Masters week is always one of the best-remembered weeks of the PGA Tour season, and after the extremely popular Tiger Woods captured his first major championship title in 11 years, the following week’s tournament will undeniably have an unreachable bar if they want anything resembling attention.
The RBC Heritage is the tournament with that arduous task, but while the viewership will drop precipitously, the field at Harbour Town Golf Link on Hilton Head Island is surprisingly strong, with a number of players who contended at Augusta in the field.
Among those hoping to notch a victory in a world where Tiger is again a major champion is the following:
15. Corey Conners
The 27-year-old Canadian was the last man to qualify for last week’s Masters after he won the Valero Texas Open two weeks ago.
Typically, a golfer sees a sharp dropoff in production immediately following his first career victory, but Conners stayed in the mix at Augusta for an impressively long time before a so-so weekend led to a result (T46) that did not accurately reflect how well he played.
Conners has been all-or-nothing as a whole on the season, but his tee-to-green game has been tremendous and he currently ranks fourth on Tour in greens in regulation, which indicates a potentially strong performance in Hilton Head this week. His win at the Valero is only the beginning.
14. Charles Howell III
It is always a great story when the Augusta native makes the field at The Masters, and while the 39-year-old’s major career borders on embarrassing, he was actually a part of the story for a time this year, sitting at 3-under par through two rounds before a terrible third-round kept him out of contention.
As usual, though, he has been almost ridiculously solid, missing just one cut in 14 starts and ranking 9th in the current FedExCup rankings. A short game wizard who also happens to rank third on Tour in greens in regulation, Harbour Town is a course that sets up well for what Howell III does best. Expect his best showing in over a decade.
13. Sungjae Im
The 21-year-old South Korean did not have the privilege of playing at Augusta last week, but we think it will be a long, long time before a Masters week goes by where he is not in the field. In his last five starts, he has four top 20s, with three of those finishes being inside the top seven.
The PGA Tour rookie’s first win is coming very soon. He is 20th on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and his young, brilliant game does not seem to have a distinct weakness.
12. Kevin Kisner
His best work is apparently in match-play environments, which this is not, but the South Carolina native has been solid everywhere lately, as in addition to his victory at the WGC-Match Play, he has not missed a cut since November, and has finished in the top 30 in nine of his last ten starts.
Kisner has been uncharacteristically terrible around the greens, but he ranks well above average in the rest of the strokes gained categories. He has gone T7-T11 the past two seasons, and was T21 a week ago at The Masters. He looks like a great bet to keep going strong.
11. Tommy Fleetwood
The 28-year-old Brit has had a propensity for showing up at the majors in recent years, but was nowhere near impressive at Augusta last week, finishing T36 after posting four rounds in the 70s.
At No. 15 in the world rankings, he is clearly an extremely talented player, and his time as a major champion in likely in the not-too-distant future.
As for the nearer future, he has two top-5 finishes in his last four starts, and those who have seen his consistently phenomenal work tee-to-green on the European Tour, would be surprised if he did not play well at Harbour Town this week. He is sixth on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green and almost never misses a cut.
10. Si Woo Kim
The 23-year-old South Korean would be the defending champion of this event, had he not put up the most embarrassing final-round putting performance in recent history a year ago. Kim missed close putt after close putt, and made Joe Saturday Golfer feel great about his own abilities.
Strangely, though, something incredible has happened in the 2019 season: Kim somehow ranks 31st on the Tour in strokes gained: putting after 15 events. Can the rest of his game get him back into a position where he can show off his newfound putting prowess and win his third career event? Don’t be shocked, nearly his whole game has been clicking.
9. Webb Simpson
Webb’s best effort was too little, too late, but his T5 finish at The Masters still looks good for him. It also busted him out of a recent sub-par stretch of play and put the Tour back on alert that his all-around game keeps him competitive in any week.
Simpson consistently hits fairways, and his work around the greens has been phenomenal. He finished T5 a year ago after four rounds in the 60s, and was T11 the year prior. He is in good form, and he can play this course.
8. Bryson DeChambeau
The “Mad Scientist” had fallen off a bit from a recently-torrid pace, going through a T56, T46, T20, T40 stretch, but got his game together early at Augusta, taking the 18-hole lead after an opening-round 66. He fell off considerably after that, playing the rest of his week 2-over to finish T29, but anyone paying attention to golf knows his time on the biggest stage is coming.
In the meantime, he is in the field of this week’s event, where he managed to finish T3 a year ago despite a third-round 75. DeChambeau clearly has the game to excel at Harbour Town; it is just a matter of whether he is in a position where he can put four rounds together.
7. Ian Poulter
The theme for the ostentatious Poulter this week is disappointing finishes. He was looking good at The Masters last week, until a difficult first dozen holes on Sunday dropped him from fifth to T12 for the week.
At Harbour Town a year ago, he held the 54-hole lead, but five back-nine bogeys on Sunday dropped him into a share of 7th. It says a lot about his abilities that he was so good for such a considerable stretch at both tournaments, but regardless of how good he plays, he still has to play a Sunday round if he makes the cut.
