So the 83rd edition of the Masters is over and it will go down in history as one of the most memorable of all time.
Yes folks, If you didn’t know it already Tiger Woods is well and truly back and whatever your views are on him and all the baggage that has surrounded him over years, if you are any kind of golf fan [or even if you’re not] you cant help but have been moved to some extent by the scenes that greeted him around the 18th green once he clinched his victory.
The question now is not will he but how much will Tiger push on from here? With Bethpage Black and Pebble Beach next on the Major horizon, both venues Tiger has won at before, another Major this year is a distinct possibility.
Can he catch and overtake Jack’s record? Well as someone who wrote him off before [I am happy to admit that to quote his own words “I thought he was done”], I am certainly not going to make that mistake again and say definitely not. I do still think it will be tough though and if I had to put money on it either way I would say ‘no’.
From our own point of view it was a slightly disappointing week. All of our team played pretty well but bad starts, or in Aaron Wise’s case a mad four hole stretch at the end of his round on Thursday, gave him, Fitzpatrick and Matsuyama just too much to do to make the frame.
As for Rahm and Fowler both battled their way through the week and posted top ten finishes, which in Rickie’s case was enough to recoup us a chunk of our outlay.
In addition Wise in our roll as trader just hit the target trade price so there was some good news there as well.
So with The Masters now over it’s time to move on and 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 the event has pretty much owned its traditional slot of the week following the Masters since 1983. It is a perfect event to follow the drama’s of Augusta so lets hope it remains in this slot for many years to come.
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 several of the leading protagonists from Augusta teeing it up including Dustin Johnson, Molinari, Schauffele, Cantlay, Kuchar, Spieth, Fleetwood and Dechambeau,
At the time of writing DJ is the clear favourite followed by Molinari, Schauffele, Dechambeau and 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.
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 there 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.
Having said at the start of the preview that “that’s enough of Augusta for this year” we do have to come back to it for one last time in relation to the history of this event.
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.
S Kodaira 28th
W Bryan DNP
B Grace MC
J Furyk MC
M Kuchar 5th
G McDowell MC
C Pettersson DNP
B Snedeker 15th [2011 not played week after the Masters, played 2 weeks after].
J Furyk MC
B Gay DNP
So, as we can see if we put 2011 to one side when the event did not directly follow the Masters in the other nine outings only one player, Matt Kuchar has won at Harbour Town after featuring near the top end of the leaderboard at Augusta the week before.
Of the other 8 winners one of them, Kodaira last year, 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.
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 fancy for the week performed well at Augusta they will turn up at Harbour Town jaded and will under-perform.
With regards to the relevancy of previous course form here we have a bit of a mixed bag. Some players like Furyk, Kuchar and more recently Grace clearly perform seem to perform well consistently year in year out, however equally the last two winners, Kodaira and Bryan, were making their debut in the event. To me therefore rather than course form this week it is more about ‘course fit’ as there is a clear type of player we are looking for.
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 -20 when Brian Gay spread-eagled the field in 2009. Jim Furyk came close to this when he shot -18 [along with Kisner] in 2015 before winning in a play-off.
The average winning score though tends to come in around -13 or -12.
The days leading in to the tournament are set fair, as are Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, however as I write there is a fair possibility of some storms on Friday.
As is more often than not the case here the wind could well be a factor with gusts of 15mph+ possible on all four days.
The strongest winds are forecast for Friday at 20mph+ however these could well be in conjunction with storms meaning the players would avoid these winds if play was suspended.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JIM FURYK – 33-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Based on my logic of predominantly swerving players who were right in the hunt at Augusta, or who even played there at all, there is one man who I can’t get away from this week and that is Jim Furyk.
For the past couple of years plus Furyk’s own game has taken a back seat as he focused on Ryder Cup captaincy duties, however with this now firmly behind him the 48yr old is enjoying a final Indian Summer before he heads to the Champions Tour.
Recent finishes of ninth at the Honda Classic and second at the Pete Dye designed TPC Sawgrass show that Jim has rediscovered the old magic and when you look at the way he finished of with a birdie on the 18th at TPC when it really mattered there is no doubt to me he has another win in him.
Jim currently ranks 1st in DA on tour, 12th in GIR, 6th in Proximity to The Hole and 6th in scrambling. Basically he is producing the goods in all the key areas this week.
Jim is a two time champion at Harbour Town and if you put to one side his efforts here over the past two years he has been a model of consistency at this venue and I can see him adding a third RBC Heritage title to his trophy cabinet this week.
SI WOO KIM – 35-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Revenge as they say is a ‘dish best served cold’ and for someone who still has occasional flashbacks as to how Si Woo managed to ‘blow’ this tournament last year when carrying our money, a victory for the South Korean this week would be very sweet.
This time last year Si Woo came in to the event firmly under the radar based on some fairly low key recent form, however he was firmly on my radar based on his form at the Pete Dye designed TPC Sawgrass as well as his previous finish here of 14th on his lone start.
