Sobel: Will History Repeat Itself? Look Past RBC Heritage Leaders to Find Potential Winner
David Cannon/Getty Images. Pictured: Dustin Johnson.
The proverbial longest day of the year will take place this weekend, and they needed all the available daylight to finish Friday‘s second round of the RBC Heritage after a two-hour afternoon weather delay.
It wasn’t just lengthy; it was busy, too.
ICYMI: Nick Watney withdrew after testing positive for COVID-19; Bernhard Langer became the oldest player to make the cut in five years; Collin Morikawa made his 22nd straight cut to start his pro career; Webb Simpson holed a bazillion feet worth of putts; and Bryson DeChambeau continued doing Bryson DeChambeau things.
Oh, and there are 20 other players within four strokes of Simpson’s tenuous lead.
Why is that particular number so important at Harbour Town? Because there’s some very relevant recent history at this event.
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Four years ago, Branden Grace won after trailing by four strokes at the midway point.
Three years ago, it was Wesley Bryan who took the title after being four back entering the weekend.
Two years ago, Satoshi Kodaira made up a four-shot deficit over the final 36 holes to win.
And last year, C.T. Pan earned the victory after trailing through two rounds by — you guessed it — three strokes. (OK, maybe you didn’t guess it.)
Even if Pan ruined the consistency of this statistic, the point remains the same: Something about this place lends itself to come-from-behind champions, which should offer some juicy live outright opportunities.
Here are four guys who are four back, each primed to show history repeat itself this weekend.
Dustin Johnson (22-1)
Just because he finished T-28 last year, many observers will gloss over the numbers and fail to realize that DJ wasn’t just in serious contention on Sunday, but held sole possession of the lead before a final-round 77.
Considering he’s a proven winner who’s done so at a consistent rate on the PGA TOUR, I’m willing to call that one an outlier and believe he’s resilient enough to bounce back and win in his home state.
Tony Finau (28-1)
In my Round 2 preview, I listed Finau as my favorite live play at that point, considering he tends to play well on shorter courses and, well, the dude is simply overdue for a second career win. He’s talented enough that he’s going to win another one almost by accident.
This week, his ball-striking has ranked inside the top-10, while his putting is just below average against the field. If the flatstick gets hot, watch out.
Sebastian Munoz (90-1)
While many have pointed out that last week’s host course, Colonial CC, serves as a corollary venue to Harbour Town, I’d also point out that CC of Jackson and Sea Island GC — home of the Sanderson Farms Championship and RSM Classic — aren’t dissimilar.
Where did Munoz finish at each of those last year? Well, he won the Sanderson and finished third at the RSM. On a big-name leaderboard, don’t be surprised if he continues stealthily working his way up the ladder.
Dylan Frittelli (90-1)
I already have Frittelli pegged as a possible target for next week’s Travelers Championship, as he likes the TPC River Highlands host course, but he might beat that target by a few days.
So far this week, Frittelli is below average off the tee, but on the plus side of every other major statistical category. He’s another guy who could fly under the radar on such a packed board.
Rounds 3 Matchups
Chesson Hadley (+140) over Matt Kuchar
A steady player who obviously likes this course, Kuchar is a tough fade in any spot here, but Hadley at plus-money could be a sharp play in this battle of Georgia Tech products.
Playing as a single in the day’s first tee time last Saturday, Hadley posted a 6-under 64 and his third-round scoring average this season ranks seventh on the PGA TOUR.
Matthew Fitzpatrick (-122) over Abraham Ancer
A popular selection at this event over the years since he lists Harbour Town as his favorite course in the world, Fitz has ultimately disappointed, never finishing better than T-14 in five tries. This one, though, is on the verge of being his best and he’ll get a matchup against Ancer, who should cool off after Friday’s heater.
Matthew NeSmith (-122) over Jhonattan Vegas
If you’ve watched any of the coverage over the last few days, then you’ve heard all the stories about NeSmith: He grew up not too far from Hilton Head, considers Harbour Town his favorite course and even got engaged on the 18th hole.
Much like Fitzpatrick, the combination of his love for this track and a playing partner coming off a torrid round should make him a strong H2H play.
Mark Hubbard (-117) over Matt Wallace
Even though Wallace is the bigger name here, there’s one metric I’m looking at: Hubbard ranks third this season in third-round scoring average, while Wallace ranks 206th.
Sure, some statistics can be damned lies, but this one feels like more than a coincidence.