RBC Heritage picks: Why our experts expect Francesco Molinari to disappoint this week
You're with us if you're suffering from a Masters hangover this week. It'll be impossible for the RBC Heritage to measure up to the drama of one of sports' best comebacks, but Harbour Town boasts one of the best fields it's had in recent memory.
Our expert picks this week, just like every week, includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green of this week's RBC Heritage, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; two of the most respected fantasy golf experts in the industry, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
If you look at the top of this board, there are some stars up there—Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Francesco Molinari in particular, who shined at Augusta National. For Molinari, who looked so solid all week—especially during a 49-hole streak without a bogey through Sunday—the question becomes: How do you get up for the RBC Heritage after the disappointment of the Masters? Sure, these guys are pros, and anytime they tee it up, they know there's huge money, world-ranking points, FedEx Cup points and the like on the line. But every player feels that way. So is this a week to stay away from Molinari, despite knowing his game is in a great place? That's what our experts think. Read on to see why.
2019 RBC Heritage Picks To Win (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Jim Furyk (34-1) — There are very few courses left on the schedule like Harbour Town where length is not a bonus. Furyk has shown great form for the last month and with weather expected to be an issue, there is no one better than him with course management. Furyk at 34-1 odds at a place where he’s won twice before—most recently in 2015—is great value.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Byeong-Hun An (48-1) — The win has to be coming soon, or An may just go back and join the Euro Tour because the only explanation is that he’s cursed in the U.S., given how tremendous his play has been. Tee to Green, over the past 24 rounds, no in this field is better, not even Dustin Johnson. And it’s not just the ball-striking aspect: An has the best touch around the greens too. Dude just can’t putt. The last time he gained over one stroke putting at an event was last July at the Canadian Open, he came second to DJ that week. Harbour Town may be the perfect course for him, though. The small greens just allow for fewer opportunities to 3-putt. The Heritage is annually the event with he fewest 3-putt on tour… which is going to make it even more devastating when he three-jacks from five feet over the weekend.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Sungjae Im (50-1) — I like Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, and Tommy Fleetwood among the favorites, but I’m ultimately looking to prioritize golfers who weren’t in the mix late on Sunday at Augusta. Im has finished top-10 in three of his past five starts and grades out in the top 30 in all three tee-to-green over the past 100 rounds, via FantasyNational.com, and he has the driving accuracy to stick in contention.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Dustin Johnson (7-1) — I know the odds are short, and the field at the RBC Heritage is better than in years' past. But DJ is still far and away the best player in this field and rightfully the favorite. My model gives him a 12 percent chance of winning, and you're paying for the odds here, but consider how well he played at Augusta. If he had made a handful more putts on Augusta's greens, he edges Tiger as the Masters champion. The greens at Harbour Town are way less severe, which means if DJ can harness his power back and hit it as well as he did at Augusta, he can absolutely earn a win this weekend.
Golf Digest editors: Jim Furyk (34-1) — We'll continue to ride the motivation train with Jim Furyk. The 17-time PGA Tour winner has two wins at the RBC Heritage, and following nagging shoulder and elbow injuries a little more than a year ago, we have to feel Furyk is as motivated as he's been in awhile to get win No. 18. He had a serious chance to win the Players at the Pete Dye-designed TPC Sawgrass. At Harbour Town, he finds himself again on a Dye track that requires precision. That fits Furyk's game to a tee, and if he doesn't put too much pressure on himself and free-wheels it like he did at Sawgrass, we might have a Tiger/Furyk back-to-back in 2019. What a time to be alive.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted five of the season’s 21 events. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix. And Brandon Gdula, who picked Dustin Johnson at the Masters, along with Mayo and Riccio, now has four picks of his who have finished runner-up.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the RBC Heritage (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Russell Knox (55-1) — In 12 starts this season, Russell has missed the cut just once. And that was in the Safeway Open, the season opener back in October. His lone top-10 finish came in Phoenix, where he was T-10 at the Waste Management Open. He’s also got a few finishes just outside the top 10. Players are going to face tough conditions this week and I think that plays to his strengths. I’ll take him at 50-1 on a course where he finished T-11 in 2017, T-2 in 2016, T-18 in 2015, T-9 in 2014 and has never missed the cut otherwise.
