It's hard to avoid a Masters hangover, especially after the leaderboard that stacked up last week, but the show must go on.
To combat the stressful build-up and now the letdown from the first major championship, the next stop takes place on a nice little resort island in South Carolina. Hilton Head Island.
A field of 132 golfers will take on Harbour Town Golf Links this week. It's worth noting that we will return to a normal cut-line rule this week, with top 70 and ties advancing onto the weekend.
Harbour Town Golf Links plays the host role of this event. That has been the case since the inaugural edition back in 1969. Plenty of history to look at here.
The course has withstood the test of time, including technology advancements and agronomy improvements. When people oppose rolling back the ball, many of them will cite courses like Harbour Town GL as a reason why it's not needed. This course plays right at 7,100 yards, on the short side for a par 71 layout.
There are three par 5s on the course and they measure just 502, 549, and 588 yards. The first two are reachable by everyone in the field, neutralizing the distance advantage that so many courses give out. More than 60 percent of golfers will "Go for the Green" on holes 2 and 5 while less than 20 percent will have the firepower to take on No. 15.
In addition to the reachable par 5s, the fairways are also heavily lined with large trees. A lot of the branches actually overhang the fairways in areas, making it vital to position your ball off the tee. If you can't manage your misses, you better be a trick-shot artist like last year's winner, Wesley Bryan.
Another key attribute of Harbour Town GL is the tiny greens. They are the smallest greens on TOUR, which means around-the-green play will be important this week since everyone in the field will be missing their share of greens by week's end.
Approach is still king, but if I'm narrowing down my stat research I'd look at a combination of Approach + Around-the-Green as well as accuracy off the tee. It's very rare that I'd ever recommend accuracy but this is one of those rare weeks.
Off the tee, water is sprinkled well throughout the course but mainly in play at the 4th, 10th, and 14th holes. When following shot tracker this week, you will also see plenty of DIRT OUTLINE, NATIVE AREA, and TREE OUTLINE.
On approach shots, finding greenside bunkers will be a common occurrence. Over the last 10 years, more than 10 percent of approach shots have found a greenside bunker. Being good out of the sand is a nice asset this week in addition to good ol-fashioned bermuda scrambling.
Once golfers reach the greens, they'll be faced with bermuda putting surfaces. Looking at the last five winners, four of them arrived in good putting form but overall it's a mixed bag in terms of putting strength when you look at past contenders here.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the courses to see how they will play...
Luke Donald: "It’s a very claustrophobic place. A lot of overhanging trees. And I think for some reason that real tight feeling narrows my focus and gets me more engaged in the shot, and that’s why I seem to hit it very well around here. And also the greens are very small, so if you do miss greens you need to be really good around the greens."
Kevin Kisner: "I just feel like it’s a great shot maker’s course. You can be in the fairway and have to carve shots into the pin. It kind of suits my game. I love to see the picture and try to hit the shots."
Wesley Bryan: "A lot of the guys rave about it because you have to work the ball both ways off the tee. You have to work the ball both ways going into the green. You have to miss it in the right spots around the green to have a chance. It’s one of the only courses on Tour where you’ll see that you have to play every single shot in your bag."
Matt Kuchar: "It’s one of my favorite weeks. I love coming here. I golf the golf course. I stay with good friends. We know a lot of people in the area. It’s a fun week, but certainly it’s not a hit and giggle."
Jason Kokrak: "I love the golf course, I put a 2-iron in the bag and just send it down the middle of the fairway. If you can keep it in play on this golf course you’re going to give yourself an opportunity."
Overview: The theme of the week will be position off the tee. Most golfers will club down. The exception would be shorter hitter who are confident with the driver. They will be able to use the big stick to work their way down the fairway. Shot shaping is vital, being able to work the ball both ways. Kuchar touched on the point of this being a nice, relaxing week, but making sure to note that he's still trying to go out and win the event.
Looking at over- and under-performance of individual golfers, these five events show up as potential pointers:
Innisbrook (Copperhead Course)
Innisbrook shows up as the clear winner here but another Pete Dye Design like TPC Sawgrass is a close second place. The common theme here is courses that are tight off the tee or courses that allow/force you to club down on the tee box.
There looks to be some rain in the pre-tournament buildup (Monday and Tuesday). No major downpours expected, though.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 71 degrees. Winds in the 7-to-10 MPH range.
Friday: Sunny, high near 74 degrees. Winds in the 7-to-10 MPH range.
