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On to Harbour Town: Projecting Who Could Win and Surprise at the RBC Heritage

By: Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads

We had some lows and an extreme high during the PGA Tour’s return last week.

Of the five players we highlighted as golfers to watch in the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, three missed the cut. However, one of our highlighted players was Daniel Berger, who went into the week at 66/1 odds to win outright. Berger beat Collin Morikawa in a one-hole playoff to come away with his first tour victory since 2017.

While it always stinks to promote players who miss the cut, picking a winner in golf results in big rewards, and we’re very happy with our inaugural tour modeling results. Now, on to Harbour Town.

THE COURSE

Harbour Town Golf Links, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

RBC Heritage will take place at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Thursday through Sunday. Harbour Town is a par-71 course designed by Pete Dye. It plays at 7,099 yards, featuring an extra par 5 on the front 9. The par-3 14th is the toughest hole on the course, where golfers have to hit a small, water-protected green. With the additional par 5, performance on par 5’s becomes a little more important this week, with scrambling, putting, and driving accuracy being the most important features.

It’s a links course, so there are a lot of huge bunkers dotting both the areas around the greens and the fairways. Distance takes a back seat on this golf course, where there are thin fairways with lots of tree-protected angles. Layups are all but required, so players who can bomb drives don’t get to use their best skill.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WIN OUTRIGHT

First of all, our model and picks describe value. When we recommend players, we’re recommending players who are likely to outperform expectations. It’s unlikely that we’ll recommend the likes of Rory McIlroy or John Rahm every week, because they’re expected to do well. What we’re interested in are golfers who have the skills to overperform their reputation, like Berger last week. 

Webb Simpson tees off during the second round of the Charles Schwab Challenge Friday, June 12, 2020.

Webb Simpson

Yep, we’re back in the saddle. Simpson looked rusty in his opening round last weekend, but followed it up with a solid round of 69 on Friday, and his ball-striking looked back in form. Due to the missed cut, he’s flying even further under the radar this week. He’s one of the best scramblers on tour, and our adjusted player ratings have him converting more than 63% of the time. 

Sungjae Im

We were hoping for a top 5 finish on the leaderboard last week, but Im finished tied for 10th. That’s certainly nothing to complain about. We’ll back him again this week on a course where he can showcase his accuracy.

Gary Woodland

Woodland finished tied for ninth at Colonial, and we expect him to keep rolling. His putting is the only below-average aspect of his game, but he gained 3.5 strokes on the green last week. If his putter stays hot, he’s got all the skills to compete this week.

Matt Kuchar tees off during the second round of the Charles Schwab Challenge Friday, June 12, 2020.

Matt Kuchar

Kuchar was one shot safe of the cut line heading into the 18th hole last Friday when he promptly put his second shot in the water before misisng the green from the dropzone. He double-bogeyed his way out of the tournament. It was an uncharacteristic result for a usually consistent player, and we expect him to bounce back this week. Kuchar finished runner-up last year at this event, and a course where driving distance doesn’t play a huge role is perfect for the likes of Kuch.

Abraham Ancer

Another player coming off a good tournament, Ancer follows our other picks as an accurate golfer who excels around the greens. He isn’t the greatest par-5 player, gaining only 0.04 strokes over the field per par 5, but his underlying ball-striking statistics play well into Harbour Town.

FIVE PLAYERS WHO COULD SURPRISE

Harris English

Harris English

Like Simpson and Kuchar, English bounced back from a poor opening round last week and barely missed the cut. He isn’t the most consistent golfer, but he’s from Georgia where courses are designed similarly to Harbour Town. We’re still believers in his early-season success.

Denny McCarthy

McCarthy may be the best putter on tour, having gained 51.8 strokes over the field so far in 2020. That’s 14 strokes better than the runner-up, Patrick Rodgers. The rest of his game is still a work in progress, and he’s prone to make mistakes that can turn up a crooked number on the scorecard. We won’t be picking him to win, but he has a good shot of making the cut.

Jim Furyk

Ageless. Furyk just turned 50, which is usually when golfers jump at the chance to move over to the Champions Tour, but he isn’t interested in leaving the big leagues. He’s the most accurate driver on tour, and also the shortest hitter. If you’ve caught the trend, distance is neutralized here, and Furyk could lay his way up to a top 20 finish.

Adam Schenk

Adam Schenk

Schenk’s strength is almost entirely around the greens. He’s a spectacular scrambler, a good putter, and he’s coming off a bogey-free final round at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

Matthew NeSmith

NeSmith is a below-average scrambler and an average putter, but his irons give him a good chance to compete this week. He hits more than 70% of greens in regulation, which is a great skill to have on a course where long iron play is important.