It is fair to say it wasn’t our week at the Masters unfortunately with our team as a whole performing poorly.
The one notable exception to that was Si Woo Kim who having been in the mix at the half way stage, despite breaking his putter in frustration on Friday, stalled over the weekend, before agonisingly finishing in 12th when we were on for 11 places each way. As I say not our week then.
The man who’s week it undoubtedly was though was Hideki Matsuyama. The Japanese star seized the tournament by the scruff of its neck on Saturday, posting a back nine of 30 when the play resumed after a rain delay.
This gave Hideki a four shot cushion heading in to Sunday and despite some wobbles along the way he was able to bogey the 18th but still close out a one shot victory over the superb Will Zalatoris.
Winless since 2017 Matsuyama has undoubtedly been a tough man to follow over the last few years however we always knew he had this kind of display in his locker, it was just a case of when he would eventually produce it again.
It was a fantastic display and he deserves huge credit for being able to hold it together and bag the Green jacket with the weight of a nation on him.
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, which returns to its traditional post Masters slot.
Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head has been the host course for the Heritage since 1969 and with the exception of last year 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 Dustin Johnson, no doubt smarting from his missed cut at Augusta, and defending champion Webb Simpson heading the market up. They are then followed by Patrick Cantlay who also missed the cut at Augusta, Collin Morikawa and Daniel Berger.
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 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.
After featuring as the second event back on the PGA Tour in the revised schedule following the hiatus for Covid-19 the RBC Heritage returns this week to its traditional post Masters slot.
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 this once again becomes 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
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
2011 B Snedeker 15th [2011 not played week after the Masters, played 2 weeks after].
So, as we can see if we put 2011 and 2020 to one side when the event did not directly follow the Masters in the other eight 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 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 last years 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 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 Furyk, Kuchar and more recently Grace and Simpson clearly seem to perform well here consistently year in year out, however the 2018 and 2017 winners, Kodaira and Bryan, were making their debut in the event, while the 2018 winner CT Pan though had played solidly here on his two previous starts finishing 44 and 23.
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, Branden Grace 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 2019 to date before taking home the trophy. Last year with the event being the second back Simpson won having missed the cut at the Charles Schwab the previous week.
On the other side of the coin three of the previous ten winners, Kuchar, Pettersson and Snedeker 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 last year who triumphed with a -22 total. The lowest total when the event has been played in its traditional April slot is Jim Furyk 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 and the latter was the number that CT Pan triumphed with last year.
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, does not look to be too much of an issue with nothing more than 10-15mph in the forecast all week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
BRANDEN GRACE – 66-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 42nd
My first pick this week I am afraid will get me know awards for originality as I am going to stick with Branden Grace who I put up both in the Valero Texas Open a fortnight ago and also in this event for the past couple of years.
I also backed Grace here at 40-1 in 2016 when he was victorious and having also been on the South African for his second PGA Tour win in Puerto Rico recently it is no secret that I am a big fan of his.
There’s no denying that the last couple of seasons have been tough for Branden with his win at the beginning of 2020 at the South African Open proving something of a false down.
This year though following the sad passing of his Father Branden returned to the PGA Tour and after a couple of solid efforts at Pebble Beach and Riviera he triumphed in Puerto Rico.
Since that win encouragingly Grace’s form has stayed reasonably solid and after a slow start when we were onboard in Texas his final finishing position of 23rd offered plenty of encouragement particularly off the tee as he finished 11th for the week in strokes-gained-off-the-tee.
So with Grace seemingly back on track we arrive at a venue, which when on song a few years ago we saw clearly suits him down to a tee as he posted finishes of seventh and 11th either side of his win here in 2016.
A master of coastal tracks susceptible to the wind, something, which we saw again of course in Puerto Rico Grace should be relishing getting back to Harbour Town this week after a week off and having missed out on trip to Augusta last week he will be keen to put that right with a win straight away.
As I mentioned when putting Branden forward in Texas last time out he has shown over his career that he is more than capable of following up one win with another shortly after and I am keen to have him onboard this week on what is no doubt one of his favourite tracks.
JT POSTON – 125-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED - MC
Next up for me this week is North Carolina native JT Poston.
Poston landed his first PGA Tour title in his home state at the Wyndham Championship in 2019 when he memorably went 72 holes without making a bogey.
Since that victory JT has been steady but unspectacular with his best finishes being an eighth place here just after the restart last June and a third at the Sanderson Farms last fall.
