Best bets for the RBC Heritage

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The RBC Heritage

Jon Rahm became “El campeón” at the Masters on Sunday, 40 years after his childhood hero Seve Ballesteros won the green jacket in 1983.

 

In my Masters column last week, I noted that 72% of the eventual Masters champions’ scoring output since 2009 comes from the par-5s. Rahm’s winning score was 276 (12 under par) and 10 under of it was courtesy of the par-5s.

Rahm also ranked No. 1 in the field for Scrambling (21/27 up and downs — 77.8%), second for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee (+1.58 strokes per round), third for Greens In Regulation (52/72 — 72.2%), fourth for Driving Accuracy (48/56 — 85.7%), sixth for Strokes Gained: Approach (+1.21 strokes per round) and sixth for Strokes Gained: Around The Green (+0.77 strokes per round).

Even when trailing Brooks Koepka, who finished T-2, it never felt like Rahm was too far out of the mix. He showed the complete all-around game and displayed why he has won four times already in 2023 and is once again the No. 1 OWGR (Official World Golf Rankings) player in the world.

The 18-player LIV contingent had a successful Masters by all accounts with 12 of 18 players making the cut, including Koepka and Phil Mickelson, yes, the same Phil Mickelson who has one top-10 finish in 10 LIV Golf events with an average finish of 31.3 out of 48 golfers, finishing T-2, and Patrick Reed finishing T-4.

Here are the final results for the Masters:

1 Jon Rahm -12

T-2 Brooks Koepka -8

T-2 Phil Mickelson -8

T-4 Russell Henley -7

T-4 Patrick Reed -7

T-4 Jordan Spieth -7

T-7 Viktor Hovland -6

T-7 Cameron Young -6

9 Sahith Theegala -5

T-10 Matt Fitzpatrick -4

T-10 Collin Morikawa -4

T-10 Xander Schauffele -4

T-10 Scottie Scheffler -4

This week, the PGA Tour returns to action at the RBC Heritage in South Carolina. This event typically has a very good field, but this year likely is the best that the event has ever had now that the RBC Heritage is a “designated event” with a $20 million purse. Typically, some players take this week off after the grind of playing the Masters. However, very few are electing to do so this week, with the exceptions of Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day and Will Zalatoris, who underwent another back surgery over the weekend and is out at least until the fall.

Rahm, fresh off winning his second major championship and regaining the OWGR No. 1 spot, checks in at 17-2, just behind tournament favorite Scottie Scheffler (8-1). Rahm is playing this event for just the second time and Scheffler makes his debut here in Hilton Head.

Patrick Cantlay (12-1), who has three top-3 finishes here in five appearances, lost in a playoff here last year to defending champion Spieth (20-1).

Collin Morikawa (18-1) and Viktor Hovland (22-1) finished in the top 10 last week at Augusta as did Cameron Young (22-1), who finished T-3 in this event last year.

Schauffele (26-1) and Matt Fitzpatrick (30-1) were also top-10 Masters finishers last week.

Former RBC Heritage champions in this week’s field include Spieth, three-time winner Stewart Cink (500-1), 2020 winner Webb Simpson (100-1), 2019 winner CT Pan (300-1), 2018 winner Satoshi Kodaira (750-1), 2017 winner Wesley Bryan (1000-1), two-time winner Jim Furyk (1000-1), 2014 winner Matt Kuchar (50-1), 2009 winner Brian Gay (2000-1) and five-time champion Davis Love III (2500-1).

The Event

The RBC Heritage was established in 1969 as the Heritage Classic, and the inaugural event was won by “The King” himself, Arnold Palmer, at just 1 under par (283), which is still the highest score ever to win this event. Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island has been the event’s host since its inception. RBC, the Royal Bank of Canada, has been the event’s title sponsor since 2012. Except for 2020 (due to COVID-19), the RBC Heritage has been played the week following the Masters from 1983 to its present date.

Ten men have won this tournament more than once through 2021.