Mayo: Eddie Pepperell (90-1) — With the past six champions at Harbour Town entering the final round down at least three strokes to begin the round, coupled with the extreme amount of wind expected on the weekend, the true dark horse is that guy lingering just off the first page of the leaderboard come Sunday. But, since I don’t know who that is, go with Pepperell. The past two winners, Kodaira and Bryan, both claimed the Tartan Jacket in their first visit to Harbour Town, and like Kodaira and Grace, two of the past three winners, is egregiously priced against his world ranking. The Brit is No. 39 in the world rankings, with two wins and a runner-up at three ultra windy events the past year, so why not at the Heritage?
Gdula: Luke List (75-1) — List doesn’t really fit this course, but he’s a great player tee-to-green and has shown us that at Harbour Town in the past, most recently finishing third last year. List grades out 12th in strokes gained/around the green among the field over the past 100 rounds.
Riccio: Scott Piercy (160-1) — This is a huge mispricing by oddsmakers on Piercy. He's in my top 10 of players most likely to win this week, and yet his odds are sky-high. It's worth a few dollars on this veteran whose strength is his precision off the tee and with his irons.
Golf Digest editors: Ryan Moore (50-1) — Last we saw Moore, he shot a final-round 64 and nearly stole the Valero Texas Open. Moore thrives on courses where precision is key, like the Safeway, where he lost the playoff to Kevin Tway. Moore hasn't played the Heritage often, but he finished in the top 20 last year, and a final-round 72 prevented him from a better standing. I'd expect another another top 20 from him this weekend, and if he get some putts to drop like he did on Sunday at the Valero, it's worth a small taste on him cashing outright.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Dustin Johnson (7-1) — Of course, DJ can win anywhere. He’s coming off a T-2 at the Masters. But I just don’t think Harbour Town is the place for him. The South Carolina native is handcuffed on several holes here since he’s not able to pull driver, which means he has to play from where everyone else does. DJ will have to putt it extremely well to get a “W.” Unable to utilize his length this week, the World No. 1 is just not a good value pick at 7-1.
Mayo: Francesco Molinari (15-1) — The course history is fine, yet not spectacular (T-49/T-22/T-45), but it’s just going to be tough to get up to challenge for another win so quickly after an emotional letdown at The Masters. That’s merely observational, obviously, but five of the past seven winners at Harbour Town have either not played at The Masters or missed the cut at Augusta the week previous. It’s just a big ask.
Gdula: Francesco Molinari (15-1) — If I’m betting a favorite, it’s going to be one of Bryson (15-1), Xander (19-1), or Fleetwood (24-1). Molinari will have to overcome a collapse at Augusta. He’s played here three times (45th, 22nd, 49th) while grading out well tee-to-green (13th, 9th, and 20th). There’s risk here, but it’s asking a lot to bounce back for a win at short odds.
Riccio: Francesco Molinari (15-1) — My model does not project Molinari in the top 50 of players who could win this week, which likely is based on bias toward his finishes over a year ago, but still—his strengths are not what does well here: Scrambling and short game. At this price, there's way better value on the board.
Golf Digest editors: Francesco Molinari (15-1) — We hate to pile on the guy, especially after patrons at Augusta openly cheered when the Italian's ball went in the water at the 12th hole on Sunday, ala Seve at 15 in 1986. But how could you possibly get up for the RBC Heritage after the taxing emotional week at Augusta? Molinari will be back, but we'd be surprised if it was this week.
