Sobel: The Masters Standouts I Like to Go Low at the RBC Heritage
Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
I love contrasts in golf. I love how a 330-yard drive counts just as much as a 3-inch putt, how a par can happen from the fairway or the parking lot, how one tournament can be won with a score of 20-under and the next with a total over par.
And yes, I love the two-week swing that features the Masters Tournament and the RBC Heritage.
If you’re reading this, you already know all about the former. One of the year’s most high-stress, high-pressure events, contested on a lengthy golf course with rolling hills and brutally fast greens.
There’s no other week like the Masters, but except for the relative proximity of the two courses, the RBC Heritage is about as opposite as it gets. From the sea air blowing in off the Calibogue Sound to the faint sounds of laughter and clinking glasses from the nearby Quarterdeck, this is one of the few weeks on the PGA Tour that can feel like more of a vacation than a job for tournament competitors.
Jordan Spieth was the last Masters champion to make the trip from Augusta to Hilton Head — granted, he spent a few days in New York City in between — and he spoke that week about why he honored the commitment.
“I like how laid‑back it is,” he said at the time. “Great crowds, good fans. The craziness has subsided, and the tournament is run extremely well. We’re treated as well as anywhere on Tour — good food, good facilities.”
Of course, all of this begs one question: How can we use any of this information to our own advantage?
My answer is that our advantage parallels that of the players who came straight from Augusta.
There are 34 players this week who will enjoy the contrast between these two events. For each of them, Hilton Head will serve — perhaps quite literally — as a breath of fresh air. It’ll give them a chance to relax and play stress-free golf after tiptoeing around Augusta. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that four of the past five winners at Harbour Town played the Masters one week earlier.
As you’ll see below, my predictions — which cover the tourney winner, a few top-5/10 props and a head-to-head matchup I’m eyeing — tend to mirror this advantage.
There are a handful of times during the year when I like a player so much pre-tournament that I know I’m doomed to a Murphy’s law outcome.
That’s exactly how I feel this week about Cameron Smith (pictured above), who’s listed at +2100.
Fresh off a T-5 at the Masters, the 24-year-old Aussie has quickly earned a reputation as one of the game’s best wedge players. On a short, tight track with some of the smallest greens we’ll see all year, Smith is tailor-made for the conditions. There’s so much going for him this week that something’s bound to go wrong. Doesn’t matter, though. I’m sticking with him to claim the trophy.
This isn’t exactly an analytical revelation, but here’s my general rule of thumb on Southeast courses with Bermuda greens: Just pick a bunch of Georgia Bulldogs.
Brian Harman and Kevin Kisner (both +270 for a top-10 finish) have each enjoyed a modicum of success at this event in the past, while guys like Harris English (+950 for top-10), Hudson Swafford (+1400) and Chris Kirk (+750) each hold some dart-throw value appeal.
If you want to stick with the idea that Masters competitors should see a bump here, give a hard look at Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Zach Johnson.
In particular, Johnson, who didn’t play this event last year, could be a sneaky selection at +950 for a top-five finish.
Matt Kuchar is listed as a +175 underdog for the tournament in a head-to-head matchup prop against Dustin Johnson. You’ll lose a lot of cash over the course of a year betting against the world’s No. 1-ranked player, but this might be the perfect spot.
A former champion, Kuchar is built for this course, as his steady brand of fairways and greens fits perfectly into what is needed at Harbour Town. Meanwhile, there’s a reason why DJ hasn’t played here in almost a decade — and a need to appease to the title sponsor might be the only reason he’s here now.
But that’s not the only rationale for picking against him this week …
There’s a reason why so many of the world’s best players are guys who routinely mash the ball 300-plus yards off the tee.
Week in, week out, PGA Tour courses are set up perfectly for the big bombers, who hold a distinct advantage over their pea-shooting peers.
But a few times a year — the events at Waialae and Colonial are two of them — the small-ball players get their revenge. This track certainly qualifies, as that usual advantage will be nullified by the need to keep the ball in play. Focus on the little guys this week and pass on the bashers.
Horse for Course
Luke Donald was once the world’s top-ranked player. He’s now 196th, with missed cuts in five of his past seven starts.
And yet, each year he shows up at Hilton Head and looks a lot closer to the guy who was No. 1 than the one who’s 196.
Donald owns five career runner-up results here, including three of the past four years, when he’s finished a combined four strokes out of any playoffs. Even when he’s not playing his best, he’s a pretty good bet to find success at this event.