5 wins

Davis Love III: 1987, 1991, 1992, 1998, 2003

3 wins

Hale Irwin: 1971, 1973, 1994

Stewart Cink: 2000, 2004, 2021

2 wins

Johnny Miller: 1972, 1974

Hubert Green: 1976, 1978

Tom Watson: 1979, 1982

Fuzzy Zoeller: 1983, 1986

Payne Stewart: 1989, 1990

Boo Weekley: 2007, 2008

Jim Furyk: 2010, 2015

Other notable winners here include Jack Nicklaus (1975), Nick Faldo (1984), Bernhard Langer (1985), Greg Norman (1988) and Nick Price (1997).

The Course

​Harbour Town Golf Links was designed in 1967 by Pete Dye and assisted by Jack Nicklaus, which was his first foray into course design. Harbour Town plays as a par-71 of 7,213 yards. It is a coastal links that is tree-lined with doglegs and narrow sightlines off the tee as you will find with most courses in the Carolinas. The trees can also disguise the wind. Some of these doglegs force you to lay up off the tee with less than driver.

Harbour Town annually ranks as the course with the fewest drives over 300 yards and the second-shortest average driving distance on the PGA Tour; just 275.5 yards off the tee, compared with the PGA Tour average of 288.2 yards. The fairways and rough are overseeded Ryegrass and the greens are overseeded Poa Trivialis. The rough is typically only 0.75 inches but has been grown out to 2.5 this year. The average fairway width is around 33.1 yards, which is less than tour average, so ball striking has even greater importance. The tiny, dome-shaped greens (a Dye trademark) average around 3,700 square feett and are the second smallest on the PGA Tour and will roll average speed (11.5) on the stimpmeter.

Water comes into play on nine holes with six of those affecting approach shots.

Harbour Town is a par-71 course with three par-5s and 11 par-4s. Two of the three par-5s are easily reachable in two shots and offer an excellent chance at birdie or eagle. Overall, the par-4s are very short compared with the average. Seven of them play under 450 yards with none longer than 475. While eight of them have historically played over par, that number has gotten closer to even over the last few tournaments. While the par-4s and par-5s are average in difficulty, the four par-3s rank as the ninth toughest on rour, each playing over 190 yards.

Pete Dye is the designer, so there are a fair number of Dye courses every year on the PGA Tour schedule if you are looking for a course correlation. They include:

Austin Country Club: WGC Dell Match Play since 2016

Crooked Stick: 2012 and 2016 BMW Championship.

Ocean Course, Kiawah Island: 2012 and 2021 PGA Championship

TPC River Highlands: The Travelers

TPC Louisiana: Zurich Classic of New Orleans

TPC Sawgrass: The Players Championship

TPC Stadium, PGA West: The American Express since 2016

Whistling Straits: 2010 and 2015 PGA Championship

Aside from the Dye designs (especially TPC River Highlands and TPC Sawgrass), other courses with strong correlations include Waialae CC, Sedgefield CC and Sea Island Resort.

Recent History/Winners​

2022: Jordan Spieth (-13/271); 40-1*

2021: Stewart Cink (-19/265); 125-1

2020: Webb Simpson (-22/262); 30-1

2019: C.T. Pan (-12/272); 160-1

2018: Satoshi Kodaira (-12/272); 250-1**

2017: Wesley Bryan (-13/271); 80-1

2016: Branden Grace (-9/275); 40-1

2015: Jim Furyk (-18/266); 25-1***

2014: Matt Kuchar (-11/273); 18-1

2013: Graeme McDowell (-9/275); 40-1****

2012: Carl Pettersson (-14/270); 55-1

2011: Brandt Snedeker (-12/272); 35-1*****

2010: Jim Furyk (-13/271); 14-1******

Playoff win over Patrick Cantlay – *

Playoff win over Si Woo Kim – **

Playoff win over Kevin Kisner – ***

Playoff win over Webb Simpson – ****

Playoff win over Luke Donald – *****

Playoff win over Brian Davis – ******

Tournament Angles and Trends

Masters Hangover

— From 2010-2022, only three players finished top 5 the week before at the Masters and then the following week at the RBC Heritage (2011: Luke Donald T-4 Masters, T2 RBC Heritage in 2011; Matt Kuchar T-5 Masters, 1 RBC Heritage in 2014; Shane Lowry T-3 Masters, T-3 RBC Heritage in 2022).

