RBC HERITAGE: The annual comedown known as the RBC Heritage gets underway this week, and nearly half the players who teed it up at the Masters have decided that a few days in lovely Hilton Head, South Carolina might be just what the doctor ordered after four days in the pressure cooker.
This tournament has developed a great reputation with the players due to the laid back, family-friendly atmosphere and the tremendous support from the local community, who take pride in making this event more than a post-major box-ticking exercise. That’s one of the reasons why a top-notch field has shown up once again, led by World No. 2 Collin Morikawa, who joins Justin Thomas atop BETDAQ’s Win Market at 15.5.
Atmosphere and fan support can only take a tournament so far, of course, and the top players wouldn’t show up here every year were it not for the venue, the Pete Dye classic Harbour Town. 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.
One of the traits of a great course is that it doesn’t cater to one specific shot-shape or style of play, and the list of recent winners here is proof that just about anybody has a chance at Harbour Town. Last year it was 47-year old Stewart Cink getting the job done, and over the past decade we’ve seen both proven winners like Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar and virtual unknowns like Satoshi Kodaira and Wesley Bryan don the tartan plaid jacket that is gifted to the champion. So there’s no proven formula, but we’ll definitely be favoring players who are accurate off the tee and have been hitting their irons well lately. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Corey Conners (36.0)- Just another ho-hum top-10 for Conners last week, as he shot par or better every day but Friday at blustery Augusta National. He now has five finishes of 11th or better and three finishes of 6th or better this season, with two of those coming in his last three starts. A ball-striking machine, he currently ranks 7th on Tour in strokes gained off the tee, 3rd in GIR percentage, and 15th in strokes gained tee-to-green, so he has all the necessary ingredients to successfully navigate the narrow fairways and small landing areas of Harbour Town. He finished 4th here last year, his best showing across five career appearances, and with the way he’s been playing lately I wouldn’t be surprised if he tops that this week. At a price like 36.0, Conners is my favorite bet on the board.
Harold Varner III (72.0)- Though he’s yet to win on the PGA Tour, Varner has seemed like a different player since his victory at the Saudi International in early February, rattling off three top-25 finishes in his past four starts, including a T6 at The Players and an impressive T23 in his Masters debut. Though he’s always been known for his ball-striking consistency, his short game has improved tremendously in recent years and he’s now among the best in the world around the greens, ranking 23rd on Tour in strokes gained around the green. With his affinity for shorter, narrow courses and Bermuda grass, Varner seems like a perfect fit for Harbour Town and he nearly got the job done here last year, finishing runner-up after bookend 66s. He’s a terrific value this week at better than 70/1.
Russell Knox (110.0)- Longshots frequently come home at this tournament, as recent winners C.T. Pan, Satoshi Kodaira, and Wesley Bryan all went off at triple-digit prices. Knox is a GIR maven (first on Tour in that particular stat) who has enjoyed plenty of success at Harbour Town, finding the top-20 four times in eight career appearances at this event and finishing runner-up in 2016. Plus, he’s in fine form at the moment, making his last six cuts and finishing T6 at The Players, where he broke par all four days. Knox is a live one this week for sure and is well worth a bet at his current price.