RBC Heritage betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Last Updated April 12 2018, 08:33Golf
Ollie Schniederjans
Ollie Schniederjans

After the Lord Mayor's show comes the RBC Heritage, for which Ben Coley has five selections headed by Webb Simpson.

Recommended bets

1pt e.w. Ollie Schniederjans at 50/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Webb Simpson at 40/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Austin Cook at 100/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Harris English at 150/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

  • Adam Hadwin withdrew from the event on Wednesday; all outright bets will be refunded

For details of advised bookmakers and each-way terms, visit our transparent tipping record

Augusta National and Harbour Town Links share precious little in common, except for being host venues for professional golf tournaments which have, for a while now, sat next to each other on the calendar.

The contrast between the two is as sharp as we've seen since the Hawaii swing, maybe sharper still, and as modern-day Augusta National continues to play into the hands of the PGA Tour's longest hitters, Harbour Town does its level best to discourage them from even teeing it up.

Dustin Johnson is here regardless, but hitting iron off every tee nullifies his most potent weapon and, after a fairly humdrum effort at the Masters all told, he's surely not one to go steaming into at 8/1 even allowing for the fact that he could turn up and steamroll this field if somehow able to produce his best.

Paul Casey is a worthy second favourite, but we're talking here about a player who complained of a hip injury last week. It appeared to have gone away by the time he threatened the course record on Sunday, yet the idea of taking less than 20/1 is easy to shed. Casey's record at the course is solid and his win last month came at a similar venue, but the positives just about end there.

Paul Casey
Paul Casey shot 65 on Sunday at Augusta

A glance through champions in the RBC Heritage confirms that power isn't in any way advantageous, a rare thing these days, with an ability to shape the ball and miss in the right places preferred. So many winners of this event were accurate drivers who don't appear to have driven accurately, and that tells you that they were often a yard off the fairway which, at this golf course, is better than a yard inside the fairway line but on the wrong side.

Wes Bryan was far from a surprising winner a year ago, despite victory here being his first at PGA Tour level. He's a short, not especially straight driver of the ball who is challenged to make up ground after the tee shots virtually all year, but here at Harbour Town enjoyed a level playing field. The quality of his approach play made the difference as he once again confined Luke Donald to second place.

Donald has been runner-up no fewer than five times in the event and third twice more, all in his last nine visits, so rates the blueprint for the type of player we're looking for. Like Bryan, he's neither long nor all that straight off the tee, but his game improves from that point onward and on five occasions here, he's ranked inside the top five for strokes-gained tee-to-green courtesy of strong iron play and the quality of his short game.

To underline the requirements one more time, 2016 champion Branden Grace ranked second from tee-to-green and all of the top five finished inside the top six overall. This is a course where you must hit quality iron shots and when you do miss small greens, which is absolutely inevitable given how hard they hard to find, your short game will be required for the rescue act. That's where we come back to missing in the right place, because if you do scrambling is fairly easy.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that Adam Hadwin looks to have an outstanding chance at around the 40/1 mark.

The Canadian hasn't putted particularly well this year, but otherwise his game is an ideal fit for Harbour Town as while he struggles a little off the tee due to a lack of power, he's deadly with his approach shots and rates one of the best scramblers on the circuit.

That's an ideal blend for a course at which he has improved throughout three visits, performances here following his career arc, and he's entitled to do so again having been 22nd in last year's renewal.

Crucially, that came on the heels of his Augusta debut and it's likely that he'll find the transition much easier to deal with this time, while the fact that he led the field from tee-to-green last year is most encouraging. Hadwin ranked a lowly 70th in putting, which cost him a weekend challenge after he'd moved into the mix with a fine round of 66 on Friday.

Last week, he made an excellent start to the Masters and reading his quotes afterwards, he could easily have been talking about Harbour Town rather than Augusta National.

"I mean I wasn't perfect off the tee, but I was always in a position to get to the green, which I think is key out here," he said.

"I hit some really good iron shots today. I was in really good control of the distance as well, which is quite key out here. So I felt really comfortable.

"I love working the ball both ways, it's something that I work on and practice on the range a lot and so it really doesn't matter the hole, I feel like I can hit the shot that's required. And then some of the, some of those recovery shots as well.

"Growing up in BC, tree-lined golf courses, I'm used to kind of hitting the punch hooks and cuts when you need to. So I don't know what it is, but obviously a very special golf course and I feel at home here."

Prior to Augusta, he'd told the Toronto Star that his game was "in a really good spot" and that he feels like a better player than last year, the season in which he produced a breakthrough victory in the Valspar Championship.

Copperhead, home of the Valspar, is a very similar challenge to Harbour Town - indeed, Patrick Cantlay could so easily have won both events in 2017, while further leaderboard ties come from the likes of Donald, Jim Furyk, Kevin Streelman and defending champion Bryan himself.

Bar a couple of fine efforts in the CareerBuilder Challenge, Hadwin has so far proven to be at his most comfortable on tree-lined golf courses like Harbour Town and his preparation for this is very similar to that enjoyed by the likes of Furyk and Matt Kuchar, who had shown up well at Augusta and improved again for this more suitable venue.

