week. Those who finished in the top-5 at Harbour Town gained an average of three times more with their irons than they did off the tee. The most substantial approach shot distribution came from 175 to 200 yards out, and with the longer approaches into these small greens, we should also be factoring in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green. Par 4 scoring along with birdie or better gained should be key areas to focus on when figuring out which golfers to roster.
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Justin Thomas ($10,900)
A rare poor performance off-the-tee from Thomas shouldn’t be enough to take us off of one of the best in the game. Thomas will take last week’s 10th place as quite pedestrian (to his standard) and want to remove it from his memory, especially with how well he was hitting his irons, ranking second only to Gary Woodland ($8,400). He’s already won three times on Tour this season and ranks fifth in par 4 efficiency, fifth in DraftKings scoring over the field and second in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green over his last nine tournaments. Thomas has shown he can stripe it off the tee and dial it back when he needs to, with his wedges ranking fourth in driving distance and sixth in approach proximity from 125 to 150 yards from the green.
Collin Morikawa ($10,000)
Ownership will dictate how much we should roster Morikawa, and if the consensus is to fade, then we should consider chasing. The predominant feeling should be one of confidence after seeing him miss those putts late on Sunday. Why? Morikawa has all the workings of a golfer who’ll work his tail off over the next few days to fix what was ailing him on the greens at Colonial Country Club. The field is strong, and Morikawa’s price increased from last week, so the sentiment may be high on the golfers similarly priced. Still, Morikawa remains at the top with his approach and has the all-around game to win on Tour, ranking fourth in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green over his last 36 rounds.
Patrick Reed ($8,800)
Reed had another top-10 finish last week, which could’ve been a lot better if he made some birdies on the front-nine last Sunday. After paring the first 14 holes, he rattled off three birdies in a row and should keep the momentum going into Harbour Town. His putting has been elite, gaining an average of 4.6 strokes on the greens and ranking first in birdie or better gained over his last nine tournaments. He’ll be a ‘fade’ candidate if his ownership starts to inflate as the week progresses, which might be a good enough reason if we fear that the putting regresses and the ball-striking doesn’t come around like it didn’t last week. My favorite pivot off of Reed in this price range is Dustin Johnson ($8,500), who’s historically performed very well on Pete Dye courses.
Tony Finau ($8,200)
His distance may not be needed as much here, but his ability with the irons will. Finau shouldn’t worry, and neither should we with Tony ranking 10th in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green over his last 36 rounds. His Bermuda putting needs a ton of work, but if he gains nothing on the greens this week (which will be an improvement) and keeps his ball-striking elite, he’ll be in contention for the Tartan jacket come Sunday.
Russell Henley ($7,100)
Henley feels “Daniel Berger-esque” in terms of how he was playing before the shutdown occurred. He grabbed a top-20 at the Genesis Invitational and a top-8 at the Honda Classic, gaining 10.6 strokes with his irons. He now gets back on Bermuda greens, which he prefers, by far, over poa and bentgrass, and gets back to Harbour Town, where he has two top-30s in his last three starts.
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