— From 2010-2022, only five players finished top 10 the week before at the Masters and then the following week at the RBC Heritage (Ricky Barnes T-10 Masters, T-5 RBC Heritage in 2010; Patrick Cantlay T-9 Masters, T-3 RBC Heritage in 2019; Corey Conners T-8 Masters, T-4 RBC Heritage in 2021; Cameron Smith T-10 Masters, T9 RBC Heritage in 2021).

Year, RBC Heritage Winner, Masters Finish

2022, Jordan Spieth, MC

2021, Stewart Cink, T-12

2019, C.T. Pan, DNP

2018, Satoshi Kodaira, T-28

2017, Wesley Bryan, DNP

2016, Branden Grace, MC

2015, Jim Furyk, MC

2014, Matt Kuchar, MC

2013, Graeme McDowell MC

2012, Carl Pettersson, DNP

2011, Brandt Snedeker, DNP

2010, Jim Furyk, MC

— In eight of the last 10 years, the eventual winner has been two or more strokes off the lead after 54 holes (In-Play Wagering).

’22: Spieth 3 back, ’21: Cink 5 ahead, ’20: Simpson tied for lead, ’19: Pan 2 back, ’18: Kodaira 6 back, ’17: Bryan 4 back, ’16: Grace 3 back, ’15: Furyk 4 back, ’14: Kuchar 4 back, ’13: McDowell 4 back.

— Only two 54-hole leaders over the last 10 years have gone on to win here: Carl Pettersson in 2012 and Stewart Cink in 2021.

Statistical Analysis

With the second-smallest greens on tour and lagoons and coastal waterways edging up toward numerous holes, SG: Approach and Proximity to the hole will be vital this week.

Strokes Gained Approach (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Tom Hoge 41.9
  2. Scottie Scheffler 34.4
  3. Collin Morikawa 34.2
  4. Tony Finau 32.8
  5. Max Homa 31.1
  6. Sepp Straka 27.2
  7. Ben Martin 25
  8. Rickie Fowler 24.9
  9. Wyndham Clark 24.7
  10. Xander Schauffele 24.5
  11. Tom Kim 24.5
  12. Russell Knox 23.9
  13. Corey Conners 22.8
  14. Tyrrell Hatton 22.6
  15. Nick Hardy 21.9
  16. Shane Lowry 21.8
  17. Gary Woodland 20.5

Proximity Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Tom Hoge 75.8
  2. Russell Knox 70.7
  3. Collin Morikawa 70.2
  4. Gary Woodland 63.5
  5. Lucas Glover 60.2
  6. Justin Suh 57.8
  7. Tony Finau 56.5
  8. Nate Lashley 52.8
  9. Russell Henley 52
  10. Viktor Hovland 51.9
  11. Shane Lowry 50.7
  12. Jon Rahm 46
  13. Patrick Cantlay 45.8
  14. Justin Rose 43.8
  15. Max Homa 43
  16. Davis Riley 41.6

Note: Average Feet Gained Per Shot

Greens In Regulation can also be examined a bit more carefully this week. The 60% GIR rate is well below the tour average of 65%.

GIR Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Scottie Scheffler 59.5
  2. Patrick Cantlay 44.4
  3. Tony Finau 44
  4. Jon Rahm 41.6
  5. Aaron Rai 40.3
  6. Gary Woodland 39.3
  7. Collin Morikawa 39.2
  8. Alex Smalley 35.8
  9. Tyler Duncan 35.6
  10. Lanto Griffin 33.5
  11. Rickie Fowler 32.9
  12. Luke List 32.5
  13. Xander Schauffele 32
  14. Russell Knox 27.2
  15. Wyndham Clark 26.9
  16. Nate Lashley 26.5
  17. Corey Conners 26.5
  18. Justin Rose 25.9
  19. Stephan Jaeger 25.3

It is very hard to gain strokes off the tee at Harbour Town. In fact, it yields the second-fewest strokes gained off-the-tee on the PGA Tour. Harbour Town does not have penal rough and with the last 13 winners averaging just 55th place for distance, and accuracy being more important than distance, Good Drives Gained is a more appropriate measure.

