PGA TOUR Live Featured Groups Picks: Back Justin Thomas to Beat Jon Rahm, Justin Rose?
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Thomas
On this week’s Action Network Podcast, longtime PGA TOUR pro and current radio commentator Carl Paulson joined Peter Jennings and myself to break down Harbour Town Golf Links, site of this week’s RBC Heritage.
It doesn’t take a guy who once finished a single stroke out of a playoff – as Paulson did in 2001 – to understand that this is a short, tight track which offers a premium on accuracy.
It does, however, take someone who’s been there and done that to explain that course management is really a more helpful metric than precision this week.
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“You can hit 14 fairways and be absolutely screwed on every single one of those fairways, depending on what side of the fairway you hit,” said Paulson, who played this event five times.
If you plan on making birdies at Harbour Town, you have to attack the golf course backwards. Starting at the first hole, you don’t look at the yardage book or how far you need to hit it. You look straight at the green. Pin is back left? I’m better off in the right trees than the left side of the fairway. … Where do I want to hit my second shot? That determines where my first shot goes. It’s every single hole.”
At an event where many of the top players don’t have much experience, we can use this knowledge to our advantage – especially in the opening rounds, when some of those players are still learning the nuances.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the four featured groups for Thursday’s first round.
Rickie Fowler (+180) over Rory McIlroy and C.T. Pan
Well, it took exactly one pick for me to deviate from the “experience matters” idea. McIlroy hasn’t played this event since 2009 and Fowler since 2012, while Pan is the defending champion.
There’s certainly value on him at a whopping +340, but MCs in six of his last seven starts have me a bit leery about employing the strategy here. Instead, I’ll go with the other plus-money guy in the group, as Rickie tries to rebound from last week’s missed cut.
Patrick Reed (+170) over Daniel Berger and Brooks Koepka
This would’ve been an easy play on Berger, the only one in this group to have played Harbour Town in the last four years and the one for whom this course sets up, but grinding out a victory – plus the residual mental exhaustion and celebratory downtime – usually leaves me fading the latest champion.
Instead, the (very cautious) play is Reed, who’s posted sub-70 scores in five of his last six openers.
Dustin Johnson (+190) over Hideki Matsuyama and Gary Woodland
Very tough call here, as I could see any or all of these three going low Thursday. Matsuyama is my outright pick to win this week, but in many of his best results, he progressively works his way up the board as the week continues.
Woodland is fresh off an opening-round 65 last week, but his previous five openers all failed to break 70. And so we’re left with an undervalued DJ, who’s posted some solid numbers in his home state over the last two years.
Justin Thomas (+160) over Jon Rahm and Justin Rose
Yet another tough one here, but the pick is JT for one specific reason: When he gets off to a strong start, he tends to really get off to a strong start.
He’s played a half-dozen opening rounds so far this calendar year (erasing the canceled Players Championship) and while in two of those, he’s failed to break par, the other four have yielded scores between 64-67.
Likely still seething about a two-birdie, three-bogey final round this past Sunday, expect him to be playing with a little fire in this one.