Out of the Rough: RBC Heritage (2023)
In what typically would be best described as a Masters “hangover,” the RBC Heritage is far from it this year although returning to its normal post Augusta scheduling position.
Although in a familiar time slot, the event is seeing its best field ever as it is part of the PGA Tour’s elevated events. This means we’ll once again see the Tour’s best despite being a week post-Masters.
Held at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Islands, South Carolina, the event is just a mere 130 miles from Augusta National and has been a staple of the PGA Tour since 1969.
This is also the first elevated event we will see post-Major on the PGA Tour schedule.
What was once described as a relaxing trip to the lowcountry of South Carolina after the stress of The Masters and the first major of the season will be no longer as it comes with a $20 Million prize up for grabs.
In a weird change of events, as the RBC Heritage is an elevated event, we’ll see a better field this week than last week at The Masters.
This is the strongest field by a longshot that this event has ever seen. Even better than when the event was positioned as the second event after golf returned following the COVID hiatus.
Being an elevated event, the RBC Heritage will see a field of 147 players. As the event’s field is capped at 132 players, any player that withdrawals from the tournament prior to it teeing off Thursday will not be replaced unless the number drops to 131 golfers.
The biggest absence from this week’s field will be Official World Golf Ranking number three as Rory McIlroy announced early this week that he will not be heading to South Carolina.
Hideki Matsuyama is another big name that will not be making the trip to Hilton Head Island. Aaron Wise (World #45) who is eligible to play the event will also not be in attendance.
Of course, Will Zalatoris is out for the remainder of the season after undergoing successful back surgery after his withdrawal from The Masters a near week ago.
With the RBC Heritage typically following The Masters, many of the world’s best have very limited history at this event.
Jon Rahm, fresh off his Masters’ victory, has only played the RBC Heritage once in 2020. World Number Two Scottie Scheffler will actually be making his tournament debut.
As we’ve never seen an elevated event directly after a major, it will be interesting to see how the world’s best who competed deep into Sunday at The Masters are able to hold up. With majors, specifically The Masters, being so grueling and so much of a grind, following it up with a very competitive elevated event should make for an interesting tournament.
Jordan Spieth is the defending champion of the RBC Heritage and comes in fresh off a T4th finish at The Masters. He’s trending in the right direction to gain his first victory of the season.
Spieth defeated Patrick Cantlay in a playoff a year ago to claim the plaid jacket. Cantaly too will be in this year’s field. Cantlay is a bit of a regular at this event as he has four top-tens in five appearances, including three top threes.
Other previous RBC Heritage champions in this year’s field include five-time event winner Davis Love III, three-time champion Stewart Cink, Satoshi Kodaira, C.T. Pan, Matt Kuchar and Webb Simpson.
Justin Thomas is another interesting name in this year’s field as he looks to right-the-ship after missing the cut last week in Augusta. He has two finishes of 11th or better in four Heritage appearances.
The field too includes the top 30 players in the FedEx Cup standings and 41 of the current OWGR top 50; including nine of the top ten.
It is also worth noting that Ernie Els, who has won this event two times, along with Jim Furyk will be playing this week. Els has not played in a non-major on the PGA Tour since the 2020 RBC Heritage.
Harbour Town Golf Links is a course that makes up for its lack of length with tight fairways and the smallest greens on the entirety of the PGA Tour.
The Pete Dye designed course plays as a par 71 and comes in at around 7,100 yards
Harbour Town’s biggest defense is the size of its greens. As previously mentioned, the greens are the smallest on Tour. As well as being smaller in size, they are contoured in a way to challenge even the game’s best putters.
Along with the challenges on the greens, the combination of the fairways being both tight and tree lined with overhanging mossy oaks makes getting off the tee a challenge.
The course annually ranks as the venue with the fewest drives over 300 yards and shortest average driving distances on the PGA Tour. Harbour Town’s average distance off the tee is 268 yards as the PGA Tour average sits at 284 yards.
Although finding the fairway at any track is important, Harbour Town is one of the few courses on the PGA Tour where driving means very little. Traditionally speaking from a statistics standpoint, Strokes Gained: Off the Tee means less than Strokes Gained: Around the Green among top-ten finishers. That is very rare on the PGA Tour.
Heck, a lot of the holes this week are structured in a way where being in the right rough generates better birdie opportunities than being situated in the left section of the fairway.
The greens in regulation percentage (GIR%) at Harbour Town too is among the lowest on Tour in terms of average. Due to its Tour smallest greens in size, the course boasts a GIR% of 58-percent. Taking advantage of the proper angle will be imperative to scoring.
In the end, players are treated to an 18th hole that sits flush to the Calibogue Sound. Along with the famed red-and-white lighthouse standing sentry over the green, this creates one of the most scenic settings on all of the PGA Tour.