2019 RBC Heritage: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Ollie Schniederjans (+130) over Aaron Baddeley (Sportbet) — Badds is a former winner here back in 2006, but I’m giving Ollie the edge. Wind is going to be an issue for the first three rounds. I think Ollie’s ability to control his ball flight gives him an advantage. Ollie also finished T-3 here in 2017.
Mayo: Branden Grace (+125) over Charles Howell III (Sportsbook) — It’s never fun betting against Chucky Three Sticks, knowing he’s likely going to come T-27 most weeks, but Grace has just been lights out at Harbour Town in his career. He’s won, and never finished worse than T-11 in three trips.
Gdula: Matt Kuchar (-110) over Jordan Spieth (FanDuel) — Kuchar grades out 13th in fairways gained over the past 100 rounds, via FantasyNational.com. Spieth is 118th in the field. Kuchar has a leg up in scrambling (5th vs. 73rd) and approach (7th vs. 21st). Kuchar is also a course horse, having won here in 2014 and following it up with a 5th, 9th, 11th, and 23rd.
Riccio: Keith Mitchell (-110) over Kevin Streelman (Sportbet) — You're getting a higher quality of player in Keith Mitchell, who isn't getting the respect he perhaps should get from oddsmakers after his Honda Classic win. The Sea Island, Ga. resident is used to playing these seaside links courses, and my model shows a big advantage to Mitchell over Streelman this week.
Golf Digest editors: Matt Kuchar (-105) over Patrick Cantlay (Sportbet) — Kuchar is the more consistent player out of the sand and has won here at the Heritage. Cantlay tends to struggle from the sand.
(Matchup results last week: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Patrick Cantlay over Cam Smith); Gdula: 1 for 1 (Gary Woodland over Cam Smith); GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Matt Kuchar over Louis Oosthuizen); Riccio: 0 for 1, PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1
(Matchup results for the year: Riccio: 8 wins, 5 loses; PGA Tour Caddie: 8-6; GD Editors: 8-6-1; Mayo: 6-5-2; Gdula: 5-7-1.)
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Luke Donald (+500) — Luke always seems to play well here. He lost a playoff to Brandt Snedeker in 2011 and has three top-5 finishes at Harbour Town in the last five years. With the winning score usually around 10-under-par range, I like his chances. I’m also encouraged by his T-9 in the Valspar Championship recently.
Mayo: Matt Wallace (+980) — His underwhelming Masters debut only worked to expand his odds, drop his DraftKings price, and allow him extra time to focus on Heritage. Since coming to the US for the first time in his young career, the Brit has equated himself quite admirably thus far (T-33/T-20/T-6/T-30/T-40/MC). I know that doesn’t look very impressive, but Wallace hasn’t been playing Valero and Valspar, he’s lacing up the spikes in Arnie’s event, WGCs, the Players, and majors; the field is good this week, but it’s not a WGC, and the course is better suited to his game.
Gdula: Byeong Hun-An (+580) — Last year in his debut, An finished seventh overall and ranked fifth in strokes gained/tee to green. Over the past 100 rounds, An ranks inside the top 11 in all three tee-to-green stats but is 101st in fairways gained and has poor putting splits on Bermuda, so he isn’t foolproof.
Riccio: Tommy Fleetwood (+290) — At these odds, you're getting a significantly superior player to most of this field. Fleetwood ranks as the third most likely player to win this week, and you're getting decent odds on a top 10 here. Fleetwood has been in the U.S. consistently since February, and I'm sure for him, he thinks it's time to get some results.
Golf Digest editors: Byeong-Hun An (+500) — We're with the rest of the team in thinking this could be Ben An's chance to win. We've also been saying that for the past two months now. The top-10 bet still pays 5-to-1 on your money, and gives you money on the more likely result—Ben An coming close but finishing in the top 10 again, which he has done in two of his past three stroke-play events.
