If ever Masters competitors needed a relaxing week on Hilton Head Island, this is the year.
The 86th edition of the invitational at Augusta National was four days of wind-induced and Sunday-pressure stress. Every shot required maximum concentration and exquisite execution. One slip created a crash off the leaderboard and out of contention. Birdies and subpar rounds were scarce. There wasn’t a single eagle on the par-5 15th for crying out loud.
Harbour Town, a 7,121-yard par-71, presents its own flavor of difficulty this week as the PGA Tour travels to the South Carolina coast for the RBC Heritage. There will be wind in the afternoon (10-20 mph). Narrow fairways, tiny greens, overhanging trees and penal Pete Dye bunkers must be conquered.
The field includes 10 of the top 20 players in the world and, in between the bike rides, sunset cocktails and bowls of she-crab soup, they’ll try to solve one of the more interesting layouts on the PGA Tour, often opting for less than driver, aiming for angles into hole locations and trying to handle the four difficult par-3s that are the centerpiece of one of Dye’s best layouts.
We focused on golfers who thrive on shorter courses – the accurate crowd and those with the short game skills to get up-and-down. They’ll have to. The field hits the greens in regulation only 57 percent of the time, compared to the Tour average of 66.
It’s always difficult to know just how to treat those who played last week. I’m generally in favor of giving them the nod if their irons and short game were on track the week before.
Keep an eye on the weather. The temperatures are expected to be seasonal – upper 60s to upper 70s but there’s a chance of rain Thursday night and Friday morning and those teeing off in the morning definitely have an opportunity to attack receptive greens in calm conditions.
Because the Heritage may have been my favorite stop on the circuit in my days as a Tour caddie, I tossed in a bonus play this week.
As always, good luck.
Joel Dahmen, Luke Donald, Doug Ghim, Matthew NeSmith, Doc Redman, Alex Smalley, Adam Svensson, Michael Thompson, Brendon Todd, Danny Willett.
Golfer Power Rankings
26. Tom Hoge – His elite iron precision should fit Harbour Town despite results here being mediocre (T-55, T-25, two MCs). Top five proximity from 150-175 and 175-200 yards, short game was sharp last week at Augusta National. Putter determines his fate – has lost strokes on the greens in five of the last nine tournaments.
25. Dylan Frittelli – Gained at least one shot on approach in four of the last five tournaments. Has made six of the last seven cuts dating back to Pebble Beach and finished tied for eighth in the softer, gentler RBC Heritage in 2020.
24. Kevin Streelman – Been on a steady run with three consecutive top-25s. Leads the field in scrambling over the last 50 rounds and ranks 12th in scoring on courses under 7,200 yards. Back-to-back top-10s in the RBC Heritage in 2018 and 2019.
23. Alex Noren – Finished 28th or better here each of the last three years and arrives on Hilton Head Island in excellent form, posting top-15s in three of his last five tournaments. Always reliable Tee-to-Green and a strong scrambler.
22. Jason Kokrak – Feels like excellent value on Kokrak, whose 14th at Augusta was his best finish in seven starts in 2022. Tied for 16th at Harbour Town in 2019 but also has missed the cut three times in the last five years. Should be able to gear down with less than driver off the tee and dial in his irons (top-50 in SG: Approach).
21. Luke List – Leads the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 50 rounds and is fourth in SG: Around-the-Green in the last 36. Struggled since his breakthrough victory at Torrey Pines (two T-53s, three MCs) but perhaps the gentle breezes of Sea Pines and sound advice from Jeff Willett will help List snap out of his slumber.
20. Mito Pereira – Finished 13th at the Valero despite a rare off week with his irons, a sign the rest of his game is also sound. Gained shots around the greens in four of the last five tournaments and on the greens in the last two. Top-15 in SG: Tee-to-Green and SG: Approach.
19. Matthew Fitzpatrick – Continued his consistent season at the Masters, landing in the top-15 for the fifth time in the last six tournaments. Offseason swing changes and the wisdom of caddie Billy Foster have led to terrific iron play in 2022 – he’s gained shots on approach each week during his hot streak.
18. Dustin Johnson – On one hand, Johnson is in Harbour Town to fulfill an obligation to a sponsor. On the other, he’s a South Carolina native who might as well play the only PGA Tour stop in the state. Record here isn’t terrible – three top-20s and a 28th the last four years. Gained 2.21 shots Tee-to-Green at Augusta.
17. Russell Henley – Has a T-9, T-26 and two MCs in the last four RBC Heritage starts and a game made for the course, ranking top five in proximity from 125-150 and 150-175 yards. Also has performed well on Pete Dye designs and shorter golf courses. Could have won at comp courses Sedgefield and Waialae in the last nine months.