2021 has again seen Poston in fairly indifferent form as he has missed four of eight cuts with an 11th place in Phoenix the best he has been able to manage.
Nothing to get particularly excited about then in JT’s form of late however what brings me to him this week is that he is clearly by far and away at his best on shorter tracks, which reward his best asset, his putter and this was on display again recently with his solid performance at TPC Sawgrass where he finished 22nd.
A resident of St Simons Island Poston has played strongly at the RSM, Sony Open, Mayakoba and Players Championship in his time on tour to date, in addition to his win at Sedgefield CC of course.
Looking at Poston’s form at Harbour Town and we will see he has visited here twice finishing sixth on debut in 2019 and eighth last year when we were on board.
Furthermore if we look at his debut effort in 2019 and after opening up that week with two rounds of level par 71 JT shot rounds of 67 and 66 over the weekend to surge through the field and what was most striking was that in his interviews at the end of the week he said that he hit the ball really well all four days but had been hampered by being on the wrong side of the draw on Thursday and Friday, when the wind had picked up.
If we then look at his 2020 effort and the ‘postman’ posted rounds of 67, 69, 66 and 65 on his way to his eighth place finish despite struggling with his approach game so clearly this is a venue, which really suits him.
Finally one last piece of encouragement can be found in Poston’s college career in that he won the 2015 Wexford Plantational event at Hilton Head. While this event was not held at Harbour Town Poston you would think would have good positive vibes when returning to the area, one he must surely know well, and I am expecting him to thrive here again this week.
MATTHEW NeSMITH – 150-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 48th
Next up for me this week is another player who, like Grace, featured in our team both last time out at in Texas and in this event last year.
When putting NeSmith up for this last June 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 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.
NeSmith struggled on tour last year after lockdown, posting nothing better than his 33rd here for the remainder of the season, however his solid play pre hiatus was enough to earn him his spot in the Fedex Cup play offs.
This season however NeSmith returns to Harbour Town on the back of some consistent if unspectacular play, which sees him currently at 77th on the Fedex Cup standings and with his long game again looking in good shape last time out in Texas, where he finished 34th, he should arrive here in a positive frame of mind.
In addition to his obvious affinity to this track NeSmith has, in his short time on tour, shown with two top 15 finishes at the RSM, two top 20s at Pebble Beach and a sixth place at Puerto Rico that he is very much at home on a short coastal track and at the odds on offer he is a must bet for me this week.
PATTON KIZZIRE – 175-1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next cab off the rank this week is Patton Kizzire.
After posting two wins on tour in quick succession at the back end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 Kizzire hit a slump which saw him mostly struggle through 2019 until the end of the 2020 season.
The 2020/21 campaign however has seen Patton rediscover his form and having missed only two cuts in 15 starts so far this season, while notching four top 11 finishes along the way, a third tour title looks to be looming on the horizon.
Last time out at TPC San Antonio saw Kizzire close out the week with a 65 to earn himself a ninth place finish so he should certainly be arriving here in great heart. Furthermore what was particularly encouraging in that performance was Patton’s approach play, which saw him rank second in this category for the week and a repeat of that this week will be of huge value on Harbour Town’s small greens.
Looking at the Alabama native’s form at Hilton Head and he has struggled here over the last couple of years however finishes of 14th and 32nd on his first two appearances here when his game was in far better shape I see as a better reflection of his fit here.
Perhaps most importantly though on this front is Kizzire’s record on other short and/or coastal tracks. His two titles came at the Mayakoba and the Sony, which both certainly link well here and he has popped up with strong performances at the RSM at Sea Island and the Wyndham over the years as well. In addition his best performance in the 19/20 season by far came when he was sixth at the Pete Dye designed TPC River Highlands.
If we look at the roll of honour here over the past ten years we’ll see that it is littered with players who on their day flourish with the putter like Simpson, Snedeker, Kuchar, McDowell and Wes Bryan and with this being the best club as a rule in Patton’s bag he certainly fits that bill. On that basis and with him clearly trending nicely Kizzire is a must at the odds for me this week.
BEN MARTIN – 250-1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED MC
Next up in a team that mostly leans on players with Eastern state or indeed home state connections I will chance Ben Martin again who we were on a few weeks back at the Corales.