Highs this week are set to remain in the mid-to-high 70 degrees across all four days. Rain is looking to possibly be a factor at this point as Thursday holds a 50-percent chance of precipitation as both Friday and Sunday boast a 40-percent chance. Winds will of course be a factor this week as the course sits coast side. Wind speeds will peak at 12 miles-per-hour on Thursday before decreasing and then rising again to ten miles-per-hour on Sunday. Saturday will be the best day of the whole tournament with just a ten percent chance of precipitation, a high of 78 degrees and the lowest winds of the four days (seven miles-per-hour.)
Strokes Gained: Approach (SG: APP)
Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermuda (SG: PUTT Bermuda)
Strokes Gained: Around the Green (SG: ATG)
Good Drives Percentage
Greens in Regulation Percentage (GIR%)
Proximity to the hole from 125-200 Yards
Strokes Gained: Total (SG: Total)
Unlike a few of the last weeks, we actually get some choices in this price range. Although we get some choices, in what should be no one’s surprise, we’re opting for two familiar names. Leading the way is Jon Rahm ($11,100) who likely will be my favorite in every tournament he pays in per my model. It works out for me in the long run though as I’ve hit on three outrights on Rahm this season. Rahm is currently first in all of the PGA Tour in SG: Total, third in GIR%, fourth in SG: APP, eighth in bogey avoidance, 17th in SG: ATG, 18th in scrambling, 24th in good drives percentage, 42nd in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards and 45th in SG: PUTT Bermuda. Of course Rahm comes into this week fresh off a victory at The Masters. That brings his season win total to four (The Masters, Genesis Invitational, The American Express and Sentry Tournament of Champions.) As aforementioned, Rahm has played this event just one time prior, in 2020. He placed T33rd that year. I’m going to continue hedging my bets with Rahm this week at +850. Also consider, but who else, Scottie Scheffler ($11,000.) Scheffler is currently first on Tour in both GIR% and bogey avoidance. He is also second in SG: Total, fourth in good drives percentage, sixth in SG: APP, seventh in scrambling, 24th in SG: ATG and 34th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards. His score this week in my model is brought down by his 168th placement in SG: PUTT on Bermuda. Scheffler has victories at the WM Phoenix Open and THE PLAYERS on the season, both elevated events. His worst finish on the calendar year is T12th at the Genesis Invitational. He has five top tens and three top fives in seven events on the season. He’s fresh off a T10th at The Masters. This will be Scheffler's first time playing the RBC Heritage. Both Rahm and Scheffler have elevated event victories on the season already. There’s a reason they are the two most expensive golfers in DFS.
Second in my model this week to only Rahm is Tony Finau ($9,400.) Finau has very quietly been putting together a very consistent season. On the calendar year he has made the cut in all eight full field events he’s played. He has six top 20’s, three top 15s and a top ten in those same eight tournaments. In elevated events he’s played he’s gone T14th at the WM Phoenix Open, T20th at The Genesis Invitational, T24th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and T19th at THE PLAYERS. He placed T26th last week at The Masters. Finau has played the RBC Heritage three times previously. He made the cut in two-of-the-three events with his highest placement being T33rd in 2020. I say this often about Finau’s past results; he’s twice the golfer now than he was even two years ago. He’s currently third on Tour in SG: APP, 4th in SG: Total, 12th in both GIR% and bogey avoidance, 24th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 33rd in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards, 37th in good drives percentage, 43rd in scrambling and 81st in SG: ATG. At +2900, Finau will get a few dollar donation on my behalf. Also consider Max Homa ($9,100.) At this price, you’re getting a lot. At the bottom of this price range you’re getting a guy who hasn’t missed the cut in any tournament this season, let alone calendar year. I know he struggled a bit last week at The Masters where he placed T43rd, but prior to that had a very impressive run of tournaments. He won The American Express back in January, placed second to Rahm at The Genesis Invitational, went T14th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and then placed T6th at THE PLAYERS. Homa has played this event just once prior where he placed T41st in 2020. He’s currently third on Tour in SG: Total, fifth in SG: APP, 13th in bogey avoidance, 22nd in scrambling, 36th in SG: ATG, 42nd in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards, 56th in GIR%, 89th in good drives percentage and 92nd in SG: PUTT Bermuda. Homa at +3100 and $9,100 seems too good to be true. Vegas (of course) must know something we don’t. Either way, like Finau, I’m making a donation in the name of Homa this week.