(Top-10 results last week: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Jon Rahm at +175); Gdula: 1 for 1 (Tony Finau at +300); Riccio: 1 for 1 (Rickie Fowler at +200); GD Editors: 0 for 1 (Matt Kuchar missed by one spot); PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 7 for 14; Gdula: 4 for 13; GD Editors: 4 for 13; PGA Tour Caddie: 4 for 14 Riccio: 3 for 13)
Mayo: Fresh off a Sunday storm of the leaderboard two weeks ago in Texas, Ryan Moore officially has shaken off the early-season struggles, compiling five consecutive events in the positives on approaches, while gaining an average of +5.1 strokes tee to green against the field in his past four. With a T16 in his maiden voyage a year ago, he enters in similar form as a year ago and only needed a few more putts (he was -0.4 SG: Putt for the week) to drop to truly have been in contention. I’m sure Sungjae Im would have loved to qualify for The Masters, but a week off likely wasn’t a bad thing for Im as he’d played 12 of the previous 13 weeks. Now, he’s churned out Top 10 finishes in three of his past five starts, but still, even a 20-year-old has to get tired eventually. Much like his countryman An, Im has been tremendous tee-to-green, specifically on approaches (he’s been in the positive in SG: APP in 13 of his past 15 PGA starts), but unlike An, Im isn’t a complete disaster on the greens. With Copperhead being a fairly good judge of how people will fair at Harbour Town, it was encouraging to see Im notched a T4 in his first start at the Valspar back in March. Check out the full field breakdown, here.
Sungjae Im ($8,400); Byeong-Hun An ($8,200); Branden Grace ($8,300); Ryan Moore ($8,100); Eddie Pepperell ($7,200).
Riccio: We continue to see signs from Jordan Spieth, so while my model is likely higher on him than others, I still see ball-striking gains that lead me to continue to back him.
Dustin Johnson ($11,600); Jordan Spieth ($9,500); Tommy Fleetwood ($9,200); Scott Piercy ($6,700); Sam Ryder ($6,700); Brandon Harkins ($6,200).
Golf Digest Editors: We really like this lineup—we could see any of these six players winning, and maybe aside from Cam Smith, we like all of their odds to make the cut. Cam Smith is a bit more of a risky pick, so you can pivot to someone like Kevin Na at the same price range if you don't trust Cam, but we trust his scrambling skills.
Matt Kuchar ($10,000); Ian Poulter ($8,600); Sungjae Im ($8,400); Byeong-Hun An ($8,200); Cameron Smith ($7,900); Joel Dahmen ($6,900).
Gdula: There are studs at the top, and we should probably build around Dustin Johnson ($12,400) in cash-game formats, but in tournaments, I’m letting ownership dictate my exposure to Bryson DeChambeau ($11,700), Xander Schauffele ($11,600), and Tommy Fleetwood ($10,900).
The mid-range gives us a lot of plays, however, including Sungjae Im ($10,300), Byeong-Hun An ($9,800), Jason Kokrak ($9,600), Russell Knox ($9,500), and Ryan Moore ($9,200).
Riccio: All six of these players chart out in the top 15 of my model this week, including the top 3: DJ, Spieth and Fleetwood.
Dustin Johnson ($12,400); Tommy Fleetwood ($11,300); Jordan Spieth ($10,600); Beau Hossler ($8,700); Scott Piercy ($8,300); Sam Ryder ($8,000).
GD Editors: Same reasons to like this lineup as the DraftKings lineup. We're a little more top heavy and relying on Scott Brown to make the cut. He tends to play well at coastal tracks, and we're sure he's tuning up for the Zurich Classic next week with his buddy Kevin Kisner (who we also like here, by the way—but we fear a little bit of a burn-out from Kiz. But he loves this course).
_Matt Kuchar ($11,500); Webb Simpson ($10,800); Ian Poulter ($10.200); Sungjae Im ($10,000); Byeong-Hun An ($9,800); Scott Brown ($7,700).
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the RBC Heritage.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.