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Monday, April 14, 2014

RBC Heritage - Power Rankings

As the RBC Heritage research continued and the Power Rankings formed, it became abundantly clear that it’s rare to find a player that offers the total package for Harbour Town Golf Links. As we mentioned yesterday, the fairways are tight and the greens small.

Unlike many courses on the PGA TOUR, I've had the chance to walk Harbour Town several times over the years as a spectator. I began to play each hole on the course backwards in my head. What I noticed wasn't necessarily new, but the approach is a little different than I've taken.

Already knowing all of the greens are minuscule by TOUR standards, players have two options if they want to be successful in Hilton Head. The first is to figure out a way to hit the greens, and the second is to figure out the proper miss and scramble / putt the lights out to save pars. It’s very rare on TOUR to find a guy who is an incredible ball-striker, and also an elite scrambler / putter.

Walking backwards from the greens towards the tees, the players will notice that there isn't really a straight shot on the course; either off the tee or on approach. Tee shots are being constantly worked right-to-left and left-to-right, as are the approaches. While the course is situated on the coast, the first 16-1/2 holes are shielded from wind by trees. So a guy that can flight it low and accurately work the ball in both directions stands to hold an advantage.

The par 3s aren't easy, but it isn't so much due to their length. There are only three par 5s, but one of them is really just a long par 4 (second hole). Of the other two, virtually no one will attack the 15th in two. The sixth is reachable in two with two solid shots.

So, we need to find the guys that are accurate off the tee, while working the ball both directions with ease and flighting it down, who also hit it tight on any sized greens and have an uncanny ability to get up-and-down and hole putts from anywhere in the event they miss the greens. 

Got it.

Let’s do this:
  1. Matt Kuchar – He’s finished inside the top five in each of his last three starts (VTO, SHO, Masters), and has only missed one of his 10 cuts in Hilton Head. Included in that is a pair of top 10s and four top 25s. Typically his stats paint a gloomy picture most weeks, but that isn't the case this week. Ranks third in par 4 scoring average and 15th in scrambling, while ranking inside the top 50 in driving accuracy and SGP. I’ll take it!
  2. Jordan Spieth – Everyone reading this knows he led the Masters by two strokes with 11 holes to play, eventually sharing second place. He’s constantly threatening regardless of the course, but it is nice to know he tied for ninth here last year. Ranks 33rd in both SGP and scrambling and is 14th in par 4 scoring average. If he can keep it between the trees, he has a real shot. Still seemed hungry in his Masters interview, but a hangover isn't out of the question.
  3. Zach Johnson – He’s the man on paper, ranking inside the top 15 in driving accuracy, scrambling, proximity and par 4 scoring average to go with a solid 52nd in SGP. Of concern, he’s only finished inside the top 25 here on two occasions, but both were also top 10s including a runner-up in 2012. His T6 at the Valero leads me to dismiss his MC at the Masters.
  4. Jim Furyk – He’s been steady all year and enters off a T14 at the Masters. He’s also 12/15, with a win and two runners-up at Harbour Town. At 19th in driving accuracy and 34th in scrambling, he shows promise. Perhaps more important, this is a grinder's kind of course, and that’s exactly in his wheelhouse.
  5. Graeme McDowell – He won last year after never cracking the top 60 in his first three trips, but his stats are a remarkable fit. He's second only to ZJ across the board. He’s first in SGP, 14th in par 4 scoring and 17th in driving accuracy. He just needs to decide whether he will hit it close or scramble well. A missed cut at the Masters was preceded by back-to-back top 10s.
  6. Luke Donald – All you really need to know is he’s finished inside the top three in four of his last trips to Hilton Head. If you demand more than that, he’s third in scrambling and seventh in SGP. Expect him to miss his share of GIR, but routinely save pars.
  7. Kevin Na – Enters Harbour Town with top 10s in his last two appearances there (‘11/’12), and having secured seven of nine cuts over the years. When you combine that with a 2-T14-T11 run in his last three PGA TOUR starts and stats that include second in scrambling, third in par 4 scoring average and 15th in SGP, you have a potentially lethal formula. The only yellow flag is his driver (shocker). He is 97th in driving accuracy.
  8. Harris English – While it doesn't play out in all of the statistical categories quite like I had hoped, he is a guy that can work the ball off the tee and keep it low. He is also first in par 4 scoring average and 25th in proximity, but ranks outside the top 85 in scrambling, driving accuracy and SGP. He was T8 here in 2012 before missing the cut last year. His form is also a bit on the chilly side compared to the winter.
  9. Matt Every – He’s been all over the place here, including a T8, a T83 (MDF) and a MC. Before his Masters missed cut, he had a win and a T8. At fourth in SGP, 12th in proximity and 29th in par 4 scoring average, he offers more good than bad.
  10. Chris Stroud – Snapped a streak of three missed cuts in this event with his T6 last year, which is in line with his recent form. He’s gone T9, T31 and T12 in his last three starts, with the T9 coming in Puerto Rico. I kind of like the Puerto Rico Open and the Sony Open as favorable comps for this week anyway. He’s fourth in scrambling, 14th in par 4 scoring average and 45th in driving accuracy.
  11. Charley Hoffman – Some of his stats (driving accuracy) scare me to death, but his track record is too good to pass up. His last two starts at Hilton Head have resulted in a T8 and a T6, while his last four on TOUR are T12-T25-T11-T37. Odds are, he’s going to figure out a way to post at least a top 25.
  12. Boo Weekley – What’s a power ranking for Hilton Head Island that doesn’t include Boo? He’s 7/7 here with two wins and five top-15 finishes. He is the ultimate course horse.

Next 5: Stewart Cink, Robert Garrigus, Jerry Kelly, Carl Pettersson and Kevin Streelman

Want a few dark horses? Check out Brendon Todd, Justin Hicks and Justin Leonard.

We will return tomorrow to check out some games. Until then, best of luck to all!

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