RBC HERITAGE: The Great Comedown formally known as the RBC Heritage gets underway this week, as a 132-man field will battle it out for the, ahem, prestigious tartan plaid jacket.
Seriously, though– while it may be easy to have a little fun with a winner receiving a jacket that is most definitely not green, and how, in a sense, that unsightly red plaid jacket sums up this event perfectly, there’s nothing funny about the $1.2 million first prize, or the course– Harbour Town Golf Links– which is one of the most universally-beloved layouts on the PGA Tour.
Built by Pete Dye some 50 years ago, Harbour Town is a shortish 7,100-yard Par 71 that requires accuracy off the tee and 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 putting 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.
South Carolina native Wesley Bryan is the defending champ, but he’s coming into this week on the heels of four straight missed cuts, so it’s unsurprising that he’s currently trading at better than 200/1 at BETDAQ. Another South Carolinian, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 9.6, but some question whether this course suits DJ, as he can’t really use his prodigious length to his advantage. This line of thinking is strengthened by his results here– though he hasn’t played this tournament in nearly a decade, Johnson has missed the cut in both of his previous appearances, never breaking par and shooting 79 twice.
That being said, Johnson is clearly the class of a field that features only three top-20 players, and he’s a far better player than he was the last time he stalked the fairways at Harbour Town. It will be interesting to see whether he can quiet the skeptics and take care of business this week, but you’d have a hard time convincing me that he’s worth a bet at the current price. I think I’ll take my chances with these three instead:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Emiliano Grillo (46.0)- Grillo has been playing some terrific golf lately, finding the top-15 in four of his past eight PGA Tour starts and mixing in a 6th-place finish in the European Tour’s Indian Open last month. He’s coming off a brilliant week at the Houston Open in which he broke 70 in all four rounds and wound up finishing 3rd, and now he heads to a course that should suit him perfectly: Harbour Town. I say should because this will be Grillo’s debut appearance at this event, which is really the only knock on him this week. But Wesley Bryan won on debut last year, and Grillo, a crafty iron player who is something of a Bermuda specialist, sure seems to fit the Harbour Town mold. The more I think about it, the more I like the young Argentinian this week– he’s a tremendous value at a price like 46.0.
Bryson DeChambeau (62.0)- DeChambeau is an odd guy with an odd golf swing and an odd way of thinking about the game, but you can’t argue with the results– after a 2017 that saw him pick up his first PGA Tour victory and finish in the top-35 in 7 of his final 10 events, he’s come out firing this season, making the cut in 9 of 11 starts and picking up five top-20s. He turned in a solid performance at the Masters last week, shooting 1-under on the weekend to finish 38th, and prior to that he was runner-up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Critically, he’s demonstrated the ability to succeed at Harbour Town, finishing 4th in this tournament back in 2016 in what was his professional debut. DeChambeau feels primed for a big week and seems overpriced at 60/1.
Brian Gay (114.0)- You won’t hear the name Brian Gay on the tips of many tongues this week, as the 46-year old hasn’t won on Tour in five years and has competed in only one major championship since 2013. Many casual fans might be surprised to learn that Gay still has status, but he’s actually turned in some good results this season, finishing 9th in Phoenix and 8th at Pebble Beach to go along with a 3rd-place showing in last November’s RSM Classic. In Gay’s last start he finished 22nd at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, so his game is in order, and there’s simply no course on the schedule that suits him better than Harbour Town, where his lack of length off the tee (which has long been his primary weakness) is rendered basically meaningless. Everyone plays from the same spots at Harbour Town, and most everyone– even Gay, if he hits a solid drive– can reach two of the three par-5s in two. Gay’s strength is his short game and his putting, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s had great success in this event over the years, including a victory in 2009 (one of his four PGA Tour wins) and a 6th-place showing last year. I really like him as a sneaky longshot play this week.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Webb Simpson (1.71) vs, Kevin Kisner (2.2)
Simpson is one to watch this week: he’s off to a great start in 2018, with three top-10s in seven starts and a T20 at the Masters last week, and he seems to always play well at Harbour Town, making the cut in each of his last seven appearances at this event and finding the top-15 three times, including a runner-up in 2013 and a T11 last year. Kisner also has a nice record in this tournament, but he’s missed the cut in three of his past five PGA Tour starts and hasn’t registered a top-25 finish since January. Recommendation: Simpson at 1.71
Ian Poulter (1.88) vs. Francesco Molinari (1.88)
Poulter was stone-cold clutch in Houston two weeks ago, but he seemed a bit spent at the Masters last week and you have to wonder whether he’s running out of gas after a grueling stretch of five tournaments over the past five weeks (for what it’s worth, Poulter’s win in Houston was his first top-40 finish in six stroke play events on the PGA Tour this season). Molinari, meanwhile, has finished 26th or better in each of his past three starts, including a T20 at the Masters last week, and he seems like an ideal fit for Harbour Town: short and straight off the tee and good with his irons. He’s 2/2 on made cuts here and finished 22nd last year. Recommendation: Molinari at 1.88