Sungjae Im - Each Way28/1
Shane Lowry - Each Way30/1
Cam Davis - Each Way125/1
Corey Conners - Top-2011/5
From the wide fairways and large, almost impossible greens of Augusta to the flatter, narrower Harbour Town course, its tree-lined fairways and smaller greens giving a huge push towards players that suit accurate iron shots over brute force, with a nod to those that can scramble should they be unfortunate enough to miss the short stuff.
Hardly an event that is ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’, with this new ‘designated’ event tempting all the qualified players in the world’s top 50, including the new Masters champion Jon Rahm.
Whether these all turn up after a gruelling final day at Augusta must be in doubt but, for now, we play the hand we have.
In terms of Masters form translating to Harbour Town, the top-30 from last year’s RBC Heritage contained Shane Lowry (tied-3rd the week before), Collin Morikawa (5th), Corey Conners (T6), Sungjae Im (T8), Tommy Fleetwood (T14) and Harold Varner III (T23). However, eventual winner Jordan Spieth had missed the cut by two shots, that missed weekend being a factor he shared with both Webb Simpson (2020) and C.T Pan (2019) both winners in admittedly calmer waters.
Best Bet – Sungjae Im
Despite admirable consistency at the highest level, the 25-year-old has won just two events on tour, the most recent being the Shriners, in October 2021 and it’s about time the world number 17 got his head in front again.
Given he wasn’t really involved in the finish last weekend, his third top-16 from four Augusta outings looks a perfect prelude to an event that sees the top three in the betting sharing three previous outings, the best of which being Rahm’s 33rd here on his only start in 2020. As I write, Rory McIlroy has just withdrawn and it wouldn’t surprise should both Rahm and Scottie Scheffler do the same.
The regularity of Sungjae’s play is certainly leaning towards something special very soon, with his ten completed starts in 2023 rewarding him with three top-10 finishes, at Torrey Pines, Scottsdale and Sawgrass.
Look closer and the Korean was in challenging positions going into the final day in five of those 10, being seventh at the Tournament of Champions, ninth at the American Express, fourth at the Farmers, sixth at Phoenix and eighth at Sawgrass, whilst he was in 15th after three rounds last weekend.
Top-25 for accuracy off the tee in seven events this year (including his last five) he is also finding enough greens to think he can put it down to the best of his rivals this week.
Although he missed the cut here on his first two outings, 2021 saw him finish 13th after being top-20 in tee, approaches and tee-to-green (28th putting) and a year later he finished just outside the top-20, mainly due to losing four strokes on the putting surface, a factor that didn’t reward similar tee-to-green numbers (led off-the-tee based on accuracy).
A player with excellent Pete Dye form – a worst of 18th from four outings at the American Express, and 6th and 17th at The Players’ – he also boasts a fourth and 29th (sixth at halfway) at the comparable Valspar at Innisbrook, an event that Spieth has also won while, amongst others, Simpson, Stewart Cink and Luke Donald share top finishes.
Next best – Shane Lowry
In a similar vein to Sungjae, Shane Lowry has produced long-term form that deserves more than a single PGA Tour victory at the Bridgestone Invitational in 2015.
Of course, the Irishman was born and bred to play golf in poor conditions, so if there is any hangover from the weather at nearby Augusta the winner of the Irish Open, Portugal Masters, Abu Dhabi Championship and The Open at Royal Portrush should be well suited to take advantage.
The 36-year-old isn’t entirely weather-biased and last week’s tied-16th was his fourth consecutive top-25 finish at Augusta, a feature of his play here just seven days later.
Lowry missed the cut at the Masters in 2019 before finishing third here a week later, improved from 21st at Augusta to finish in the top-10 in 2021, and then matched a Masters third place with the same here last season.
Take Lockdown year away and Lowry has made a total of four cuts from four starts here, improving on his debut 44th (fifth after the first round) to finish third, ninth and third, shooting rounds of 65 and 66 in each of his last two tries.
In each of his last two years, the world number 23 has recorded top-10 ranks in approaches and tee-to-green, whilst in three of his four completed events he has been inside the top-20 for the flat stick .
Those likeable stats have continued into 2023 and Lowry has finished inside the top-20 for Harbour Town’s vital stats – driving accuracy and greens-in-regulation – at Riviera, the Honda and last week at Augusta, when ranking in the top five for both.
One that repeats form from year to year at the same courses, he looks terrific value at anything over 25/1.
Outsider – Cam Davis
With the two main selections appealing most from all those up to around 60/1, look for a three-figure bet to offer value against those up front with question marks surrounding them.
In siding with the Australian, we have a player that again will relish a wind-affected tournament, having won the 2017 Australian Open from Matt Jones (Houston and Honda winner) with Cam Smith, Jason Day and Spieth behind.
It’s not gone quite to plan since, but the 28-year-old has plenty of form that stacks up with recent contenders here.
His sole PGA Tour victory at the Rocket Mortgage came via a play-off victory over Troy Merritt (third, 10th and 12th here) and Joaquin Niemann (top-five finishes at the Sony, Texas and Valspar and Harbour Town) whilst he also has front page finishes at the Dye-influenced American Express and Sawgrass, Charles Schwab, Honda and John Deere, all courses relating to recent previous Heritage champions.
Including some of those, Davis’ best finishes since the start of 2022 include six top-10s and three top-20 finishes and he ended the year with a fast-closing seventh place behind Cam Smith at his home PGA.
Third, after three rounds of the Players a month ago, he missed the cut last time out in Texas where, despite a valiant best-of-second round 66, was always unlikely to make the weekend after an opening 80. That appears to have put a few points on his price, and he’ll be backed for the big victory but also for a third top-20 finish in four outings.
Top-20 – Corey Conners
I know. Conners was awful last week.
Although I can’t get some appalling short game errors out of my mind, it’s difficult to shake off a player that suits this track down to the ground and for whom it is relatively easy to make a case for.
Take Augusta away and the season has gone relatively well.
In eighth place at halfway, the 31-year-old finished 18th at the opening Tournament of Champions then 12th at the Sony and, 21st at Bay Hill (third at halfway), before winning two of his three group games at the Match Play, losing only at the final hole to eventual runner-up Cameron Young.
Given the way Conners repeats form, it was no surprise to see him creep closer each round before eventually repeating his 2019 victory at the 2019 Texas Open, again putting up yet another sterling performance for tee-to-green fans.
As at Waialae, Conners led the greens-in-regulation stats, and at both he racked up double-figures for his tee-to-green superiority, a huge factor around Harbour Town, where his relatively weak putting can be disguised.
For whatever reason, Conners produced a display far from the previous three consecutive Masters top-10s and I’ll put that down as an anomaly. If that is the case, Conners has drifted 10 points for no good reason, a factor that affects his price in the place markets.
Although missing the cut in his first three tries, the Canadian would number 30 has improved since landing in the top echelons of the rankings, finishing 21st, fourth and 12th in 2020 through to 2022 recording just two rounds over 70. Those figures could easily have been better given he lay in second place at the halfway stage of 2020 and 2021, and third after the opening round last year.
He could be a very big price to gain an outright place, but I’ll err on the side of caution after Augusta and play the much safer game.