Look at that. It may be a new week but I’m back in on Tom Kim ($8,500.) Kim will be making his debut at the RBC Heritage this week but boy does this course suit his game. Leading into this week Kim hasn’t missed a cut in six consecutive events. He very quietly placed T16th a week ago in his debut at Augusta. Kim is currently third on Tour in both good drives percentage and bogey avoidance, sixth in scrambling, tenth in GIR%, 19th in SG: APP, 21st in SG: Total and 39th in both SG: ATG and proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards. His score in our model this week is brought down by a 173rd placement in SG: PUTT Bermuda. He actually ranks fourth in our model this week, only behind Rahm, Finau and Scheffler. At +4100 to win, I’m all over Kim this week. Also consider Sungjae Im ($8,600.) Im has played in the RBC Heritage the last four years. He made the cut in back-to-back events the last two years. Im went T21st in 2022 and T13th in 2021. In his last three tournaments ranging from the Arnold Palmer Invitational to The Masters, Im has done very well. He placed T21st at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, T6th at THE PLAYERS and T16th at The Masters. A very impressive run through three massive events. Im is currently 12th in SG: Total, 15th in bogey avoidance, 16th in scrambling, 30th in SG: ATG, 53rd in good drives percentage, 59th in GIR%, 62nd in SG: APP, 89th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards and 126th in SG: PUTT Bermuda.
If we want to consider course history this week in terms of selecting a winner, Matt Kuchar ($7,700) would be our guy. Kuchar is currently first on Tour in scrambling, fourth in bogey avoidance, sixth in SG: ATG, 15th in SG: Total, 20th in good drives percentage, 35th in SG: APP, 44th in GIR% and 111th in SG: PUTT Bermuda. His score is hindered by a 143rd placement in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards. However, he still comes in seventh in our model this week. The last time we saw Kuchar was back at the Valero Texas Open where he placed T3rd. Prior to that, he placed eighth at The Genesis Invitational, T32nd at the WM Phoenix Open and T7th at the Sony Open in Hawaii on the calendar year. Now back to the aforementioned course history. Kuchar has played the RBC Heritage every year since 2007 and a total of 19 of the last 20 years. He won the title in 2014 and most recently placed T3rd a year ago. Over the 19 tournaments he missed the cut just once and that was the first RBC Heritage he had played. So that’s 18 straight cuts made. He has 12 top 25s, nine top 15s, seven top tens and four top fives over that same time span. Priced in this penultimate price range and at +4500 to win, I’ll be putting a few dollars on him. Also consider Chris Kirk ($7,500.) Not to the extent of Kuchar, but Kirk too has a pretty lengthy list of experience at Harbour Town. Kirk is currently 12th on Tour in SG: ATG, 16th in SG: Total, 23rd in bogey avoidance, 48th in good drives percentage, 54th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 56th in SG: APP, 70th in scrambling, 77th in GIR% and 87th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards. In other words, he’s above average in each of the statistical categories we’re taking into consideration this week. Kirk placed T23rd at last week's The Masters and T10th the week prior at the Valero Texas Open. Kirk has a victory on the season being the Honda Classic. He also placed T3rd at The American Express and third at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Kirk has played 11-of-the-last-12 RBC Heritages. His best finish came in 2021 where he placed T7th.
I’m very high on Andrew Putnam ($6,700) this week. The last time we saw Putnam was two weeks back at the Valero Texas Open where he placed T28th. Prior to that he had made some noise at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play where he placed T9th. His best finish of both the season and calendar year came back in January at the Sony Open in Hawaii where he placed T4th. Putnam has played the RBC Heritage the past four years. The bad news though, he has never made the cut. I’m not buying too much into that however. I think he’s playing some of the best golf of his career at this point, this may be the week where it comes together. He’s currently fourth on Tour in scrambling, fifth in bogey avoidance, 29th in GIR%, 34th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 35th in good drives percentage, 39th in SG: Total, 58th in SG: APP and 114th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards. Putnam sits at +21000 and I can think of a few worse ways to blow a few dollars. Also consider Nick Taylor ($6,900.) Taylor has made consecutive cuts coming into this week with a T15th at the Valero Texas Open and T10th at the Valspar Championship. Taylor also placed second at the WM Phoenix Open back in February and T7th at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. Taylor has played in seven-of-the-last-eight RBC Heritages. His best finish was a T22nd in 2017. He’s missed the cut in just three of those seven events as well. Taylor is currently 18th in SG: Total, 25th in SG: ATG, 41st in bogey avoidance, 44th in scrambling, 50th in SG: APP, 64th in proximity to the hole from 125-200 yards, 65th in both SG: PUTT Bermuda and good drives percentage and 117th in GIR%.
Jon Rahm (+850) - 3u
Tony Finau (+2900) - 2u
Max Homa (+3100) - 2u
Tom Kim (+4100) - 1u
Matt Kuchar (+4500) - 1u
Andrew Putnam (+21000) - 0.5u