The RBC Heritage takes the role of the Masters rebound this week with the majority of the world’s big names taking a week off.
None of the world’s top 10 and only three – Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar and Danny Willett – of the world’s top 20 enter in South Carolina as most opt for a week of rest following the year’s first major.
An encouraging stat for those who have entered after a week at Augusta National is that since the tournament’s movement to the post-Masters slot in 1983, 28 of the 34 winners had played the week prior.
Even more encouraging for Kuchar is, after a blitzing back nine of 31 that included an ace on the 16th, his tied four finish at the weekend and his 2014 win at this event to fall back on.
The signs are less optimistic, though, for last week’s defending champion Willett and Hatton who both missed the Masters cut with the latter finishing with only three players with a worse score – one an amateur and one a PGA Champions Tour player. Nevertheless, Hatton does enter as the highest world ranked player in the event at 16th.
Luke Donald will try to earn his first win at this event at the 11th time of asking this week to end his so-close-yet-so-far streak that includes four runner-up and six top three finishes. The most recent of those came last year where, tied with fellow Briton Russell Knox, he fell two shots shy of Branden Grace having led after 54 holes as the South African creeped past with a Sunday 66.
Grace is one of a plethora of returning champions here that includes the aforementioned Kuchar; two-time winners Jim Furyk and Boo Weekley; Graeme McDowell; Carl Petterson; Brandt Snedeker; tournament-score record-holder Brian Gay; Aaron Baddeley; Stewart Cink and the tournament’s most successful player, five-time winner, Davis Love III. Scoring is inconsistent at the RBC Heritage with winning scores in recent years ranging from seven-under-par (Peter Lonard in 2005) to 20-under-par (Gay in 2009).
With its iconic lighthouse looking over the 18th green, Harbour Town Golf Links is the host course for the event as it has been since the tournament’s inception. Designed by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye, it’s a modest 7,101-yard par 71. The course combines the feels of classic woodland courses with that of a British links; potentially offering some great early practice for the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in July. With narrow fairways and littering, tight traps, the need for game-strategy and accuracy will outweigh any need for distance off the tee this week.
The winners purse has taken a significant increase of $600,000 up to $6,500,000 this year and will, therefore, offer significant value in the FedExCup rankings. Although world ranking points may be limited by the weakness of the field.
The lack of star names heading the field, though, does offer a great opportunity for Hatton or Willett to bounce back from their Masters disappointment; Kuchar to consolidate his form; Donald to end his close run or even a new name to force their way into the headlines.