It was a solid if unspectacular week for us at Augusta as we ended up with a reasonable profit courtesy of our two first round leader picks Jon Rahm and Jason Day delivering the goods, while one of our main team Jordan Spieth bagged a full place and another Xander Schauffele delivered a small return.
Ultimately though after Spieth faltered in the wind and rain on Saturday we were never in with a chance of bagging the winner, even if Jordan did make a typical Sunday charge, and it was left to Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka to battle it out.
While it was a rejuvenated Koepka who set the pace for most of the week it was Rahm who outlasted him to land his first Green Jacket, poignantly on what would have been Seve’s birthday.
Credit to Koepka who looks healthy and close to being back to his best however he struggled on Sunday while Rahm didn’t. The Spaniard who had bounced back from a four putt double bogey at the first hole on Thursday to post a round one 65 was superb all week, battling through from the wrong side of the weather effected draw. He was near flawless from tee to green and holed everything that really mattered, a lethal combination, and he thoroughly deserves his second Major.
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.
Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head has been the host course for the Heritage since 1969 and with the exception of 2020 when the schedule was re jigged due to the Covid-19 pandemic 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 the event has been given ‘designated event’ status meaning we have a very strong field on display with the big three of Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy all in town and heading up the market.
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 their 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.
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 every other year over the recent decades it has been 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 recent winners at HH and see how they fared at the Masters.
Winner - Masters Finish
2022 J Spieth MC
2021 S Cink 12th
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
So, as we can see if we put the 2020 edition to one side when the event did not directly follow the Masters in the other ten outings noted only two players, Stewart Cink in 2021 and Matt Kuchar have won at Harbour Town after featuring near the top end of the leaderboard at Augusta the week before and of those two Kuchar is the only one who was in serious contention at any point.
Of the other 8 winners one of them, Kodaira in 2018, played all four rounds at Augusta, five of them including Spieth last year missed the cut and the other three had not been in the Masters field at all.
Furthermore if we look at the 2020 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 and Cink, who as a two time former winner could be considered something of a course specialist, 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 Spieth, Cink, Furyk, Kuchar and more recently Grace and Simpson clearly seem to perform well here consistently, however the 2018 and 2017 winners, Kodaira and Bryan, were making their debut in the event, while the 2018 winner CT Pan had finishes of 44 and 23 in his two previous starts.
This year though it is important to note that we have a different factor in play, which is the different field dynamic down to the ‘designated event’ status.
With the exception of the 2020 post covid edition where players in simple terms just wanted to get back out and play the event is not one that has been on the schedule over the years for the likes of Rahm, McIlroy and Scheffler to name but three so there is an element of unknown with regards to how some of these big name players will take to the course or indeed how motivated they will be.
Clearly there is a lot of money on offer this week however also clearly Rahm would not be here if it wasn’t for the uplifted status and the commitment made to these events and the same can be said for Scheffler, McIlroy, Thomas and several others.
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 six winners, Cink in 2021, 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 the calendar year to date before taking home the trophy. In 2020 with the event being the second back Simpson won having missed the cut at the Charles Schwab the previous week however if we go back further the 2014 and 2012 winners, Kuchar and Pettersson had posted a top ten in their start prior to victory here.
Finally on this front to bring it up to date Spieth triumphed last year on the back of nothing better than 26th in his previous six starts.
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 in 2020 who triumphed with a -22 total. The lowest total when the event has been played in its traditional April slot came from Cink in 2021 when he shot -19.
The average winning score though tends to come in around -13 or -12 and the former was the number that Spieth triumphed with last year.
The lead in to the week looks dry with temperatures sitting around the high 70s.
Moving through the week though things start to cloud over a bit with a storm a possibility.
The wind, which is the most important factor here, looks like it will keep the players honest with 15mph+ gusts a possibility in the forecast all week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JUSTIN THOMAS – 28/1 - 2pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 25th
I am going to start this week by taking the bait offered on Justin Thomas odds wise.
Thomas is once more having the type of season that we have seen from him over the past couple of years, some low rounds, some frustration with the putter and some high finishes mixed with some disappointing ones.
