Power dominates the PGA Tour. A sentiment evidenced across golf's earnings, with Patrick Reed the lone non-bomber in the top 11 money winners. If you can't send it into the stratosphere, good luck finding the winner's circle. However, there are a few respites from distance-driven venues, courses that reward precision, strategy and scrambling over muscle. Highlighted by this week's stop in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Weighing in just under 7,100 yards, Harbour Town is widely known as a test of target golf. A true statement, albeit one that doesn't encompass the demands of the RBC Heritage. Yes, accuracy—both off the tee and in approach—are conducive to success, yet they're not the only attributes needed. With short dimensions and, frankly, oddly-shaped confines, it's accepted that players will miss a host of greens. The ability to keep big numbers at bay in such situations will go ways in pursuit of the tartan jacket.
Professor Riccio, however, doesn't necessarily go with a short-game savant as his top pick. Instead, he's looking at the World No. 1, Dustin Johnson.
"The Model ranks him far above everyone else, twice the winning probability of the next highest pro," Riccio says. "Not that there aren't good players behind him, it's just that he stands out in this field. His short game has tightened which could be the reason it picks a long hitter on a tight course. Everyone knows he's a great driver but he's also first in strokes gained. His short game rankings are good as well, which is a strong combination."
No doubt Johnson stands out among this so-so field, but we respectfully disagree. Johnson hasn't played the tournament since 2009, and has never made the cut in Hilton Head. Moreover, his lack of driving accuracy (140th) and iffy iron game (60th in strokes gained: approach) forecast trouble. Johnson is one of the most talented souls on tour; just not sure that translates to dividends this week.
We do like Riccio's picks of Paul Casey and Zach Johnson, two players whose games mirror past RBC Heritage winners like Jim Furyk, Boo Weekley, and Graeme McDowell. Same goes for his picks of Austin Cook (although the Model seemingly chooses Cook every week) and Matt Kuchar (who's won here in the past).
As for our expert, Cameron Smith jumps off the page as an enticing pick. If you look at his analytics, aside from his around-the-green game, his performance hasn’t been particularly strong. But he ranks in the top 20 in scoring, and more importantly, 8th in bogey avoidance. The latter is big at a place like Harbour Town, which can amplify mistakes. Coming off a strong showing at Augusta National, he warrants a spot in your lineup.
Next on the list is Ollie Schniederjans. He hasn't fallen victim to the sophomore slump in 2018, ranking 26th in scoring and 40th in strokes gained. Conversely, he hasn't enjoyed that breakout that most have anticipated. Considering he finished T-3 here last season, perhaps Hilton Head gives him that springboard. His driving accuracy, or lack thereof, is a bit of a concern, but given he’ll be hitting a ton of 3-woods or irons off the tee, I think Ollie gets the chance to let his second-shot game—he ranks 34th in strokes gained approach—to shine.
Finally, forget that he’s 189th in the FedEx Cup, 148th in strokes gained and hasn’t finished inside the top 30 in an event this year. All you need to know about Luke Donald is that he's a man possessed at Harbour Town. Three runner-ups in the last four years, along with seven top-3 finishes in 12 appearances. If he's not in your weekly roster, you're doing it wrong.
Expert Picks: Cam Smith, Adam Hadwin, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Luke Donald, Brian Harman, Ian Poulter, Dustin Johnson, Marc Leishman, Brandt Snedeker, Ollie Schniederjans
Professor Picks: Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey, Pat Cantley, Zach Johnson, Austin Cook, Jason Dufner, Kevin Na, Marc Leishman, Ryan Moore