The 2014 RBC Heritage will take place just days after a thrilling Masters Tournament, and the event at Hilton Head's Harbour Town Golf Links features spectacular scenery in addition to a strong field.
After placing in a tie for second in his bid to become the youngest Masters winner in history, Jordan Spieth is showing his youthful energy at age 20 by teeing it up again in South Carolina. That strong finish at Augusta National has shot Spieth to No. 9 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
In an interview with ESPN's Mike & Mike radio show, Spieth discussed his experience and how he is using it as a positive rather than dwelling on falling short, per ESPN.com:
I'm definitely still stinging, there's no doubt about it, to work your whole life to be in position to win a golf tournament you've always dreamed of [and then fall short]...But I never expected to be in that position maybe this early [in my career], so I'm definitely looking back at all the positives going forward.
Spieth will be keeping quite the company in his first two rounds. He's grouped with Davis Love III—a five-time winner of this event—and will play alongside the legendary Tom Watson for the next 36 holes.
Only Matt Kuchar (sixth) is ranked higher than Spieth ahead of Thursday's RBC Heritage start. Kuchar was in contention for his own first major but fell short and settled for his third Masters top 10 in as many years. It was also the third straight time this season he had a chance to win entering the final round only to fall short.
Instead of a green jacket, some of the planet's top golfers will chase a plaid jacket and a trophy this week. Not a bad consolation prize for the golfer who comes out on top.
Defending tournament champion Graeme McDowell figures to be a factor at Harbour Town once again, while other past winners, such as FedEx Cup champions Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker, should be in the hunt too.
McDowell hopes to become the first to earn back-to-back wins since Boo Weekley in 2007 and 2008, and he took to Instagram to declare his two dogs ready for the action:
What follows is more specific analysis of what to expect from this excellent event.
But first, here is a look at the basic information—including tee times and prize money—along with the TV schedule for an exciting PGA Tour showcase that will be worth catching on the weekend.
Note: Statistics and tournament history are courtesy of PGATour.com.
When: Thursday, April 17 through Sunday, April 20
Where: Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C.
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATour.com.
Purse: $5,800,000; Winner's Share: $1,044,000
FedEx Cup Points: 500
|Thursday, April 17||3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Friday, April 18||3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, April 19||1-2:30 p.m., 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel, CBS|
|Sunday, April 20||1-2:30 p.m., 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel, CBS|
Analyzing Marque Groups
Matt Kuchar, Ernie Els and Hunter Mahan
In three of his past five final rounds, Kuchar has shot 74 or worse, and his even-par 72 at the Shell Houston Open got him into a playoff, which was lost to Matt Jones in dramatic fashion.
Kuchar finishes in the top 10 as much as anyone, but it has to be wearing on him that he hasn't piled up more wins than the six to his name on tour thus far. Kuchar is in the prime of his career and should be winning more. He's been knocking on the door as of late and should break through sometime soon.
Missing the Masters weekend cut by one shot had to be disappointing for Els, and it marked the third time in four 2013-14 appearances that that's happened to him. "The Big Easy" is in need of a serious bounce-back performance, as his only strong finish in 2013-14 was at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February.
In a post on his official website on Monday, Els said he was feeling optimistic about his chances to turn things around at the RBC Heritage given his strong track record at Harbour Town:
...My view is that the main reason so many players have enjoyed this place so much over the years, me included, is it’s a proper shot-maker’s golf course. You really need to work your golf ball to score well and, when you miss one of those small greens, you need a deft touch to give yourself a chance of getting up and down. That’s always been a strong part of my game, which is one of the reasons my record in this tournament is pretty strong, with seven top-10s from 14 starts. Also, the best part of my game at Augusta was my putting, so that’s a nice vibe to take into this week as I search for my first win here.
Back problems have hampered Mahan recently, forcing him to withdraw from Bay Hill. But he had a solid result at Augusta with a tie for 26th, and the good news is that he wasn't holding anything back. He ranked among the best in driving distance for the week, per Golf Digest's Mike O'Malley:
Driving-distance leaders: Bubba 305.62, McIlroy 304.0, Oosthuizen 303.12, Mahan 301.25, Bowditch 299.25, Scott 298.38, Gallacher 298.12.— Mike O'Malley (@GD_MikeO) April 14, 2014
Perhaps Mahan is due to get back to the form that saw him notch four top 10s in his first seven starts.
Brandt Snedeker, Bill Haas and Graeme McDowell
Having won this event in 2011, Snedeker has plenty of positivity to draw on—something he'll need in spades after a third-round 80 took him out of Masters contention.
With how well Snedeker putts, he is a threat to win whenever he's in the field, even when he's not firing on all cylinders from tee to green. But it's been an off year with the flat iron for Snedeker thus far, highlighted by a horrendous five-putt at Augusta, per Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman:
One of the world's best putters just 5 putted the 4th green at Augusta National. Brandt Snedeker falls to +2 #humbling— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) April 12, 2014
But Snedeker is too talented not to start posting better finishes soon.
The same is true for Haas, whose 67 was good enough for the first-round Masters lead. The year Snedeker won the RBC Heritage, Haas was the FedEx Cup champion, so he's proved capable of getting it done on golf's biggest stages.
McDowell's preferred low cut shot off the tee didn't serve him well in the Masters, as he missed the cut by one stroke.
However, he has to be feeling good about defending his title this week. The Northern Irishman has five top 10s in seven events and is first on tour in strokes gained putting, which suggests McDowell should be among the contenders this Sunday.
Zach Johnson, Harris English and Luke Donald
2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson is another big name who didn't play the weekend in Augusta. That doesn't take away from his stellar 2013-14 to date, though. He already has a green jacket and is still sixth in overall scoring average.
Johnson's key for this tournament is to improve his performance on moving day, where he ranks 44th with a stroke average of 69.78. Although that's a pretty strong number, he needs to muster just a bit more magic to get his second win of the season.
A tie for eighth in the 2012 RBC Heritage points to English as a favorite this time around. The 24-year-old is a rising star and has already won twice on tour. With his strong all-around game and impeccable iron play (second in greens in regulation percentage), English seems destined for further greatness soon enough.
Struggling at majors has been a theme in Donald's otherwise outstanding career. He peaked as the world No. 1 for approximately a year, but tweaks to his swing have set Donald back as he tries to elevate his game. He's showing recent signs of rallying, though, as an opening-round 79 at the Masters saw Donald recover with a two-under 70 in Round 2.
Who is the best bet to win the RBC Heritage?
Augusta National conquered many of golf's stars, but the RBC Heritage is no slouch either. Harbour Town offers a challenging layout, evident in McDowell's nine-under-par winning score in 2013. Many players who endured struggles at the year's first major championship have games suited for this course, though.
Only two tournaments follow this one before The Players Championship, which is considered golf's fifth major. Since that high-profile event looms not far off in the distance, it will be worth seeing how the previously analyzed players—along with others in competition—fare in South Carolina. There is rarely a dull week on the PGA Tour in the modern era. The RBC Heritage is certainly no exception.