My logic for jumping on board Martin at big odds in the Dominican Republic was that he seemed to have found something over the weekend in his previous start on the Korn Ferry Tour and he so nearly rewarded our faith before finishing just outside of the frame in ninth place.
That week though was full of promise for Martin as he finished sixth in Driving accuracy, 16th in GIR and 22nd in putting and as a result of the top ten he played his way in to the field for the following week in Texas.
Moving on and at the Valero there was more strong stuff from Ben as he posted a 34th place finish.
What was really interesting about this display and all also the one at the Corales the previous week is that Martin has shown a huge improvement in his approach play, the area, which had been really holding him back, and at the Valero he ranked 22nd in approach play and 27th from tee to green.
Conversely though the putter, normally his strength, let him down badly at TPC San Antonio. Clearly then if Ben can maintain his improvement with the long game and get the putter firing again there is a big performance coming.
Tying all this up with this week’s venue is then when things get really interesting as Martin, a native of Greenwood in South Carolina and a graduate of Clemson is playing this week under a sponsors exemption. He will therefore no doubt be desperate to make the most of this opportunity and to continue his push to regaining his full tour card.
The one time tour winner has a best place finish here of third way back in 2014 so we know he can handle the track and his fourth place at The Players in 2015 rubbers stamps his Pete Dye form.
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 he is the typical sort of player who pops up at this event and takes advantage of much of the fields big names Masters hangover. With all that in mind he makes huge appeal to me at the big each way odds on offer.
SATOSHI KODAIRA – 300-1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED MC
Finally I would be betraying all of my own views on golf betting and the areas that some times give us golf punters an edge, if I didn’t chance Satoshi Kodaira this week.
Backing players to perform well because you believe they might be inspired to do so by another players great performance is obviously not for everyone and there is no doubt that plenty who will be reading this will be groaning already. The simple fact though is that many a PGA Tour winner over the years has referenced an improved performance from a friend, a former college team mate etc or just another life event all together as something that inspired them to push on.
In other words then I believe in the ‘inspiration to action’ philosophy and If ever there was a week this could happen this has to be it.
I will hold my hands up I have no idea how close, if it is indeed close at all, the relationship is between Hideki Matsuyama and Satoshi Kodaira, however I would be absolutely amazed if Kodaira was not rooted to a TV screen yesterday cheering on Hideki’s every shot.
What Matsuyama’s win means for golf in Japan cannot be over estimated and Kodaira will of course be fully aware of this. I suspect he will arrive at Hilton Head this week a proud man and proud for what his fellow countryman has achieved and I expect he will be inundated with people asking him about it. By the time he tees off Thursday he may well feel 10ft tall.
Getting back to the more practical side of things and it is all well and good talking about Matsuyama’s win inspiring Kodaira here but ultimately he got the Green Jacket not Kodaira, and Satoshi will be hitting the shots this week not Hideki, so we of course need to look at Satoshi’s own game!
Two things then to back up the selection, firstly obviously he is a former champion here so we know the course suits him and that in itself is naturally a big positive.
Secondly, Kodaira has been quietly showing some seeds of improvement this year and when 36th at the Honda three starts ago he was actually sixth for the week in approach play.
Would I be backing Kodaira this week if Matsuyama hadn’t won?, no I wouldn’t, however at the odds on offer I feel I just can’t ignore the positive vibes he must surely get from that win and roll the dice.
UPDATED 13th APRIL
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - GRAEME McDOWELL - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 29
Those who have read my main preview will have cottoned on to the fact that most of my team this week are actually available at sub £7K in the DK market, however as always a couple of extra picks specifically for DK in this category starting with Graeme McDowell.
The case for Gmac this week is an obvious 'horses for courses' selection. A former champion here Graeme always comes to life on these coastal tracks as his wins at The Mayakoba, Corales and of course at Pebble Beach in the US Open show.
Back to form with a top ten finish in the Dominican Republic before making the cut in Texas I expect another strong showing from Gmac this week.
PICK 2 - BRICE GARNETT - DK VALUE $6400 - FINISHED 52nd - DK POINTS TOTAL 57.5
Another player who thrives by the coast is Brice Garnett. His best performances this season have come when Fifth and ninth in Puerto Rico and The Dominican Republic, the latter Corales event being one that he is a former champion in.
Going back to last season meanwhile his best three results were 11th at the Mayakoba and the Honda and 17th here when hopelessly out of form.
This year he arrives with the two top tens in the recent memory bank and I can see him performing well again here this year.