The week after a major usually means one thing: a watered down field only partially buoyed by Team RBC, and that’s exactly what we have here. Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, and… eek. If last week was the 4th of July, this week is Presidents’ Day. Not bad (some people even get the day off), but no fireworks. It’ll do.
This week we’ve got the Harbour Town Golf Links. It’s a 7,101-yard par 71 that places extreme importance on course management. This article by @jalnichols from back in 2014 does an excellent job of describing the course as well as showing what type of player tends to succeed in Hilton Head. If you like his work, make sure to give him a follow on Twitter.
Harbour Town is a par 71 which has played just short of a stroke over par on average the last three seasons (8th most difficult to par of the regular Tour courses). It builds its defense on narrow fairways, awkward approach angles, and the smallest greens on Tour. Golfers have hit only 56% of their greens since 2011, despite facing no longer than average approach shots and hitting an average number of fairways. In fact, while the Heritage is a short course, the limitations it places on driving distance (2nd shortest drives on Tour in recent seasons) mean that it plays longer than the scorecard would indicate. Add in the test that the narrow fairways and trees provide and the tee-to-green test is one of the sternest on Tour.
The above excerpt sums everything up in a much cleaner fashion than I’m capable of. Last week was all about distance and GIR; this week is all about accuracy, proximity, and scrambling.
2015 RBC Heritage
1. Jim Furyk -18 (won in playoff)
2. Kevin Kisner -18
3. Troy Merritt -16
4. Brendon Todd -15
5. Matt Kuchar -14
6. Sean O’Hair -13
T-7. Branden Grace -12
T-7. Louis Oosthuizen -12
T-9. Bo Van Pelt -11
T-9. Morgan Hoffmann -11
It’s becoming a trend, but the wind is going to be a factor again this week. There should be constant 15-20 mph winds throughout the weekend. Here’s the 5-day forecast.
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green & Putting
- Driving Accuracy (but I’m also mixing in some 200+ proximity numbers here, as some players will be clubbing down off the tee)
- Proximity (both overall and from certain yardages depending on the individual golfer)
- Scrambling (overall) and Scrambling Proximity from < 30 Yards
- Bogey Avoidance
- Par 3 and Par 4 Scoring Averages
Basically, I’m looking for guys who can plod their way around a golf course.
PICKS! PICKS! PICKS! PICKS! PICKS! PICKS! PICKS! PICKS! PICKS! PICKS!
Jason Day $12500
Obviously, he’s the best player in the field. There are two questions surrounding him this week… first, is he all there? Everything he’s done for the past few months was geared towards winning the Masters. As a human person, a let down this week would not only be understandable, but probably natural. However, he did win the RBC Canadian Open last year after heartbreak at The Open. So… who knows? Second, does his game really line up with this course? He’s not all that accurate from distance, but he is an excellent scrambler from inside 30 yards. In four Heritage starts, he’s only averaged 0.9 DK points better than the field… that doesn’t sound like a $12.5k golfer.
But in the end, it’s Jason Day in a field where the next highest priced golfer is Paul Casey. There’s a non-zero chance that talent trumps all, so I will be using Day in some capacity. How much depends on likely ownership. I think he might end up below 20%, and at that point, you can’t pass him up.
Paul Casey $10800
Paul Casey has a number of things going for him this week. He’s averaged 5.6 DK points above field average per start at Harbour Town (#2 in the field for those who have made more than one start). He’s also coming off a fantastic showing at the Masters; finishing T-4 and posting a Sunday 67 (tied for the low round with Willett and Fitzpatrick). Finally, his numbers look good. He is accurate off the tee, has a low ball flight, is an excellent ball striker, and is pretty good around the greens. Course history, form, and stats; it’s all there. As an aside, a win here (or anywhere else on the PGA Tour) would probably free him up to play more European Tour events (which would help him in trying to qualify for future Ryder Cup teams). For that reason, I don’t think he’ll take this opportunity lightly.
Brandt Snedeker $10600
Although he’s a former champion, his overall course history isn’t all that impressive. He comes in at +1.1 DK points against field average (good for only 40th in the field). That said, you’re probably getting a Snedeker that’s more “former champ” than “meh” as he’s in excellent form (T-10 at The Masters). He’s not the most accurate of golfers, but he’s one of, if not the, best scrambler in the field. Brandt is #3 in par 4 and #9 in par 3 scoring; seems like that could be useful.
Matt Kuchar $10300
He won here in 2014 and finished 5th last year. Probably safe to say he likes the course (10th in PaFA). Kuch turned in a solid if not spectacular week at The Masters (T-24), so his game is close. We’re focusing on accuracy and scrambling, which just happen to be the two best parts of his game. He should be one of the favorites heading into Hilton Head.
