RBC HERITAGE: The annual comedown known as the RBC Heritage gets underway on Thursday from lovely Hilton Head Island, with a 132-man field set to compete for a $7.1 million purse in an atmosphere that will be quite a change from the pressure-packed environment of the Masters. This tournament has become known for, among other things, the warm hospitality of the local fans and the family-friendly amenities of Sea Pines Resort, which will be the home base for just about everybody this week. The laid-back vibe has made this a favorite stop for many players, so the field here is usually a bit stronger than most post-major events and this year is no exception, with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa, and defending champ Webb Simpson set to tee it up.
Despite the big names in attendance, the real star of the show this week will be the course, Harbour Town Golf Links, a Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus masterpiece that has hosted this tournament since its inception in 1969. Unlike many modern courses that seem to favor the “bomb and gouge” style, Harbour Town is a shortish Par 71 that prioritizes accuracy over distance and requires precision with the short and mid-irons. The Bermuda greens are the smallest on Tour and are usually quite firm, making them difficult to find and placing an added emphasis on the short game. The greens, in addition to the overhanging trees that often require players to shape shots from the fairway, are the course’s primary defense and the main reason why it’s held up so well over the years despite minimal architectural tweaks. Harbour Town is the rare gem that frustrates the best players in the world despite not requiring length off the tee.
In recent years this hasn’t been the type of tournament to chase the short odds, as it was won by a succession of triple-digit longshots from 2017-2019 (C.T. Pan, Satoshi Kodaira, Wesley Bryan), but Webb Simpson prevailed last year, breaking the streak. Simpson is coming off a solid showing at the Masters and is among the favorites this week at 18.0, sitting behind only Dustin Johnson (15.0) in BETDAQ’s Win Market, so a repeat performance certainly isn’t out of the question– Payne Stewart, Davis Love III, and Boo Weekley have all posted back-to-back victories here in the not-too-distant past. That being said, Simpson hasn’t broken 70 in his last 7 competitive rounds, so I think I’ll be looking elsewhere this week. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Tyrrell Hatton (29.0)- Hatton has been on a tear in 2021, starting the year with a win in Abu Dhabi and posting six top-25s in his last seven worldwide starts. His iron play has been dialed in, as he currently ranks 10th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained on approach, and he’s been accurate off the tee as well, finding the fairway nearly 65% of the time and ranking 17th on Tour in total driving. He played well at the Masters, firing a final round 68 to finish T18, and he should have loads of confidence coming into this week after finishing 3rd in this tournament nine months ago. Harbour Town, with its emphasis on accuracy and precision with the irons, is a perfect fit for Hatton, and so last year might’ve only been a taste of what’s to come at this tournament for the young Englishman. He’s one of the favorites this week and a decent value at nearly 30/1.
Brian Harman (43.0)- Some folks try to avoid players, particularly mid-tier players, who are teeing it up the week after a strong performance at the Masters, the thinking being that those players will be too exhausted physically and mentally to put forth their best effort. Will Zalatoris is an obvious candidate for such a fade this week, but so is Harman, who played brilliantly at Augusta before stumbling on Sunday and settling for a T12. But I’m not sure that now is the time to give up on Harman, the 34-year old vet who is playing the best golf of his career. He certainly didn’t fade after his T3 at The Players, finishing T5 at the WGC Match Play in his very next start, and if you look back over his career, he’s had several multiple-week stretches of good play. When he’s hot, he knows how to ride it, and he’s certainly been hot lately, with four top-15s in his last seven starts. Perhaps most importantly, his game is well-suited for Harbour Town and he’s enjoyed considerable success in this event over the years, recording a pair of top-10s and four top-30s in his last seven appearances. Watch out for Harman this week– he has a better chance than his price would indicate.
Brendon Todd (102.0)- Anytime length off the tee isn’t a factor, and especially if the course features Bermuda greens, Brendon Todd should be considered. The guy is just so straight off the tee and so good around the greens that he’s able to succeed despite averaging just 275.9 yards per drive (213th on Tour). It helps when you rank 1st on Tour in driving accuracy, which he does, and 4th in strokes gained putting… being in nearly every fairway while also being one of the world’s finest putters is a pretty good starting point. Harbour Town is the perfect track for such a player, and though Todd doesn’t play well here every year, he’s certainly had his moments, most prominently a 4th-place finish back in 2015. He’s only missed one cut in his past 12 PGA Tour starts and he has five top-25s in that span, so he’s been playing some good golf, and after beating hybrids and long irons around a stretched-out Augusta National, he’ll surely be relieved to be playing a course where he’s not at a disadvantage off the tee. Todd is a live one this week at better than 100/1.