RBC Heritage ⏤ Picks & Analysis

Fantasy Golf

Harbour Town1

The rebooted PGA TOUR season rolls on to Hilton Head Island, SC this week for the RBC Heritage at the iconic Harbour Town Golf Links. The golf course will yet again be the star of the show this week as Harbour Town is consistently rated among the TOUR players' most favorite host venues and provides one of the more strategic tests of golf to be found anywhere on the PGA TOUR. The fairways are narrow and tree-lined and snake in all directions. This requires players to work the ball in order to reach fairway positions from which the hole locations can be accessed as the greens are small and there will be a number of pins hidden in the corners.

Harbour Town is a unique challenge as compared to most of the host sites we are used to seeing on the PGA TOUR. The type of player who will succeed here is different than the style you'd find most successful during the overwhelming majority of professional events. Length is relatively meaningless and driving accuracy goes from being among the least important stats to among the most important ones. The trees will be unforgiving to any player who can't place the ball from the tee and the greens are among the smallest on the PGA TOUR.

The early part of the rebooted season is proving to bring out strong fields. The RBC Heritage will enjoy probably the best field it has had in decades as the event is usually slotted the week after the Masters Tournament and most of the top players stay home. With the tournament being so early in the rebooted season, we're seeing the pent up desire to compete bring some names to Harbour Town that we aren't used to seeing.

Group A

Group A as always includes the heavy hitters in the field and there is certainly no shortage of them this week. We'll start by eliminating two guys we don't have a lot of confidence in this week--Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson. Both are players who dominate with length and that plays less of a role at Harbour Town than nearly any other course on TOUR. Moreover, neither showed much form last week and so this seems like an unlikely week that either of them find it.

This would instinctively seem like a golf course that would suit an accurate driver and good iron player like Jon Rahm. Rory McIlroy is always tough to ignore as last week's T32 (after a miserable Sunday) was the first time all year he finished outside of the top five. That having been said, he dominates with length as well and doesn't seem like a great fit for a course that requires accurate driving and precision wedge play.

Our pick here is Justin Rose. He looked way out of sorts heading into the COVID pause but came out of last week looking like a new man as compared to the one we saw pre-COVID. His putter was beyond hot and he finished just a shot out of the playoff despite a number of three or four hole stretches during the tournament where he made some careless mistakes. His style of game should suit this golf course and if the putter stays hot he figures to be a threat come Sunday.

Group B

Group B includes the next tier of contenders and our pick among them is Xander Schauffele. He looked to be in complete control of his game all week last week until the final four holes. His careless error into the water at 15 and then his horseshoe lip-out at the penultimate hole left him a shot out of the Morikawa/Berger playoff, but save for the closing stretch with the pressure all the way on his game looked the sharpest through the bag among the contenders at Colonial. He's an accurate ball-striker, a good driver of the ball and generally not a liability with the putter. We think he is going to stay hot this week on a golf course that is built for players of his ilk.

Patrick Reed and Bryson Dechambeau deserve some consideration here, but the struggles Dechambeau had with the putter last week make him a tough guy to roster as they require first-rate ball-striking in order to minimize the adverse impact of the subpar putting. Patrick Reed rolls the ball much better than Bryson does, but his form last week (while good) wasn't nearly as good as Schauffele's.

Group C

This group includes six players who are going to be under serious consideration for the European Ryder Cup team. Tyrell Hatton is going to be making his reboot debut and last we saw him he was battling the tough conditions en route to a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. We certainly shouldn't count him out this week.

Shane Lowry and Matthew Fitzpatrick are off-form and Fitz even admitted as much in the "confession cam" interview he gave on Sunday at the Charles Schwab Challenge. It's tough to pick either knowing their games aren't quite there.

We're going to go with a dark horse here and take Rafa Cabrera-Bello. He may well be the least accomplished player among the six listed, but he played well over the weekend last week and this course should suit his game.

Group D

This is a diverse group of international players nearly all of whom can make a compelling case to be the pick among the six. Branden Grace played very well for three days last week but had a rough Sunday and faded to a T19 finish after starting the day a shot out of the lead. Abraham Ancer played well last week (T14) but never really got it fully into gear and was never in serious contention. Joaquin Niemann had a very Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of week at Colonial with rounds of 72-65-72-65 en route to a T32 finish. Hideki Matsuyama didn't play last week, but is probably the player among this group whose best is the best. However, Hideki is plagued by inconsistency and is a tough pull any week thanks to his wild-card potential.

Our pick is going to be Sungjae Im. He continues his ascent up the ranks of the PGA TOUR and his coming out party at the President's Cup last year has proven to be no fluke. He was maybe the hottest player on TOUR going into the COVID pause and his T10 finish with four rounds in the 60s last week showed his form hasn't gone far. We expect to see him sniffing around the top of the board come Sunday.

Group E

We're going to pick Jordan Spieth among this group of this group of highly competitive players, but we caution any readers that we may be over-rating his performance last week in doing so. Spieth looked like the Spieth of old at times--holing long putts when he absolutely needs them, chipping in and shooting consecutive 65s to open the tournament. He went into the final round just a shot off the lead and fired a Sunday 71 that left him T10 and five shots out of the playoff.

Nevertheless, there were also plenty of times he looked like the lost Jordan Spieth we've seen for much of the last two years. He four-putted, hit balls out of bounds, missed some tiny putts and was generally a disappointment with his wedges around the greens. There are two ways to view this--one way would be that if he can clean those things up he should be in great shape this week. The other is that all of the Spieth heroics masked weaknesses in the foundation of his game and without the heroics we might even see a missed cut. We're going to opt with the former view and trust that Spieth can clean up the dirty parts of his game. 

Group F

Oddly enough, this might be the most important group among the six as it is highly likely that four or five of these former PGA TOUR legends miss the cut. If you can find the guy among them who plays four rounds, you'll be at a tremendous advantage as compared to any of your fellow contestants who choose one of the trunk-slammers.

I'd rule out first Ernie Els (whose putter seems irrevocably broken) and Bernhard Langer (who I think is just a shade too old to do too much damage on the junior tour). I'd also rule out Zach Johnson whose form has been long absent and hasn't recorded a top-ten finish since the fall season in 2018.

This leaves Vijay Singh and our pick of Jim Furyk. He just turned 50 recently and has been keeping up on the PGA TOUR for most of the last few years. The right course (like a Colonial or a Harbour Town) and he can still be a competitive player. He played well last week for three rounds (67-69-67) but then faded on Sunday and finished T49. He showed us enough last week and fits the course enough that we think he's a no-brainer choice among this group.