We saw the same lack of stamina at THE PLAYERS, when he chased a 69-66 start with an abysmal weekend. His game sets up well for this course, but it is difficult to be exceptionally confident that he will be able to close this event out if he gets into contention again.
6. Xander Schauffele
While Schauffele was not quite able to capture his first major title last week at The Masters, which is forgivable given that he has made just eight major starts in his young career, the 25-year-old’s runner-up finish – one where he held the tournament co-lead with just a few holes to go, proved yet again that he’s one of the PGA Tour’s premiere big-game hunters.
When the stakes are high, you can basically set your watch to Xander being in the mix. The question for this week though: is the RBC Heritage “big time” enough for him?
While he does have a few solid finishes in “regular” events this year, his three finishes of better than T10 (two victories and a runner-up) were all in elite-field, big-money tournaments.
Schauffele has played Harbour Town just once, finishing 32nd last year, but the current No. 2 in the FedExCup Standings has the game to compete any week… if he decides to.
5. Francesco Molinari
In a vacuum, the 36-year-old from Italy is probably the best bet in the field. He has a win and two other top 5 finishes in his last four starts, all in events with MUCH stronger fields.
He has been arguably the best golfer on the planet in the last year, and can go ridiculously long stretches without mistakes, while his tee-to-green game is in the neighborhood of “immaculate”.
Still, it is fair to question where his mental state will be at Harbour Town, given that he lost a shot at the green jacket with two poor shots on Sunday’s back nine after playing his first 65 holes nearly flawless. It would be expected that someone with his composure would have a short enough memory to keep his hot streak going, but last week was not your average disappointment.
4. Dustin Johnson
Normally, not a lot would be expected from a player who fell just short at a major championship the previous week, and DJ finished T2 at Augusta, his 16th career top-10 in a major, which looks less impressive when juxtaposed against his one career major victory.
However, it may not have been an especially emotionally-draining week, given that he was very quiet, and outside the periphery of viewership before exploding over his final six holes. There was never really a sense that he “lost” the tournament or anything like that, he just got going too late.
The runner-up finish moved DJ back to No. 1 in the world rankings, and it would be surprising if he is not in the mix this week, which would continue a recent stretch of five top-10s in his last six starts, including a victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship. With Justin Thomas sitting out this week, Dustin’s No. 2 ranked scoring average is tops in the RBC Heritage field.
3. Jim Furyk
Given that the last two winners of this event were Satoshi Kodaira, who currently ranks 188th on Tour in driving distance, and Wesley “Red Tees” Bryan, Furyk’s decreasing distance in his later Tour-eligible years should be seen as less of a detriment at Harbour Town than it might be at most places.
Even better, Furyk is a two-time winner of this event, with the most recent coming in a playoff against Kevin Kisner in the 2015 edition. Even even better, Furyk, perhaps in an effort to stop last year’s disastrous Ryder Cup captaincy from being the final memory of his relevancy, has looked reborn in 2019, as he has finished outside of the top 23 just once in the calendar year.
In the current season, he leads the Tour in driving accuracy and is (shockingly) third in scoring average. He is also well-rested after being the best player on the planet who did not qualify for Augusta last week. It feels like it will take something special for Furyk not to be a part of the championship picture this week.
2. Patrick Cantlay
Before Tiger Woods, Cantlay was the last player at Augusta to hold the solo-lead last week, impressively going from 2-over after 36-holes to No. 1 with just three holes to go on Sunday. A wayward tee shot on the par-3 16th led to a bogey, which led to another bogey, and ended the 27-year-old’s chances, but it is clear: he is going to have a prolific PGA Tour career.
Could he excel at Harbour Town this week? Maybe, he has finished in the top 10 in half of his 10 starts this season, and he has the Tour’s sixth best scoring average. But it is difficult to decipher exactly what effect his major contention a week ago will have on his psyche in an event like this. He has looked extraordinarily comfortable in his last (only) two starts here, finishing T7 a year ago and T3 in his debut the year prior.
1. Matt Kuchar
The current leader in the FedExCup Standings was not in contention until the very end at The Masters, but he played well for the most part, and at least stayed in the picture until a so-so final round 72 dropped him into a share of 12th place.
Perhaps the best aspect of Kuchar’s week at Augusta is that he did not create any controversy, although Phil Mickelson did have a laugh at Kuchar’s expense in a posted twitter video that went viral.
Kuchar is back at it this week, hoping to continue a tremendous season that could very well end up being the best in his career. He has a fantastic history at the RBC Heritage, winning the 2014 edition by a stroke over perennial Harbour Town bridesmaid Luke Donald, in addition to top 10s in 2015 and 2016.
Leading the Tour in greens in regulation and ranking fifth in driving accuracy, this course probably suits him better than it does most years.
Next Five: Justin Harding, Marc Leishman, Jordan Spieth, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Graeme McDowell