He rates a really strong fancy at the price; in fact he'd be considered one of the most likely players in the field to contend and there's no reason he can't go the distance.

Taking a rigidly statistical, trends-based approach to any event is dangerous - Patrick Reed demonstrated as much last week - but there's such consistency to the formula here that I'm prepared to rely on numbers which say Ollie Schniederjans rates an ideal candidate.

He's the only player at a price who ranks inside the top 50 for approach shots (34th), around-the-green (21st) and putting (48th) this year, and these are figures which stack up well next to Bryan's 2017 positions of 26th, 36th and 45th respectively.

That aside, he clearly took to Harbour Town when third on debut last year, charging through the field on Sunday before the putts dried up, and that stacks up well with his other experiences in contention at the Wyndham Championship in the next-door state, as well as finishes of sixth in the RSM Classic and seventh in the Sony Open.

Schniederjans is a modern-day golfer in many respects - tall, athletic, outstanding hair - but anyone who watched him take Henrik Stenson the distance at Sedgefield will recall how much he enjoyed firing bullet two-irons off the tee, most notably on the 72nd hole of the tournament when he launched a missile which barely left the ground.

That's a potentially massive weapon at Harbour Town, while the extra power he does have in the locker is a handy back-up given that severe rain forced the cancellation of the event's opening ceremony on Monday, the first time that's happened since 2004.

Whatever the weather does - and it is forecast to improve come the start of the tournament - Schniederjans isn't far away from his breakthrough success at this level and four sub-70 rounds on his debut here in 2017 suggest he can go really well, having made all three cuts during the Florida swing without quite being at his best.

I put up Ian Poulter a year ago at 125/1 and he played well for 11th, so having returned to winning form a fortnight ago the Englishman is considered even at 50/1, given that he's often gone well soon after a victory and still has lofty targets to aim for. However, he was clearly fatigued at Augusta having expended a lot of emotional energy with his first stateside stroke play win in Houston, so winning here would be an enormous achievement.

He's overlooked along with Kevin Kisner, a former Harbour Town runner-up who made the Match Play semi-finals last month, and Webb Simpson's encouraging form at an unsuitable course last week puts him ahead of both on the list.

Simpson has never been an ideal type for Augusta National, yet produced his career-best round there on Sunday with a 67 which could've been so much better, but for bogeys at the final two holes.

Despite that late stumble, it was a hugely encouraging performance from a player who has finally found comfort on the greens, which is all that's really needed for him to get back to winning ways at long last.

Simpson has been placed twice from seven stroke play starts in 2018 and also finished eighth in the Valspar Championship, a correlating event and one he almost won in his rookie season, and when his breakthrough finally did come it was at the tree-lined, shot-maker's Sedgefield Country Club.

With other victories at TPC Boston and Olympic Club further confirming what sort of event suits his game, Simpson is taken to go one better than when runner-up to Graeme McDowell here in 2013, especially now that he's more confident on the greens than when falling from third to 11th over the closing 18 holes last year.

Hand on heart, I had begun typing out the case for Zach Johnson, a better version of Simpson, but he was again incredibly frustrated on the greens last week and, bizarre though it may seem, Simpson is the more reliable putter at present.

The usual suspects in events like this - William McGirt, Kevin Streelman, even Donald and Furyk - have to be on the radar along with Bud Cauley, who opened with a round of 63 here a year ago and returned to ball-striking form following a slight niggle in Houston last time.

However, I'll fire a couple of each-way darts at Austin Cook and Harris English instead.

Cook has to bounce back from a missed cut on his Augusta debut last week and a second-round 80 doesn't look pretty, but Grace and Knox fought it out for the title here two years ago having failed to make the weekend at the Masters and, so different are the tests, rapid recoveries are possible.

Certainly, Cook's straight-but-short talents wouldn't have been especially suited to Augusta and he's much better judged on the form he showed towards the start of the season, including an impressive, runaway success at Sea Island in the RSM Classic.

Leaderboards from the RSM and the RBC are as alike as their sponsors' acronyms and that suggests we might see Cook go well on his debut at the course, just like Bryan and Schniederjans did last year.

One final factor which could work in his favour is that Kip Henley is on the bag. Henley is a veteran of the Tour and knows this course inside-out, having been alongside Brian Gay when he took the title in 2009.

Ordinarily, that might not be considered much of a factor, but it has to help given that we're chancing Cook on his course debut. Statistically, he's a good fit and he's been playing enough good golf lately to be worth chancing at three-figure prices.

Finally, English gets the vote at a course he calls one of his favourites on the PGA Tour.

Once considered one of the brightest young talents in the USA, English has struggled in the five years which have passed since he won twice in the space of 15 events at the end of 2013.

The chief issue has been the driver, as he's struggled to keep the ball on the planet, but on his way to eighth place here on debut in 2012 he spoke of how much he enjoyed hitting irons off tees and taking stock from there.

Like Donald and various others who thrive at Harbour Town, English gets better the closer he gets to the green and remains a player with the game to come alive here, two starts on from a top-five finish in the Dominican Republic.

Posted at 1900 BST on 09/04/18.

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