RBC Heritage betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth

Ben Coley believes Jordan Spieth is ready to step up and contend again in the RBC Heritage, where Ian Poulter and an old friend also make the staking plan.

Recommended bets

2pts e.w. Jordan Spieth at 25/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Ian Poulter at 40/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Ryan Moore at 60/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Branden Grace at 66/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)

1pt e.w. Andrew Landry at 150/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

If you're having trouble returning to earth today, imagine how those involved in one of the most significant golf tournaments ever played must feel.

Sunday at The Masters was not just Sunday at The Masters. It was a day which will go down in history owing to the exploits of Tiger Woods, now a 15-time major champion. It's not unreasonable to expect Woods, rather than the RBC Heritage, to remain golf's biggest talking point throughout this week and into next.

How many more majors will Tiger Woods win in 2019
Tiger Woods is favourite for the remaining majors this season - click the image to read more

Of course, Woods is not at Harbour Town to parade his fifth Green Jacket. But several of those who almost spoiled the party are, and it's asking a lot - perhaps too much - for any one of Dustin Johnson, Francesco Molinari, Xander Schauffele or Patrick Cantlay to come here and exorcise some demons.

OK, demons is too strong. Johnson's only real regret must be the birdie attempt he left short at the final hole, while Schauffele can take great heart from another strong major performance. Molinari and Cantlay, however, might still be reliving events at Augusta National when they step onto the tee at Harbour Town and, as history has shown us, that's not ideal.

While many players have come from Augusta to win this title a week later, typically they had not finished near the lead - in fact, those who had missed the Masters cut have, as a collective, been more successful than those who had cracked the top 10. There is arguably no week on the calendar where it's harder to pin one high finish onto the tail of another.

The courses themselves are night and day. Johnson much prefers Augusta, where he can hit driver 14 times per round should he wish, to the set of claustrophobic corridors here in South Carolina. He's here not because it's an event he'd particularly like to win, not even because this is his home, but because he's sponsored by the sponsors.

Harbour Town is a better fit for Molinari, and the same is true when it comes to Webb Simpson, who produced his best Masters finish with a birdie at the final hole. Simpson can draw encouragement from that return to form and, a former runner-up here, he's alongside Matt Kuchar and Kevin Kisner as the most solid options at the front of the market.

Webb Simpson - seven clear going into final round
Webb Simpson looks a solid contender if he can back-up from Augusta

Kuchar is in fact the example Simpson has to aim at. In 2014, with luck on his side, he followed a top-five finish at Augusta with victory here, coping with the change in cadence in a way so few have managed. He was, at the time, in the absolute form of his life, a fact perhaps more significant than any other, but he did well nonetheless to keep on pedalling.

But rather than take a chance that Simpson is indeed capable, I'd much rather look a little further down the Augusta leaderboard and hope for something similar to last year, when Satoshi Kodaira and Si Woo Kim played out a play-off having both been just outside the Masters top-20.

Jordan Spieth, 21st at Augusta, might just be the one and goes in as the headline bet.

Spieth's woes have been well-documented - although TV analysts might want to check the driving stats before another tired conversation about his putting. It's a point of fact that Spieth's lack of a top-10 since last July's Open Championship is primarily because he's hitting more foul balls off the tee than 98 per cent of his peers.

We saw that in evidence during the Texas Open, where he finished 30th despite ranking 69th in both driving accuracy and strokes-gained off-the-tee, and we saw it last week, when a slow start put him on the back-foot and a double-bogey early in round three ended all hopes of another place.

But we also saw progress, I believe, and while some of that can be credited to how comfortable he is at Augusta and how wide the fairways are, I wouldn't underestimate the value of a fortnight's golf at home in Texas beforehand.

Spieth has certainly sounded full of encouragement, which has not been true throughout this run. He downplayed his chances at the Sony Open back in January and several times after, so the idea that he's always claiming that he's one round away from his best again just isn't accurate.

So why this week? Chiefly because for all the plethora of arrow-straight drivers to have contended here in the past, it is in fact a course where you can lose ground off the tee and make up for it elsewhere, a rare thing at this level.

Wesley Bryan did it two years ago, giving away more than three shots off the tee but gaining more than eight on approach, and the runner-up that week, Luke Donald, was even worse.

Donald is the blueprint for this course, as a short but not straight driver who finds comfort with the targets defined for him. It's a little hard to explain, but knowing that the middle of the fairway isn't always position A has helped him and it can help Spieth, too.

It's also worth noting that Spieth is the same price for this as he was The Masters. Now, there are caveats - his exceptional Augusta record put layers on the defensive, and he did not attract a great deal of interest. That being said, a return of ninth, 12th and 11th in three starts in the Heritage suggests he's almost as effective here.

Spieth's first two visits came before he was a major champion and the third one week after that had changed. To have performed as he has, not least with a second-round 62 in 2015, speaks to his fondness for a real shot-maker's golf course. Spieth, despite the noise, is a shot-maker.

Of course there's a chance that he's still not quite where he needs to be to win a tournament, but I can't resist him at anything bigger than 20/1 here. This is the best chance he's had so far in 2019.

Next on my list is a player who in theory performed a little better than ideal last week - Ian Poulter.

The Englishman held his own alongside Tiger Woods in the third round and briefly looked like a potential champion on Sunday, only for all hope to end when he found water at the 12th hole.

Poulter went on to finish 12th and it's significant that the only player to hit more greens throughout the week was the winner. Given that Augusta played long and soft, that tells you how well Poulter is hitting his irons right now, and that's ideal as he looks to set up chances on these smaller greens.

In truth, though, it's not Poulter's Augusta play which makes him of real interest to me - it's his history at this course of late.

