RBC Heritage: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
We learned plenty last week as the PGA Tour returned. Never bet against Daniel Berger in the second week in June. Professional golf without fans is different, but fine. Short putts under pressure are still difficult. And, talent never rests.
The Tour stars head to the familiar scenes of Hilton Head this week in what projects as an ideal week for scoring — warm weather and light breezes buffering Pete Dye’s gem, Harbour Town, nestled along the Calibogue Sound.
While there won’t be galleries along the tree-lined fairways, expect the same qualities to be rewarded — accurate tee shots and a deft short game. The players can leave the driver in the bag often at Harbour Town, if they choose. Creating the proper angle is more important than banging away on many of the tight doglegs and the greens are the smallest on the circuit.
LISTEN: ‘Under the Strap’ podcast with Kenny Harms & Chris P. Jones talking about the PGA Tour’s first week of the ‘new normal’
We’re riding the hot hands and those who have mastered Harbour Town through the years. It’s one of my favorite stops on the PGA Tour and with more than 100 Tour champions in the 155-man field, expect another world class leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.
Golfer power rankings
25. Ian Poulter – Has made the cut in all nine starts at Heritage, finishing in the top 11 each of the last three years. Florida resident loves Bermuda grass surfaces, ranking top 50 in every Strokes Gained major category except Off-the-Tee (62nd). Tied for 29th at Colonial.
24. Brian Harman – Resides just down the coast at Sea Island and the narrow corridors Pete Dye carved at Harbour Town should be a good fit for the little lefty. He’s 59th in driving accuracy and 20th in scoring on the PGA Tour in 2019-20. Finished T-23 at Colonial and has two top 10s in his last six starts on Hilton Head.
23. Brooks Koepka – Making his first start at Harbour Town. Shot four sub-70 rounds at Colonial, giving hope he’s fully recovered from last fall’s knee surgery. The major championship season is rapidly approaching so I expect Koepka’s game to follow suit.
22. Tyrrell Hatton – Rebounding from wrist surgery, the Arnold Palmer Invitational champion had just regained his rhythm when the Tour season stopped. Nothing too exciting on his Harbour Town resume (T-29, MC), but he’s No. 21 in the world ranking for a reason. If the putter cooperates at all, he will contend. The rest of his game is rock solid.
21. Bryson DeChambeau – The Incredible Bulk has been great or awful in his trips to the Low Country with a pair of top-5 finishes and two missed cuts. Massive tee shots can generate more trouble than opportunity at Harbour Town but the other facets of his game also looked sharp last weekend.
20. Jordan Spieth – After a top 10 last week — his 63rd in 181 PGA Tour starts — I want to believe in Spieth, which shouldn’t be difficult considering the 26-year-old has 11 victories and $40 million in earnings. Yet it’s not so simple. Spieth ranked 48th in GIR and 35th in proximity to the hole last week and made a whopping 456 feet of putts — easily the most in the field. Hard to overcome such shaky ballstriking any week, but especially this one. He had three top-12 results at Harbour Town from 2013-15, so those are good memories to build on.
19. Bud Cauley – Has made the cut each of the last three years at Harbour Town, including a T-9 in 2017. Posted 8-under over the final 54 holes at Colonial to finish T-29. Iron game and scrambling have been solid this season, producing five consecutive made cuts dating back to the Waste Management.
18. Rory Sabbatini – Has four top 10s in 10 starts at Harbour Town and looked sharp last week, breaking par in each round at Colonial and closing with 65 to finish T-19. The scrappy Sultan of Slovakia keeps producing, giving hope to 40-something swingers everywhere.
17. Luke Donald – From 2010 to 2017, Donald was an automatic pick at Harbour Town, recording a staggering six top-3 finishes during the span. While his performance has declined in recent years, he finished T-33 a year ago and appears re-energized, attempting to take advantage of his status on the career money list and retain full-time status.
16. Luke List – On paper, Harbour Town doesn’t seem like a good fit for the long-hitting List, however he finished T-3 here in 2018. He’s also one of only two players to win a professional event last week, claiming the Korn Ferry Challenge in Florida.