This year it is a different story altogether as the 23yr old arrives here on the back of his most consistent season on the PGA Tour to date, which has seen him bag five top ten finishes.
If you combine this solid form along with his second place last year it is not unsurprising that we have nothing like the fancy three figure price we got last year on Si Woo to get our teeth in to this time around and this very nearly put me off, however at the end of the day the case for the South Korean is so strong that I couldn’t get away from him.
Si Woo had a great chance to win at the Valero Texas Open only two weeks ago but faltered badly on Sunday, however we know this hugely talented player has what it takes to get the job done and he will be desperate to atone this week for both that finish in San Antonio and what happened here last year.
Si Woo didn’t dwell on the disappointment of San Antonio for too long as he posted a really solid 21st place finish at Augusta last week.
This finish was uncannily similar to his 24th place at Augusta last year, and like last year I can see him building on that performance this week and producing another really strong showing at Hilton Head.
BRANDEN GRACE – 50-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 61st
Call it a lazy selection if you will but to me anytime Branden Grace is available at 50-1 or thereabouts in this event I will be backing him.
I backed Grace in this event at 40-1 in 2016 as I was happy to ignore his recent ‘so-so’ form and instead focus on his 7th place here the previous year and he rewarded us in spectacular style with the win.
My logic then in backing him was I felt the course was perfect for his game and he then rubber stamped this once more with an 11th place finish the following year, again when in no great form coming in.
Having skipped the event last year for the birth of his son, Branden now returns to Hilton Head in a similar position to his previous two starts here, in that he is not firing on all cylinders, however once again I will happily overlook this and focus on his course history.
We saw earlier this year in Phoenix when he finished second that when a course suits the South African his form coming in is not critical, however to be fair to Branden he produced some solid stuff as recently as the WGC Matchplay three weeks ago to win all three group matches, which included wins over DJ and Hideki before losing a very tight encounter with Sergio, so his best stuff cant be far away.
Furthermore as we pretty much know by now Augusta is not a venue that suits Branden so making the weekend there, which is more than he did the year he won here, is a solid enough performance.
I picked Grace as one of ‘our six to follow’ for 2019 as I expected him to get back to winning ways this year after a winless 2018 and I am confident that can happen this week on a course he clearly loves.
AARON BADDELEY – 95-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up for us this week is another former Hilton Head champion who made our team at the Valero two weeks ago, Aaron Baddeley.
Badds won his maiden PGA Tour title here some thirteen years ago and there are sound reasons to think he can add another Plaid Jacket to his collection this week.
First and foremost, having struggled to keep his card last year the Aussie has come out this season rejuvenated and has posted three top ten finishes already.
My main reason for liking the look of Aaron this week though is that a big factor in his renaissance in form is that his magical short game of old appears to have returned.
Currently ranking 1st in Scrambling From The Fringe and 3rd in Total Scrambling Aaron has improved hugely in these areas this year compared to recent seasons and with these being key stats this week this has to be significant.
30th last time out when we were on board at The Valero was slightly disappointing based Badds’ previous strong course form, however it was another solid effort in a really solid season and at twice the price next time out I am more than happy to chance him again.
RYAN ARMOUR – 150-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 63rd
Whilst there were numerous other players I felt drawn to this week the final spot in our team goes to 43yr old tour Journeyman Ryan Armour.
Whilst Armour has no form at Hilton Head to his name other than a 55th place here last year his stats this season alone had his name leaping off the page at me.
Currently third in DA, 11th in Proximity To The Hole and 18th in the all important Scrambling, Ryan is doing everything well that you need to do well here.
Furthermore recent efforts of 12th at the Honda Classic and 6th at The Valspar, both tough driving tracks, show that the results are there to back up the statistics.
As already established this events roll of honour is littered with short, straight hitting players, several of whom could be classed on the veteran side, basically exactly the sort of player Ryan is, and at quotes of 150-1 with 8 e/w places available I am happy to conclude our team with him this week.
UPDATED 17th APRIL
TRADER - PETER MALNATI - FINISHED 16th - LOWEST PRICE TRADED 95
I am going to roll the dice on a bit of a hunch for this weeks trader pick and side with 31yr old Peter Malnati.
Malnati is known on tour as one of the most positive minded players out there and having got in to this weeks field at the eleventh hour on a sponsors exemption he will be determined to show it was justified.
His form of late gives the encouragement that a big week could be possible as he has made five of his last six cuts including four on the spin, with his most recent effort being a 23rd place in the Valero Texas Open a fortnight ago.
Whilst Malnati does not have any great form at Hilton Head the strength of his game is his putting and work around the greens and this is backed by his solid stats in these areas this season.
This, coupled with the fact that he is one of the shorter hitters out here means this is the sort of course he really should be looking to take advantage of when he gets an opportunity and my hunch is that he can go well this week.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 680+