Harbour Town is a narrow, seaside course where accuracy is key and winds will wreak havoc on the players. These greens are tiny, the fairways are narrow, and trees in front of greens block approach shots that are not coming from the correct angle. It’s a typical strategist’s track, with recent winners including Wesley Bryan, Branden Grace, Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Carl Pettersson, Brandt Snedeker, Graeme McDowell, and Boo Weekley. No bombers in that group. Typically, the greens here are fast and firm, which creates a lot of missed greens and emphasizes scrambling ability. I’m also going to factor in course history a little more this week, because there are 5 players who have won this event multiple times. It’s a track where you have to miss in the right places, be comfortable with your sight lines, and stick to detailed plan of attack.
Driving accuracy may be the one accuracy stat to ignore, because this is a less-than-driver course most of the way around. Players will be hitting a ton of fairways with irons and hybrids, so don’t emphasize that as much. In terms of strokes gained statistics, strokes gained approach and strokes gained around the green are the two I will weigh heaviest this week. I will also be looking at certain trends, such as players who gain strokes in the wind, on Bermuda greens, and on short courses. Looking at the Florida, Georgia, and Carolina residents who perform well on Bermuda greens, you’ll see names like Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Harris English, Bill Haas, Lucas Glover, and Ben Martin. The other connection that I’ll mention is that Harbour Town is a Pete Dye design. His unique course style caters towards a certain type of player, and many of these players are in the field this week: Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Kevin Kisner, Bill Haas, Russell Knox, Marc Leishman, and Ben Martin.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): Ball-striking, especially with irons, is going to be a major key for players this week. The greens at Harbour Town are some of the smallest on Tour, so controlling iron shots into the greens will be extremely important. If players hit their irons shots off-line, they’ll be challenged around the greens and in the bunkers. In terms of recent play, the players to target in strokes gained approach are Blayne Barber, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Ian Poulter, Marc Leishman, Bryson DeChambeau, and Adam Hadwin.
Strokes Gained Around-the-Green (SG:ARG): Because the greens are so small at Harbour Town, I’m adding extra emphasis on the short game. I want elite scramblers who can save pars when they miss approach shots. The best around-the-green players in recent weeks are Paul Casey, Derek Fathauer, Adam Hadwin, Chris Stroud, Michael Kim, and Ollie Schniederjans.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren’t going to target birdie or better percentage, because that’s what fantasy golf scoring is all about. This event should lend itself to plenty of birdies, with some short par-4s and reachable par-5s. The best players in this field in recent birdie or better percentage are Grayson Murray, Kevin Na, Brice Garnett, Robert Garrigus, Dustin Johnson, Harris English, and Bryson DeChambeau.
Par-5 Scoring (P4): Harbour Town is a par-71, meaning players won’t see the usual four par-5s. That, plus the narrow tree-lined fairways will add extra emphasis on accuracy, not distance. Par-4 scoring is what will separate players this week, so I’ll have a heavy weight on strokes gained on par-4s. Some of the best par-4 scorers in this field are Michael Thompson, Marc Leishman, Charles Howell, Sean O’Hair, Chad Campbell, Emiliano Grillo, and Ryan Palmer.
There’s no doubt who should be the favorite this week, so that’s why he’s headlining my rankings. DJ struggled home on the weekend at Augusta, but there were plenty of encouraging signs showing that his game is trending back to early 2018. Harbour Town – on paper – doesn’t suit his game, and his early results here show that. But DJ is a new player now, and he can clearly win anywhere he wants. The only concerns I have are that Harbour Town mitigates his greatest strength (distance), and he’ll have many sponsor obligations as the newest member of Team RBC.
One of the oldest members of Team RBC is Matt Kuchar, who is not shy about calling this one of his favorite weeks on Tour. Not only is he a past champion here with multiple other top-10 finishes, but he has friends and family locally who he stays with. Kuchar got off to a blistering start at Augusta before fading a bit on the weekend, but I was very encouraged by what I saw there and in Houston. Kuchar is a Pete Dye specialist, who can navigate these narrow holes and keep himself in position. He’s an excellent wedge player, which is one of the major keys to success here.
Of all the studs at the top of the field, Casey is probably the one I’m most worried about. He made an epic charge on Sunday at Augusta, just falling out of the top-10 with a bogey on the final hole. He’s been on fire this season, most recently with a win at the Valspar. His course history here is okay, with 11th, 18th, 22nd, and one MC. My concern for Casey is a letdown in a week that doesn’t’ matter too much to him. He’s locked up his status, he’s locked up a Ryder Cup spot, and this seems like a prime letdown week on the schedule.
Nobody has come closer to a win the past two years than Webb Simpson, and he’s still looking for it. He’s made five straight cuts on Tour with two top-10s and a top-20 at the Masters. He’s really improved his putting this season, which has propelled him to a level of consistency that we haven’t seen in years. He’s posted four top-15 finishes at Harbour Town, including a runner-up finish. He’s a great ball-striker and tends to play his best on Pete Dye tracks. If he doesn’t get a win soon, we may see some regression.
Hadwin will probably pick up steam as the week rolls on, but he’s by far my favorite play on the board. In every iteration of my statistical model, he gets closer and closer to the top. We know how great of a putter he is, and he’s become an elite iron player in 2018. He couldn’t get much going at Augusta, but it was still a solid top-25 finish. He’s improved at Harbour Town each and every year he’s played, and I fully expect to see him inside the top-10 on Sunday.
It was a disappointing weekend in Augusta for Leishman, but still resulted in another top-10 in a major championship. He’s going to win one, especially if he keeps giving himself these great chances. I’m worried about a letdown this week, and we’ve seen it from him numerous times at Harbour Town. Although he has one top-10 here, he has nothing else better than 30th and has a handful of MCs.
Dropping down a tier, Cameron Smith is one of my favorite picks of the week. Even though he finished in the top-5 last week at the Masters, he doesn’t get the attention he deserves. All season, he’s been one of the most consistent ball-strikers on Tour, and just can’t seem to get a hot week with his putter. Well I think that’s coming, and Harbour Town is just the track for him. Smith has played here twice and finished top-30 both years, so I’m not worried about course fit. He plays well in the wind, and has become a prolific birdie-maker.
I’m a little worried about Grillo’s motivation this week after missing the Masters. He was playing every week, all over the world, trying to qualify for Augusta. He fell short, and now comes to a tricky course that he’s never played. Grillo should fit the course well: he’s an excellent ball-striker and wind player, and his poor putting should be negated by these easy greens. I could see him faring well, but I have my reservations.
Nobody fits the Harbour Town mold quite like Kevin Kisner, and the SC resident has that extra angle, too. He played a little better at Augusta, but still has struggled from tee-to-green in recent events. He loves playing in his home state, plays exceptionally well in the wind and on bermuda, and has won on a similar track. But the theme of tee-to-green play being poor recently is enough for me to rank many other studs above him this week. The course history is solid, with an 11th last season and a 2nd in 2015.
I went back and forth on Harman this week, but ultimately I’ve decided to hop on board. The Georgia native loves playing in this part of the country, and has a couple top-10s at Harbour Town on his record. He played well at Augusta for a few days, before dropping down the leaderboard on Sunday. Harman is pretty accurate, and has one of the best short games on Tour.