Matthew Fitzpatrick $9500
He’s not going to fly under the radar, but his price might scare some off. Don’t be that guy. Fitzpatrick is one of the best up-and-coming players in the game. That talent was on full display at Augusta, where the 21-year old tied for the low Sunday round and finished T-7. To those who follow the European Tour, his Masters finish came as no surprise. Matthew already has multiple top-15 finishes in elite events (2nd at European Masters, 1st at British Masters, T-7 at WGC HSBC Champions, T-13 at BMW Masters, and T-4 at Dubai World Tour Championship). Basically, slap “Masters” in your tournament’s name, and Matthew Fitzpatrick is going to finish in the top 10. He’s also sitting in 13th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai (equivalent of our FedEx Cup). He’s competing with the best in the world at a very young age, and big things are in his future.
Russell Knox $8200
In my opinion, Knox is the best value on the board. He is a little sketchy around the greens, but he makes up for that by being deadly accurate both off the tee and into greens. If you’re worried about the wind, Knox also has one of the lowest ball flights in the field. He’s played here twice (last two years) and finished T-9 and T-18.
Bryson DeChambeau $8000
If you’re reading this, you already know who this guy is. In the off chance you don’t, he’s the guy with the Hogan hat that waxes poetic and has the irons that are all the same length. He’s also good at golf. Though he’s played the API (T-27) and Masters (T-21) already this year, he’s officially turning pro this week. We’re dealing with too small of a sample to glean much from statistics, but he’s an upper tier talent at a middle of the pack price.
Marc Leishman $8000
Oh, Marc… That chip on #18… I honestly can’t spend much more time thinking about this; I have to move on.
So let’s ignore last week’s disaster and focus on the now. Accurate off the tee, great proximity numbers from inside 150 yards, and elite scrambling proximity (#4 in field) + bogey avoidance. (I look at these numbers and just hate my life. He’s also #2 in par 4 and #8 in par 3 scoring.) He doesn’t have the best history at Harbour Town, but he should play well here. If you’re like me, you were playing him last week at $7900 in the freaking Masters, so $8000 in this field is much too cheap.
Webb Simpson $7900
I feel awkward saying this, but I really like Webb Simpson this week. He has three top-15 finishes at Harbour Town (including a solo 2nd in 2012), and his game sets up well for the course. Webb’s problem is simple: dude can’t putt. Normally, that’s a big deal. This week? Not so much. Smaller greens means shorter putts and more scrambling opportunities, both of which will help Webb relative to the field. He’s a fantastic ball striker and has a respectable scramble proximity from inside 30 yards. That combination of skills should result in a solid week for Simpson.
Patton Kizzire $7500
Much like Simpson, Patton Kizzire is a golfer with one fatal flaw: he hits just over 50% of fairways off the tee. That sounds like a non-starter given the course, but I’m going to try and spin it a little. Harbour Town is more of a target course, and golfers will be frequently clubbing down off the tee. What does that mean? Less drivers for Patton. And if you look at proximity numbers from distance (200+), Kizzire is actually a little bit above average. So the course layout might help mitigate his main issue.
So we’ve dealt with the bad, what about the good? Kizzire is phenomenal around the greens. He’s #7 in scramble proximity (6.92′) and #3 in strokes gained: putting. Overall, he does an average job of avoiding bogeys, but that’s likely a result of too many wayward tee shots. He’ll be hitting shorter clubs off the tee (hopefully keeping the ball in play), and when he misses greens, he’ll get up-and-down more often than the rest.
K.J. Choi $7400
K.J. Choi already has two top-5 finishes this year! TWO! Against stiff competition, no less. Pretty impressive for a 45-year old. And guess what? This is a course where the old guys can really compete. His game revolves around accuracy and scrambling (he ranks near the top in both categories), and he’s made 3/4 cuts at this event (18th, 31st, 41st). He’s playing a little better this year than in previous years, so I’m looking for him to turn in his best Heritage finish yet.
Brendan Steele $7300
When I think target course, Brendan Steele isn’t the first name that comes to mind. That said, he finished T-21 in his only Heritage start, and posted 4.5 DK points above the field average (strong showing). If he succeeds this week, it will be a result of his superior ball striking. He’s one of the most accurate players in the field from outside 200 yards, and he’s #12 in GIR%. If he’s on, he should make a number of birdies (and score a ton of DK points), which makes him a perfect GPP play.
Ben Martin $7200
Only two reasons for this pick: 1) course history (and his general affinity for Pete Dye courses) and 2) my gut. His 2015-16 numbers are trashy, and I’d like it if he was a little cheaper. But I believe he can finish inside the top 5, and at $7200, I’ll take his upside.
QUICK HITTER VALUE OPTIONS!
- Jerry Kelly $6800: Old man game at an old man course
- Thongchai Jaidee $6800: Much better golfer than his price indicates, good value
- Mark Hubbard $6600: Plays well at Pebble Beach (another course with small greens and wind)
- Vaughn Taylor $6600: See Hubbard (above)
- Jim Herman $6500: Accuracy player coming off a win in Houston
- David Toms $6400: Good numbers, good course history
- Si Woo Kim $6300: Excellent scramble proximity, too good to be priced this low
- Ryan Ruffels $5800: Up-and-coming talent, definitely worth a flier
- Chad Campbell $5700: Solid numbers (but weak course history), low ball flight