One thing that Justin has managed to do though along the way the past couple of years is come up with the one big week, which leads to the win. Last year of course at was at the PGA Championship while the year before it was at Sawgrass.
Looking at JT’s season so far and not only has he struggled on the greens but his approach play has dropped off relatively compared to the last couple of years so there is no doubt he is not firing fully at the moment. Equally though he is still ranked 11th from tee to green so there are certainly some positives in the long game. Meanwhile if we look at the results and prior to the missed cut Augusta he has posted two top tens in his previous five starts so he is not that far away from clicking right in to gear.
Focusing on the missed cut at Augusta and playing from the wrong side of the draw for the first 27 holes he was in decent shape as he stood on the 11th tee of his second round at 2- under. From there on though in the worst of the round two weather he unravelled playing his last eight holes in six over to miss the cut.
The shellshocked look on Thomas’ face when he bogeyed 18 to miss out on the final 36 holes clearly told the story and there is no doubt that would have hurt hugely. With regards to this week though I can’t but help draw a comparison to Jordan Spieth’s missed cut at Augusta last year, which spurred him on to a win here and it may just be that Thomas can put the frustration of last week to work with regards to a big performance this time out. In addition of course with regards to being fresh this week he will have an advantage over those who battled it out through the rest of the week at The Masters.
Looking at Thomas’ history here and unlike some of the other big names he has chosen to visit Hilton Head over the years on occasions with a best of eighth, while 35th last year after the Masters, so he does have course experience. In addition of course let’s not forget JT is a Players Champion so he is certainly comfortable on a Pete Dye layout. In addition as a former winner at Waialae and at PGA National we know he is more than comfortable on the kind of coastal tests, which link well here.
Ultimately Thomas is serial winner and while he has not been 100% at his best of late the odds are too big for me to ignore this week and I’ll take him to bounce back from last week’s disappointment in style.
SHANE LOWRY – 33/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 67th
While I am as a whole looking to avoid the big names at the top of the market this week who were in the hunt in Augusta, with the games top stars adding the event to their schedule due to it’s designated event status, and with several of those names having little to no experience here, I can’t ignore the odds being dangled on one player, Shane Lowry.
Unlike the likes of Rahm, McIlroy and Scheffler, Lowry needs no second invitation or indeed enhanced purse to tee it up at Hilton Head as he is a regular here and with the exception of a Missed cut in 2020 in the second post covid event he has notched three top tens in his last three starts here.
Last week at Augusta Shane was never seriously in the hunt for a win however four solid days saw him notch a respectable 16th place. While a slight concern then that Shane arrives here having ground it out at Augusta last year he was third here on the back of a third place at The Masters while in 2021 he was ninth here after a 21st at the years first Major the week before.
Clearly then Shane is a player who can step up here at one of his favourite tracks regardless of the previous weeks exertions.
Looking at Shane’s year to date and clearly he has not been quite at the level he was at this time last year when he was on a run of top ten finishes and a change of caddie from long time bag man Bo Martin earlier in the year speaks of some frustration in his game. That said Lowry now seems settled with fellow Irishman Darren Reynolds on his bag and while, with exception of a fifth place at one of his other favourite venues PGA National, he hasn’t yet stepped up for a really big week on the PGA Tour this year his game is clearly not far away.
This is something reflected in his stats for the season which sees him 19th from tee to green and 24th in approach play with the putter being the club letting him down as he currently sits a lowly 168th on tour in this department.
Furthermore this was again the case last week at Augusta as his long game was in good fettle while he struggled on the greens. As we know though all good ball strikers are one good putting week away from a big week and I will trust that we see improvement this week on greens he has performed well on before.
Heading in to the Masters last week Lowry was a well supported 50/1 shot so I am more than happy this week to take 33/1 in an event he clearly has an edge on some of the biggest names ahead of him in the betting with regards to course experience.
CAMERON DAVIS – 125/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED T7th
Next up is a player who was already in my notebook for this week and then got an extra tick by his name after his last outing in Texas. The man in question is Cameron Davis.
Last time out at the Valero Texas Open Cam missed the cut, nothing particularly unusual in that, however it was the manner of the missed cut, which was so interesting. In that performance Davis opened up with a horrible round of 80 and then started Friday with a bogey to slip to +9 and was basically done for the week. What then followed though was a run of nine birdies over his final 17 holes, which, had he not bogeyed his last would have seen him make the weekend.