Good Drives Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Collin Morikawa 43.5
  2. Aaron Rai 37.1
  3. Russell Henley 34.5
  4. Patrick Cantlay 33.7
  5. Tony Finau 30.6
  6. Justin Suh 30.1
  7. Gary Woodland 30
  8. Tyler Duncan 29.5
  9. Scottie Scheffler 28.8
  10. Hayden Buckley 28
  11. Justin Rose 26.6
  12. Ben Martin 25.4
  13. Tom Kim 24.8
  14. Nate Lashley 24.1
  15. Matt Kuchar 23.6
  16. Matthew NeSmith 22.8
  17. Satoshi Kodaira 22.8
  18. Adam Hadwin 22.5
  19. Lanto Griffin 22.4

The rough has not been penal here historically, but it was grown substantially this year, so finding fairways is even more important this time around.

Fairways Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Russell Henley 68.3
  2. Satoshi Kodaira 60.4
  3. Collin Morikawa 54.3
  4. Aaron Rai 53.7
  5. Tom Kim 48.9
  6. Adam Long 47.6
  7. Brendon Todd 45.2
  8. Chez Reavie 43.5
  9. Jim Furyk 42.6
  10. Lucas Glover 39.7
  11. Tyler Duncan 39.2
  12. Ryan Moore 39
  13. Hayden Buckley 37.4
  14. Joel Dahmen 36.1
  15. Michael Thompson 36
  16. Brian Harman 34.2
  17. Adam Hadwin 34

Dating to 2010, RBC Heritage winners have averaged a ranking of ninth in Scrambling during their respective winning weeks.

Scrambling Gained (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Maverick McNealy 19.9
  2. Sam Ryder 17.4
  3. Ben Griffin 15.8
  4. Jim Furyk 15.2
  5. JJ Spaun 14.2
  6. Danny Willett 13.4
  7. Adam Schenk 13.4
  8. Mackenzie Hughes 13.2
  9. Max Homa 13.1
  10. Matt Kuchar 12.7
  11. Taylor Montgomery 12.7
  12. Matt Fitzpatrick 12.1
  13. Brendon Todd 11.9
  14. Andrew Putnam 11.7
  15. Matthias Schwab 10.9
  16. Sam Burns 10.3
  17. Sungjae Im 9.8

The last two winners at the RBC Heritage (Spieth and Cink) have ranked fifth in the field for Strokes Gained: Around The Green during their respective winning weeks.

Strokes Gained: Around The Green (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Justin Thomas 20.4
  2. Tommy Fleetwood 17.5
  3. Scott Piercy 15.9
  4. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 15.5
  5. Brendon Todd 15.5
  6. Ben Griffin 14.9
  7. Patrick Rodgers 14.4
  8. Chris Kirk 14.2
  9. Danny Willett 13.1
  10. David Lipsky 12.7
  11. Aaron Rai 12.6
  12. Adam Schenk 12.6
  13. KH Lee 12
  14. Jordan Spieth 12
  15. Stephan Jaeger 11.4
  16. Matt Kuchar 10.9
  17. Scottie Scheffler 10.6
  18. Kurt Kitayama 10.4
  19. Sungjae Im 10.4

Six of the 11 par-4s measure 400-450 Yards.

Strokes Gained Par-4s 400-450 Yards (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Taylor Montgomery 23
  2. Collin Morikawa 19.7
  3. Tony Finau 19
  4. Jon Rahm 18.2
  5. Scottie Scheffler 17.8
  6. Jordan Spieth 17.7
  7. Sahith Theegala 15.7
  8. Nick Taylor 15.2
  9. Matt Kuchar 14.9
  10. Akshay Bhatia 14.3
  11. Ben Martin 14.1
  12. Chris Kirk 14
  13. Adam Scott 13.7
  14. Max Homa 12.8
  15. Adam Svensson 12.6
  16. Viktor Hovland 11.6
  17. Kurt Kitayama 11.6
  18. Sam Stevens 11.3
  19. Patrick Cantlay 11.3

Harbour Town, plus many of its correlated courses, are Pete Dye designs.

