RBC Heritage: A preview of this week's PGA Tour event at Hilton Head
By Dave Tindall
Last Updated: 17/04/14 8:43am
After the thrill of The Masters, the PGA Tour remains on the eastern seaboard this week, moving 135 miles north from Georgia to South Carolina.
Harbour Town Golf Links is one of the most popular venues in golf and offers an especially welcome change of pace after the stresses and strains of Augusta.
Although it remains one of the shorter layouts on the PGA Tour, Harbour Town does not lack respect among the pros.
With smaller than average putting surfaces, that are well-guarded by sand, this tight, compact venue requires precision play from tee-to-green.
The Pete Dye-construction has been ever-present on Tour since 1969.
After his brilliant performance in The Masters, youngster Jordan Spieth (who was ninth here on debut last year) heads the betting, while another Augusta standout, Matt Kuchar (a best of seventh at Hilton Head), is second favourite.
An update to the course in 2011 added a little length but at just 7,101 yards, the par 71 Harbour Town is still way below Tour average. As well as favouring straight driving it also plays into the hands of those who can work the ball as there are many doglegs and branches which jut out into fairways. Winds also stop the course being a pushover and this week are predicted to be a factor (up to 15mph) on the first two days before settling on the weekend.
Winning scores and champions
To prove that this isn't just a post-Masters birdie-fest, Graeme McDowell won here with nine-under last year, the same score that Adam Scott had posted when taking victory at Augusta the week before. Going further back, winning scores have varied but a certain type of player has emerged victorious - normally shorter hitters with experience. Pre-McDowell the winners' roll-call reads: 2012 Carl Pettersson (-14), 2011 Brandt Snedeker (-12), 2010 Jim Furyk (-13), 2009 Brian Gay (-20), 2008 Boo Weekley (-15), 2007 Boo Weekley (-14), 2006 Aaron Baddeley (-15), 2005 Peter Lonard (-7).
Brendon de Jonge hasn't really delivered since his excellent display in the Presidents Cup at the back end of 2013 but a 37th at Augusta last week on a course too long for him was encouraging.
The Zimbabwean had occupied that same position in Houston the week before and was 36th in Texas prior to that so if he can just find the right venue his game is starting to pick up.
Hilton Head could well be that course.
He's made all five cuts here, has finished 9th, 29th and 21st in the last three years and in two of those was in the top four heading into the final round.
De Jonge looks a fair price at 80/1.
Ernie Els' current form isn't inspiring but his assessment of a missed cut at Augusta was: "Overall I didn’t play great, but then again I didn’t play badly either."
If he can find something, he could make his 150/1 price look massive as he's had a trio of top threes here.
Els, on his website, says of Hilton Head: "It’s a proper shot-maker’s golf course. You really need to work your golf ball to score well and, when you miss one of those small greens, you need a deft touch to give yourself a chance of getting up and down. That’s always been a strong part of my game, which is one of the reasons my record in this tournament is pretty strong, with seven top-10s from 14 starts. Also, the best part of my game at Augusta was my putting, so that’s a nice vibe to take into this week as I search for my first win here."
Friday is also the tournament’s designated Autism Awareness Day and players, fans and media are being encouraged to wear blue in order to indicate their support for those affected by autism spectrum disorders (which includes Ernie's son Ben). This is an event clearly close to Els' heart.
Kevin Na didn't make The Masters but prior to that was 11th in the Texas Open, 14th at Bay Hill and runner-up in the Valspar Championship. Two starts before he was fourth at Pebble Beach.
Adding to that impressive 2014 form is a strong course record which shows top 10s in each of the last two years (8th in 2013, 9th in 2012) and a fourth in 2007.
Take him at 33/1.
At the front of the betting, Luke Donald has a ludicrously good record at Hilton Head so is worth a wager at 18/1.
The Englishman was second here in 2009 and 2011 and third in both 2010 and 2013.
A terrible opening day at Augusta, which included a two-shot penalty, saw him miss the Masters cut (he played well on the Friday, shooting a two-under 70) but before that he'd had a fourth, an eighth and two other top 25s in his previous four starts.
1pt e.w. Brendon de Jonge at 80/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Ernie Els at 150/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Kevin Na at 33/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
2pts e.w. Luke Donald at 18/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)