The Law of Hilton Head suggests that a player who has been in contention at the US Masters will suffer mental letdown the following week. That would rule out Matt Kuchar as a potential winner of the RBC Heritage as he was the leading US player in the first major of the season. Sergio Garcia is understandably absent and the field has a second class look which gives Matthew Fitzpatrick a chance to win on the PGA Tour for the first time.
The Heritage has been played at the same course since it was inaugurated in 1969, although it has had regular changes of sponsors. It is firmly established as the first event after the Masters. Harbour Town at Hilton Head is a good example of how courses don’t need to be long to present a stern test. The tiny Bermuda greens are amongst the smallest on tour and combined with narrow and mostly tree-lined fairways help to make this track primarily a test of accuracy and sound iron play.
There is only one par 5 on the back nine so few gimme birdie chances and all the par 3s are tricky. The closing par 4 can be awkward, especially if the wind is up. The par is 71 and the course measures just over 7,100 yards which means the big hitters do not have an advantage. The key skills for good scoring are driving accuracy, greens in regulation and scrambling when the small greens are missed.
However, a more pertinent factor is the feeling of after the Lord’s Mayor’s Show in the week after a major. It remains a sound policy to lay any players who were in serious contention at Augusta for this event. With many of the big names taking this week off or coming into the event drained after a tough week at Augusta it’s no surprise that players at big prices find their way into the payout places at big prices. Recent results offer encouragement if you fancy one of the rags.
Kuchar was an unconsidered also ran before embarking on the back nine at Augusta last Sunday. He produced a score of 31 which included a hole in one at the 16th. Kuchar has the character and temperament not to get too stressed but even if must be on a downer after the excitement of his exploits at Augusta. Her eventually finished tied fourth with Thomas Pieters four shots behind Garcia and Justin Rose. The 2011 winner Charl Schwartzel was three shots off the pace in third place.
Garcia is now 25/1 to win the US Open and 10/11 to win the Race to Dubai. He has had many disappointments in major championships and this was his 74th one without a previous win. Garcia first played a major in 1996 but has got the monkey off his back in a brilliant way. He produced wonderful approach shots down the stretch and at the very end looked more composed than Rose. Garcia deserved his day in the sun and now he will be looking to add to his tally of majors.
The British Open returns to Royal Birkdale this year and Garcia has made the cut without contending in his two efforts at the links course in Southport. The locals and the droves within easy travelling distance in the sports mad cities of Liverpool and Manchester would love to see Sergio win the Open and the course is a good fit for his game. Severiano Ballesteros came on to the scene as a teenager at Birkdale in 1976 so it would be appropriate if Garcia won the Open on the same course.
Fitzpatrick was the leading amateur at the Open at Muirfield in 2013. He has already played in the Ryder Cup and won three times in Europe at the start of his professional career. He is a player with few weaknesses and a maturity in his game that defies his youth. The best players seem to have an intuitive feel for playing golf and getting the job done in as few strokes as possible and Fitzpatrick fits the mould. He has the game to compete at this level and can excel in such an average field.
The second best player from Sheffield, after Danny Willett, finished 32nd in the Masters. He made the cut, played four competitive rounds but did not feel the heat of competing at the business end of the tournament. Fitzpatrick’s game is more about accuracy than distance so the host course this week is a good fit. He could take his game to a new level at Hilton Head where Masters contenders rarely get into the mix so that eliminates the market leader, Matt Kuchar, in an open tournament.
Back next Thursday.