Strokes Gained Total — Pete Dye Designs (Last 36 rounds)

  1. Brian Harman 54.8
  2. Patrick Cantlay 53.6
  3. Shane Lowry 52.2
  4. Tommy Fleetwood 51.7
  5. Sungjae Im 50.7
  6. Jon Rahm 50.3
  7. Scottie Scheffler 50
  8. Keegan Bradley 47.3
  9. Adam Scott 46.1
  10. Si Woo Kim 42.2
  11. Corey Conners 40.1
  12. Viktor Hovland 37.9
  13. Matt Kuchar 36.6
  14. Justin Rose 35.9
  15. Cam Davis 35.8
  16. Tyrrell Hatton 35.7
  17. Matt Fitzpatrick 35.2
  18. Webb Simpson 34.2
  19. Tony Finau 34.1
  20. Sam Burns 33.9

Selections

Collin Morikawa (18-1, DraftKings)

Despite just having one finish in the top 25 here in three appearances — seventh in 2021 (second after 54 holes) — Morikawa is a perfect fit for this course.

He lost a big lead in the season opener to Rahm at Kapalua but has continued to post solid finishes with third at Torrey Pines, sixth at Riviera, 13th at TPC Sawgrass and 10th last week at Augusta National.

Morikawa also ranks first for Good Drives Gained, third on Approach, third for Proximity, third for Fairways Gained and seventh for GIR Gained over the last 36 rounds.

Cameron Young (22-1, Circa Sports)

Young finished T-7 last week at the Masters and finished second at the Dell Match Play.

So far, he has a second and a seventh with new caddie Paul Tesori. Tesori spent the last dozen years on the bag with Webb Simpson, who won here in 2020, finished runner-up here in 2013 and has three other top-11 finishes at Harbour Town over the last decade.

While the big-hitting Young did not exactly pop in the models this week, he did finish third here and showed that he can play station-to-station target golf.

Matt Fitzpatrick (31-1, Circa Sports)

Fitzpatrick calls Harbour Town his favorite course in the world as he and his family vacationed in Hilton Head frequently during his youth.

He finished top 10 at the Masters last week and said that he is finally healthy after battling a neck issue early in the season.

He has three top-15 finishes in his past five starts here, including a fourth in 2021.

Justin Thomas (33-1, Circa Sports)

This is a price grab as much as anything else because Thomas is better than being priced in the 30s range.

He missed the cut at the Masters having been on the wrong side of the weather draw, but keep in mind that his best friend, Jordan Spieth, did the same at Augusta last year and then won this event on a price drift.

While Thomas has not been near his best to start 2023, he is a proven winner on a Pete Dye design having won The Players in 2021.

Shane Lowry (38-1, Circa Sports)

Lowry has finished third at this event twice and has also posted a ninth-place finish, so he has been top-5 twice and top-10 three times in five appearances here. He also held a two-shot lead on the Sunday back nine here last year.

He was T-16 last week at the Masters having led the field for Driving Accuracy hitting 50 of 56 fairways (89.3%) over four days and was also sixth best for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green.

It is only really his putting holding him back at this stage and he’s never lost strokes putting at this course in five visits.

Matt Kuchar (50-1, Superbook Sports)

Kuchar has earned $3.3 million at Harbour Town across 19 appearances courtesy of form that reads: 10th (2005), seventh (2008), first (2014), fifth (2015), ninth (2016), second (2019) and third (2022).

Thus far this year, he has finished seventh at the Sony Open and eighth at the Genesis Invitational on the West Coast swing.

Kuchar made the Round of 16 at the WGC Dell Match Play (beating Viktor Hovland and Si Woo Kim) and finished third last time out at the Valero Texas Open, where he ranked second for Greens in Regulation, third for Ball Striking, third for Strokes Gained on Approach and second for Strokes Gained Tee to Green.

Aaron Rai (180-1, DraftKings)

Rai is making his first appearance this year at Harbour Town, but his profile indicates that he should play well here on a course where length off the tee is not a prerequisite.

He is second in Good Drives Gained, fourth in Fairways Gained, fifth in GIR Gained and 11th for Strokes Gained: Around The Green over the last 36 rounds.

Matchups (20-11-5)

Webb Simpson -113 over Min Woo Lee

Christiaan Bezuidenhout -115 over Billy Horschel

Brendon Todd -130 over Patrick Rodgers