PGA Tour Preview: Pine Trees, Railroad Ties, and the Lighthouse

Last Week

Although Masters Tournament champion Patrick Reed's final round 71 wasn't as brilliant as some of those who finished below him on the leaderboard, his performance over four days was. Finishing in the top 10 were five players ranked in the top 10 in the world, with three others ranked in the top 20. The firepower that started the day anywhere from 3 to 9 shots behind the eventual winner was unprecedented.

Jordan Spieth missed a par putt on the 18th hole that would have set a final round scoring record, Ricky Fowler birdied six of the last 11 holes to finish a shot behind, and Jon Rahm and Bubba Watson both shot 69 to close strongly.

Sometimes it takes some luck to come out on top of a major championship and Reed had a little of it go his way on Sunday. First, he was fortunate that Spieth started so far behind, making it difficult for the former Masters champ to catch up to Reed. Secondly, Rory McIlroy, his closest challenger at the start of the final round, started poorly and never got his game in gear, finishing with a 2-over par 74. Finally, on the par five 13th hole, Reed's second shot came up short of the green and stayed on the bank instead of rolling back into the water that fronts the putting surface. He went on to make a par that sustained his momentum from a terrific birdie on the par three 12th and propelled him to another birdie on the tough par four 14th that all but secured victory.

Will Reed, at the age of 27, be a one-hit major wonder like Fred Couples and Davis Love, or will his Masters win be the first of more major championships? Only time will tell, as most supposed golf experts never would have believed that Couples and Love would combine for just two majors in otherwise great careers.

This Week

RBC Heritage Hilton Head, South Carolina
Harbour Town Golf Links - Par 71
Defending Champion: Wesley Bryan - 13 under par 271

History

This year marks the 50th playing of the RBC Heritage, originally known as the Heritage Golf Classic. The first winner was Arnold Palmer in 1969 and he has been joined by a stellar group of winners, with 33 of the prior 49 events won by major champions. The list includes five-time winner Davis Love, three-time champion Hale Irwin, and two-time victors Johnny Miller, Hubert Green, Tom Watson, Fuzzy Zoeller, Payne Stewart, Stewart Cink, and Jim Furyk. The only multiple winner that wasn't a major champion was Boo Weekley, with back-to-back wins in 2007 and 2008.

Jack Nicklaus won the Heritage in 1975 by three strokes over Tom Weiskopf, two weeks before his thrilling Masters win over Johnny Miller , and you guessed it, Weiskopf again. Since 1983, the tournament has been held the week following the Masters which is played in nearby Augusta, Georgia. The Harbour Town course and surrounding Hilton Head Island are known for the distinctive lighthouse near the 18th green. Harbour Town Golf Links was designed by Pete Dye, best known for TPC Sawgrass on which the Players Championship is played. Jack Nicklaus also assisted in the design.

The course, with the exception of the 18th hole, is typified by tight fairways and fairly small greens, many of which are guarded by water hazards. Position off the tee is critical, as overhanging pine trees can make it difficult to get a clear shot at the greens. The tournament record of 20 under par 264 was set by Brian Gay in 2009. As a side note, the marina area in Harbour Town is prominently featured in my PK Frazier series of novels.

2018 Field

The RBC Heritage is an invitational, one of only five tournaments given that status by the PGA Tour (the Masters Tournament is also an invitational, but it isn't operated by the PGA Tour). That means the field is determined by the event itself, not dictated by the PGA Tour Priority Ranking System, resulting in 132 players rather than the standard 156 for a regular Tour event. There are 20 categories of qualification, with one of the more unique ones being the PGA Section champion/Player of the Year. Interestingly enough, that turns out to be Steve Scott, who was Tiger Woods' opponent in the 1996 U.S. Amateur, won by Woods on the 38th hole. Scott later made a run at the Tour, but gave it up in 2005 and is now the head professional at the Outpost Club in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

* Twenty-nine of the top 31 finishers from last year's tournament are in the field

* Three of the top 10, six of the top 20, and 29 of the top 50 in FedEx Cup points

* One of the top 10, four of the top 20, and 20 of the top 50 in the World Golf ranking

* Eighteen countries represented

* Fourteen colleges have three or more former players represented: Florida (6), Georgia (5), Clemson (5), Georgia Tech (5), Alabama (3), Arkansas (3), Auburn (4), Cal-Berkeley (3), UNLV (3), Yonsei (3), San Diego State (3), SMU (3), Vanderbilt (3)

Oldest Player

Jeff Maggert (54)

Youngest Player

Doc Redman (20)

Major Champions (12)

Zach Johnson (2), Charl Schwartzel, Lucas Glover, Graeme McDowell, Stewart Cink, Davis Love III, Webb Simpson, Martin Kaymer, Dustin Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy, Jason Dufner, Jim Furyk

Total Tour Victories

412 (Davis Love III, 21)

Total Major Victories

13 (Zach Johnson, 2)

What to Look For

Plenty of views of Calibogue Sound, the Harbour Town Light, pine trees, and railroad ties will on display during The Golf Channel and CBS telecasts this weekend. The 18th holes' widest fairway on tour will also get a lot of coverage, with lighthouse in the background. In between those scenic shots, look for a lot of players that have had former success at Harbour Town. I

f there was ever a course for horses, this Pete Dye design is one of them, evidenced by the number of multiple winners in its almost 50-year history. The greens aren't particularly daunting, especially for the handful of players that experienced Augusta National last week. Davis Love III, who turns 54 on Friday, hasn't played much tournament golf recently, but could still be a threat with his driving ability and comfort on this golf course.

Players like Brian Harman, Paul Casey, and Marc Leishman, all of whom are playing well, also have games well-suited to the narrow fairways at Harbour Town. Beau Hossler, who lost to Ian Poulter in a playoff at Houston, has had a couple of weeks to think about the stinging defeat and prepare to get back on the course. And, of course, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson will see if his prodigious length will be any advantage on a track more suited to ball placement and shot precision over four rounds.

Kevin Krest is the author of the entertaining PK Frazier series of sports suspense novels and the co-host of the weekly "The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports" broadcast. His books can be found on Amazon.com.

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