16. Chris Kirk – Phenomenal short game (third in SG: Around-the-Green) and improving ballstriking (22nd SG: Approach) on a Southern course where he finished top-10 last year make Kirk a wise choice on Hilton Head. Makes a good chunk of cash each year on the Tour’s shorter courses.
15. Sungjae Im – Let us never take Sungjae’s talent for granted. Over the last 50 rounds, he’s top 10 in the field in SG: Total, Tee-to-Green, Short Game, Off-the-Tee, Around-the-Green and the all important Fantasy points. Would be higher if not for poor proximity rankings in the key ranges.
14. Webb Simpson – Struggled with irons and putter in a T-35 at the Masters but slowly showing signs of regaining form. Nobody has played Harbour Town better the last five years, winning the June tournament in 2020 and finishing 16th or better every other year since 2017.
13. Collin Morikawa – Leads the field in proximity from 125-150 yards and 175-200 yards but is his short game sharp enough to contend this week? Looked rather sharp at Augusta National as he was 11th in the field in SG: Around-the-Green. Tied for 7th and 64th in the last two RBC Heritage tournaments.
12. Patrick Cantlay – Could be a sharp pivot play after another lackluster effort at the Masters (39th), although he did rank top-15 in approach play. Finished seventh / third / seventh at Harbour Town from 2017-19. Short game is also an asset and nobody in the field is better on short courses and Dye courses.
11. Corey Conners – An evolving short game makes Conners a dangerous player. We know about his Tee-to-Green prowess (eighth in the field) and he has a good resume on Dye courses, short courses and anywhere that puts a premium on accuracy. Was more impressed by the 1.13 shots he gained around the greens at the Masters. Finished 21st and 4th here the last two years.
10. Kevin Na – Led the field in SG: Approach and Greens in Regulation in recording his third consecutive top-15 Masters finish. Top-10 in scoring on courses shorter than 7,200 yards over the last 50 rounds and in the field’s upper crust in proximity from 125-175 yards.
9. Harold Varner III – Broke par in three of four rounds at Augusta National to finish T-23, gaining shots on approach and around the greens. He’s 20th in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 50 rounds and 16th in SG: Approach over the last 36. Tied for second here last year.
8. Adam Hadwin – Have a hunch he’ll be a popular play again this week. His price is right and he’s been on a heater, posting three consecutive top-10s and comes in fresh after a week at home. Record is decent enough at Harbour Town with a T-22 as best finish in three made cuts out of four starts. Gained at least three shots on approach in his mini-heater.
7. Kevin Kisner – Ranked ninth in the Masters field in SG: Approach. Thrives on courses shorter than 7,200 yards and Pete Dye layouts. Also 24th in the SG: Around-the-Green over the last 36 rounds. Finished T-11 at Harbour Town in 2017 and T-8 the following year.
6. Cameron Smith – Imagine he’ll spend the early part of the week fishing or resting at home after a somewhat disappointing third place finish in the Masters. The driver went awry on Sunday but he finished the week second in SG: Approach and shot 62 in the first round here last year.
5. Shane Lowry – Concern here is energy level. Tweeted that he gave “all he had” in an impressive T-3 at Augusta. In general contending there has not led to high finishes on Harbour Town but I like Lowry because he had a high finish last week despite a rare off week with the irons. “Playing the best golf of my life” is a phrase you like to hear from a man you’re considering placing on a fantasy roster or bet slip. Ranks 3rd in SG: Approach and 11th in Scrambling.
4. Justin Thomas – He’s finished in the top-10 eight times since his last victory at the Players in March 2021. Not much I can tell you about his game or form that you don’t already know. One of the game’s best iron players, excellent scrambler and 79th in SG: Putting on Bermuda greens.
3. Billy Horschel – Hasn’t missed a cut since the U.S. Open thanks to fine iron play and scrambling. Has a T-5 and T-25 in recent RBC Heritage starts. He’s an excellent putter on Bermuda, ranks ninth in field in scoring on courses less than 7,200 yards and his proximity stats are trending upward.
2. Daniel Berger – Tied for 33rd, 3rd and 13th the last three years at Harbour Town. Ranks top-20 in all three key proximity categories and leads the field in scoring on courses less than 7,200 yards. Might be the best bunker player on Tour and his pitching and chipping are also among the best. Still expecting a couple of wins from Berger this year. Squandered one good chance at the Honda. Needs to capitalize on this excellent course fit.
1. Joaquin Niemann – Skipped this tournament last year but finished fifth in the June 2020 edition, gaining more than seven shots on approach for the week. Seemed frustrated over the weekend in an eventual T-35 and it appeared his game was close but was one adjustment shy of being able to contend. Top-25 in proximity from 150-175 and 175-200. Can use his driver to attack at least two of Harbour Town’s three par-5s.