15. J.T. Poston – Finished T-6 in first appearance at Hilton Head last year. Western Carolina grad won in Greensboro last summer, going bogey-free, looking extremely comfortable in front of the home fans. Coming off his first top-10 of the season at Colonial, look for him to keep it rolling.
14. Gary Woodland – Dropped 25 pounds during the hiatus. Led the field in SG: Approach-the-Green at Colonial but was betrayed by his typically steady short game (46th SG: Tee-to-Green). He’ll show a better touch this week in his first appearance at Hilton Head since 2013.
13. Byeong Hun An – His recent form is mediocre but the 2019 Presidents Cup team member loves the Bermuda surfaces, ranking top 10 in the field in approach shots and around the green. Too talented to struggle for long.
12. Matt Kuchar – Another veteran who rolled away the dust and dew last week and should be ready to rise on a course that’s been very good to him through the years. The former Georgia Tech star has made the cut in 15 of 16 Heritage starts, won in 2014, finished runner-up last year and recorded six top 10s overall.
11. Jason Kokrak – Missed a great chance to join the sudden-death festivities at Colonial on Sunday and all signs point to his strong play continuing at Harbour Town, where he’s finished 16th or better in four of the last six years. He’s second in SG: Approach-the-Green among players in the field.
10. Sungjae Im – What layoff? The FedEx Cup leader continued his steady, spectacular season with his sixth top 10 last at Colonial and now arrives at another course that demands accurate ballstriking. He’s 22nd on the PGA Tour in SG: Tee-to-Green.
9. Daniel Berger – Last week was hardly a fluke. In 2016, Berger was on the cusp of a Ryder Cup selection and headed for world-class status. Then he suffered a wrist injury that threatened his career. Now he’s a three-time PGA Tour winner and one of the hottest players in 2019-20 who could earn one of captain Steve Stricker’s six selections if the matches are indeed played in September.
8. Branden Grace – The 2015 RBC Heritage champion appeared in good form last weekend, finishing T-19 at Colonial. Has played the weekend in all four starts at Harbour Town with two top-11 results to supplement his victory.
7. Justin Rose – Switched back last week to the TaylorMade irons that catapulted him to No. 1 in the world and came one revolution short of joining the playoff at Colonial. Returns to Hilton Head for the first time since 2008, making three cuts with one top 10 in four prior starts. Benefited from the layoff as much as anyone.
6. Collin Morikawa – Last week’s finish had to sting. Missed a 7-footer on the 72nd hole to win outright and then power lipped a 3-footer to lose in sudden death. Not too surprising in light of his 136th SG: Putting ranking among this week’s field. Without question a top-5 iron player on the PGA Tour and he hit quality pitch shots down the stretch last week.
5. Justin Thomas – Sputtered to 71 in the gusting breeze on Sunday but still snuck into the top 10 for the 49th time in his career (145 starts) and sixth this season. Top 25 in the field in SG: Approach-the-Green and SG: Around-the-Green. Harbour Town rewards strength in both categories.
4. Rory McIlroy – Plummeted from the top 10 to a T-32 with a final-round 74 at Colonial, which is troubling. Still, he leads the RBC Heritage field in strokes gained, including 12th around-the-green which is necessary considering the tiny surfaces at Harbour Town.
3. Jon Rahm – Considering I picked him to win at Colonial, the sluggish 36 holes was surprising. Figured the young Spaniard would come out blazing, considering his pre-hiatus form. I’d be shocked by an extended slump and expect to see the player who recorded four top 20s in the early months of the season. Making RBC debut.
2. Webb Simpson – With five young children at home, it’s safe to assume the 34-year-old North Carolinian played less golf than some of his peers during the hiatus and the rust was revealed in a missed cut last week. He’s the best putter in the field on Bermuda greens and should regain the touch on the smooth TifEagle surfaces at Harbour Town, where he’s finished top 16 for three consecutive years.
1. Xander Schauffele – Brutal lipout on the 71st hole overshadowed erratic ballstriking down the stretch for Schauffele at Colonial and ended in his third top-3 finish in 2019-20. He’s made the cut in 67 of 86 career starts and cracked the top 10 23 percent of the time. Only weakness is the putter (106th SG among loaded RBC Heritage field).