A weekend off for Davis ultimately but he was third from tee to green that day, fourth off the tee, ninth in approach play and 12th in putting so one would hope he takes huge encouragement out of that effort.
Looking at Davis’ 2023 as a whole to date and it must be said it’s been pretty underwhelming so far as having come in to the year with high hopes he missed five straight cuts before bouncing back to form with a sixth place finish at The Players. He then played nicely the following week at the Matchplay winning two of three matches before the missed cut in Austin. Interestingly though at Sawgrass Cam revealed he had been battling an illness earlier in the year, which had restricted his practice and effected performances and he had only recently returned to full health.
Focusing more closely on Davis’ effort at Sawgrass and this leads us on to the main obvious link for being onboard this week, which is his apparent liking for a Pete Dye track. This manifested itself at Sawgrass that week, however prior to that he was third here last year when in no form coming in, 25th on debut the year before and also third at the American Express in 2021, which features the Dye designed Stadium Course.
Furthermore in his short time on Tour Cam has notched top ten finishes at the Sony Open and the Honda along with a top 15 at Pebble Beach, showing us what we already know well, that like most Aussie’s he is comfortable on a windy coastal set up.
As shown by his 80 66 last time out in Texas Cam is still something off a rough diamond who can produce a real shocker at times, however there is no doubting his talent or ability to win in big company and on a course, which clearly suits his eye and at the odds on offer I am happy to take my chances this week.
ADAM SVENSSON – 150/1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 41st
Another player who really catches my eye as someone I would expect to play well here is Adam Svensson.
A proven winner on the Korn Ferry Tour it has taken Svensson a while to cement his place on the PGA Tour, however this season is clearly proving to be a breakthrough one with the notable achievement to date coming in his victory at the RSM Classic last Fall.
Following that win it understandably took Adam a few starts at the beginning of 2023 to regain his focus however following a ninth place at Riviera he has played solidly since with an eye catching 13th at Sawgrass being the most recent highlight.
As a result of his win at the RSM Svensson gained a spot in last weeks Masters however it was a struggle for him as he missed the cut with rounds of 75 and 80.
Ultimately though at 174th in Driving Distance on tour I really didn’t expect Augusta, particularly a wet Augusta, to be to his liking so I am happy to gloss over that effort and instead focus on a track this week I expect to be far more in his weelhouse.
A winner by the coast at Sea Island Adam is clearly comfortable by the coast and on courses where his lack of length is not a disadvantage, something backed up by his seventh at Waialae and ninth at the Honda last season. Furthermore he caught the eye on debut here last year when 26th, a result, which came on the back of three missed cuts in his previous four starts.
Returning twelve months later then as a PGA Tour winner and with the recent strong effort at Sawgrass you would expect the Canadian to be relishing getting back out on a Pete Dye design, which suits his accurate tee to green game, and I am happy to jump on board at juicy odds this week.
BEN MARTIN – 175/1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 41st
Finally I will wrap up with a player who has built some serious momentum of late Ben Martin.
Martin who has regained his playing privileges on tour this year started the 22-23 season fairly slowly, however since posting a 13th place at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February it has been all systems go for Ben as he has gone on to make his subsequent five cuts notching three top tens along the way.
A native of South Carolina this week represents the ‘fifth major’ for Ben and having finished third here way back in 2014 we know he can handle the track, even though his subsequent efforts haven’t lived up to that debut.
Short off the tee Ben is always a threat at these shorter coastal tracks nearly posting a win at the Corales last year while his CV also boasts strong showings at the Sony Open, the AT&T Pebble Beach, Puerto Rico, the RSM while most recently he posted a top five at the correlating Honda. Furthermore he has a top five at Sawgrass in the books over the years as well giving us a rubber stamp of Pete Dye form.
Martin currently sits 16th on tour in approach play for the season and it is clear this one time tour winner is trending towards something big. I’ll take my chances then that arriving here fresh from a week off he can take advantage, while other big names battle some fatigue from last week, and deliver us a big week at big odds.