Two years ago, Poulter arrived here needing a top-five finish to keep his PGA Tour card, having been in the doldrums and on the brink of the abyss. For three rounds, he did what I had hoped, having put him up at 125/1, only to miss chance after chance on Sunday.

"I played well enough to win the golf tournament today," was his fuming post-round assessment but he went on to compose himself and finish second at Sawgrass to once again show that he's at his best with his back against the well.

Last year, Poulter finished seventh after a Sunday 75, capitulating under tough conditions on the back-nine. Had he come home in level par, he'd have won by two, but a closing 40 saw him slip out of the top-five.

Yet the reason he didn't make my staking plan was that he was entitled to run out of gas. Poulter had played the five previous weeks, winning during the fourth event in that sequence and qualifying for The Masters as a result. By the time he got to Harbour Town he was exhausted, pulling out of the pro-am, and the only surprise was what he did over the first three rounds.

Indeed, Poulter called a Friday 64 his best round ever and went a total of 47 holes without a bogey at one of the most fiddly courses around, before the wheels came off on Sunday. It was another performance which tells you he's a serious candidate to win this tournament at some stage.

As for the potential for a Masters hangover, where Poulter is concerned I just don't see it. Remember, he won in Houston last year after a serious setback in the Match Play a week earlier, and is a player who is fuelled by disappointment. The angrier he is after Sunday's finish, the stronger his chance here.

Since returning to the Heritage in 2015, Poulter's form reads 18-54-11-7 and having contended on his last two visits, there's simply no reason he can't do so again.

It's no surprise to see money coming for Matthew Fitzpatrick at a course he adores, while Jason Kokrak has played superbly for so long that he has to be on the radar. Kokrak plays tracks like this better than his inherent power would suggest and hasn't missed a cut since last summer.

When looking for potential correlations, the Valspar Championship, played at Inisbrook's Copperhead Course, makes its way to the very top of the list.

Carl Pettersson and Jim Furyk have done the double, Donald ought to have, and former Valspar champion Kevin Streelman says the two are alike in every way except for the fact Copperhead is more undulating.

Streelman is interesting having flown home for sixth in Texas last time. That came on the back of consultation with his childhood coach, and if his iron play stays hot and the putter behaves he can add to a couple of previous top-10 finishes here.

However, I much prefer the claims of Ryan Moore, who was third in Texas and should be right in the thick of things again.

It'll sting Moore that he wasn't in the field for The Masters, where he finished 13th as an amateur once, but two close calls this season suggest he is capable of booking his return in 2020.

Both coincided with the putter warming up and that may again prove key, but everything we can predict about his game suggests he's primed to go close.

Moore has the Valspar form - he was the 54-hole leader when Spieth won there - and also ties in nicely to this via his success in the Wyndham Championship, another event won by a collection of Heritage champions including Pettersson once more.

In fact almost all of his winning form has come on fairly short, tree-lined courses where his surgical approach can flourish, and there was much to like about his return to Harbour Town last year as he ranked second for both fairways and greens.

One or two more chances taken would've put him right at the top of the leaderboard and with that behind him, the quiet 36-year-old can go close to landing his sixth PGA Tour title.

At a similar price, former Heritage winner Brandt Snedeker has to be considered. A Masters missed cut really isn't too much of a concern and before that, he'd shown flashes of form to validate his return to coach Todd Anderson, the man behind his very best golf.

Next for me, however, is Branden Grace, preferred to Snedeker and Russell Knox of those with precisely the right type of game for this challenge.

Grace secured his PGA Tour breakthrough here in 2016 and nobody was surprised. Always at his most comfortable by the coast, he had been seventh on his course debut and it was clear very early on that his low bullet drives put him at a big advantage.

Having been 11th as defending champion, Grace boasts a scoring average of 68.58 - comfortably better than Donald, Kuchar and Jim Furyk, those who we'd call course identikits. In fact, his is the best scoring average in the field of those to have played 12 or more rounds and it's not even close.

Branden Grace
Branden Grace

Forced to miss the event last year with his first child on the way, Grace will be itching to get back to Harbour Town and it's only his modest recent form which keeps him from towards the front of the market.

That's a slight concern, but he did beat DJ and Hideki Matsuyama before losing by a single hole in the last-16 of the Match Play, while making the cut at Augusta - something he'd failed to do before winning here - is fine given how unsuited he is to the course.

This is so much more his thing and while course form is often overrated, that's not the case at the unique Harbour Town.

Kevin Na is exactly the type of Masters also-ran who pops up here, but he's been complaining about a neck injury which is off-putting, while for all the positives of Rory Sabbatini's profile he looks like he's done winning to me.

Ryan Armour has been 12th at the Honda and sixth at the Valspar, two good guides to this, and has made all three cuts here. He's the pick of the absolute fliers along with Brice Garnett, an excellent coastal golfer with form in several of the right places, and one who struck the ball really well in the Dominican last time.

However, my final selection is Andrew Landry.

Another who was down the field at Augusta, finishing 46th on his debut, Landry's under-par weekend there sets him up nicely for another crack at a course he really should play well on.

Like Moore, he's among the straightest drivers in the field and both victories on the Web.com Tour came by the coast, before he made difficult conditions look anything but when winning in his home state of Texas at around this time last year.

Interestingly, that victory was preceded by a big clue here at Harbour Town, where he shot 69-68-69 to sit 12th through 54 holes before the sleepless nights of a brand new parent took their toll on a blustery Sunday.

That's a big pointer one year on and so is the fact he said in Texas two weeks ago that "this is a nice four-week stretch for me coming up with a lot of good golf courses that suit my game."

I agree with that assessment and having ranked fourth in greens hit here last year, the stat which has signposted all of his best form, he rates an interesting outsider.

Posted at 1930 BST on 15/04/19

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