Weekend: Temperatures staying in the upper 60s/lower 70s but the winds are forecasted to pick up over the weekend. Winds in the 12-to-20 MPH range on Saturday and Sunday with gusts over 20 MPH both days. Sunday also has a chance of storms but that's still a long way out on the forecast. Let's revisit that on Wednesday.
Players to Watch
Added to Team RBC this year... added to this field shortly after. There is a reason this Carolina native hasn't returned since going MC-MC in 2008 and 2009. He posted rounds of 79-79-71-76 in those two appearances. Easily the class of the field and he could win on any course, but this one neutralizes his biggest weapon (distance) and punishes his weakness (accuracy off the tee).
Calls this his favorite course but that hasn't translated to any results. He's worth a look for his love of the layout and seemingly great course fit. However, he's lost 10.9 strokes tee-to-green in the three PGA TOUR starts with ShotLink this season.
Another golfer who calls this his favorite course. Furyk has the results to back it up, though. Entering the week as the event's leading money earner ($3.85 MM). He's playing a quiet schedule this year but this week he could really pop, similar to the Valspar where he cracked the top 10.
While Furyk leads the Heritage money list, Donald checks in at No. 2 ($3.77 MM). That has all come without winning the event. A dependable course horse for years, I am jumping ship this year. I am a firm believer in course history, but I don't blindly follow it when it leads me into dark corners. Last year Donald showed glimpses in February that his game was close. This year he hasn't posted a single top 30. The Englishman should earn a paycheck this week but I'm not expecting him to get into contention. I'll pass.
Missed the cut last week thanks to a cold putter. He actually beat the field average in fairways and greens hit but still missed the cut by two. I'd expect a rebound this week on a course where he posted a T3 last year in his debut. Looking at his four best finishes on TOUR they've come at TPC Summerlin, Innisbrook, Harbour Town, and Riviera. The first three allow you to club down off the tee while Riviera rewards creativity on approach shots, just like Harbour Town.
Top 20s in five events since the start of 2018. That includes a T5 last week at the Masters. Hsa finished T15 and T29 in two appearances at the Heritage. Smith doesn't rely on distance and is one of the best scramblers on TOUR. Should continue to be a course where he racks up top finishes.
Haven't considered Gay in ages but this is the type of course where he could shine. In fact, he won the 2009 edition. I wouldn't make him a core play but definitely a consideration for large-pool, DFS contests.
Didn't play great last week but I think the back concerns can be dismissed, given his commitment to this event. If the back was a problem at all, we'd probably see him skip a few weeks for rest. Chappie was the 36-hole co-leader here last year. He has a runner-up finish at TPC Sawgrass, another Pete Dye design that takes driver out of hand.
You may notice him missing from the rankings below. If you were to have Kisner pick a course that the TOUR played every week, Harbour Town would surely be in his top 5. He also has Carolina roots. That being said, he hasn't posted anything better than T25 over his last seven stroke-play events. He's lost strokes approaching-the-green in 8 of his last 10 ShotLink events, dating back to last year's Playoffs. Around-the-Green play has never been his strongest area so he needs to have his irons and wedges dialed in which hasn't been the case all year. Except maybe at Match Play. You could also say he's lost strokes tee-to-green in 10 of his last 13 ShotLink events. It may come back to bite me if he pops this week but I think it's a wise move to avoid until he starts trending in the right direction.
Has three top 10s here since 2014. He's one of the shorter hitters so this track is right up his alley. Was T19 or better after R1 of those top 10s, so we should know right away whether we've got another good finish brewing.
Ranking the Field
1. Paul Casey
2. Marc Leishman
3. Francesco Molinari
4. Webb Simpson
5. Patrick Cantlay
6. Dustin Johnson
7. Kevin Na
8. Emiliano Grillo
9. Zach Johnson
10. Charles Howell III
11. Ryan Moore
12. Kevin Chappell
13. Cameron Smith
14. Brandt Snedeker
15. Luke List
16. Chris Kirk
17. Brian Harman
18. Matt Kuchar
19. Adam Hadwin
20. William McGirt
21. Bill Haas
22. Jim Furyk
23. Jason Kokrak
24. Kevin Streelman
25. Tyrrell Hatton
The Euro Tour is back in action this week, head over to Matt Cooper's Open de Espana Preview. Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our Expert Picks and then on Wednesday I will return for some last-minute DFS tips in the DFS Dish.