By Hennessey and Powers
Forgive us for this sweeping generalization, but nobody picked Hideki Matsuyama to win the Masters last week. OK, maybe a few folks threw him at the bottom of their cards as a shot in the dark, but nobody was talking him up, and nobody had him as their pick to win, including us.
And how could you blame anyone? Matsuyama hadn’t shown much recent form outside of a runner-up at the Houston Open before the November Masters, and even when his elite iron play has shown up recently, the putter often fails him. You can’t trust a guy like that at Augusta National. Naturally, Matsuyama putted beautifully and was incredible around the greens, which goes to show how impossible it is to predict this sport.
Of course, that’s not going to stop us from continuing to try, and, if you take out last week, we’ve done a damn good job of predicting it this season—nailing five of the past 10 winners on the PGA Tour. Our intent is to get right back on track at the RBC Heritage, where longshots have historically fared well. Sounds like an opportunity to recoup some Masters losses to us.
A consensus among our betting panel this week? Collin Morikawa at 20-1 odds. The guy has won four times on the PGA Tour since turning pro in 2019. That’s an incredible number, and yet bookmakers are still offering these favourable odds. As Golf Digest contributing data scientists Pat Mayo (of Mayo Media Network) and Rick Gehman (RickRunGood.com) point out, Harbour Town matches Morikawa’s strengths (accuracy off the tee and on approach) perfectly. It’s tough not to like him this week.
Read on to see who the rest of our panel—including an anonymous PGA Tour caddie—like in the 2021 RBC Heritage.
RBC Heritage 2021 expert picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions (Odds from William Hill)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Webb Simpson (14-1) — Defending a title can affect some players, but Webb is not that type of player. He’s a world-class player who continues to fly under the radar. This course is tailored to what Webb does well—find fairways and greens—and he’s one of the best putters on tour. It’s no surprise he has six finishes of T-11 or better here, and thanks to Fantasy National, we know he’s gained 33.15 strokes on the field at Harbour Town in the past five events.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Collin Morikawa (20-1) — Morikawa tops in this field in approach over the past 50 rounds, but it will all come down to his putter. Three of the past five times Morikawa he's gained strokes putting, he's won the event. Just hope it’s one of those weeks.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Matt Fitzpatrick (28-1) — Fitzpatrick’s odds have already shortened at a few books, but I still think this is a good number. He is an elite Bermuda putter and is someone who can hit fairways at a high rate, which is a key stat this week. Fitzpatrick anecdotally plays well in the wind, though the PGA Tour stats aren’t quite showing it. He has two top-15 finishes here in the past three years.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Collin Morikawa (20-1) — There’s a certain skill-set that plays well at Harbour Town, and it includes accuracy off the tee and precision with approaches. That is basically the perfect description of Morikawa, who leads the PGA Tour in driving accuracy (72 percent) and is No. 1 in strokes gained/approach. Additionally, and more importantly, he knows how to win. He’s already hoisted a trophy on four occasions in his past 39 starts.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Chris Kirk (60-1) — Whenever you have this much conviction on a pick, it’s a bad sign. But the guy plays his best on courses that reward ball-striking and shaping your golf ball (he was in the mix at The Players until the final-round collapse). His all-around game is in a place where lifting a trophy will come in the next few months, and I think this is a great place for him to do it.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Matthew Fitzpatrick (28-1) — It feels lazy to go with the “Harbour Town is Fitzpatrick’s favourite course” narrative, but I’m rolling with it this season, which has been one of Fitzpatrick’s best on the PGA Tour. In June, he made RBC his second post-COVID start, finishing 14th, which marked his third career finish of 23rd or better in this event. Since then he’s collected seven finishes of 11th or better, consistently knocking on the door for that first tour win. If the wind picks up on the weekend, if his putter stays hot and if he hits his irons a little better than he has over the last month, it could all fall into place at his favourite tour stop this week. Lot of ifs, of course, but that’s why they call it gambling.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Patrick Cantlay (18-1) — I know you’re scared by the missed cut and +8 performance at Augusta. But we’ve seen players all year rebound after missed cuts. Trust the longer-terms sample size: Per fantasy National, Cantlay is ranks second in SG/total over the past two years and 16th for SG/tee to green over the past two months. And he loves it at Harbour own, finishing in the top 10 in every appearance, and thus is ranked seventh in FanShare Sports’ course-suitability modeling.
Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel is RED-HOT. Our experts have now predicted five of the past 10 winners—after going up 225.30 units last season. As we’ve said, our crew gets hot and tends to stay hot, so don’t miss out on our picks! Our Stephen Hennessey predicted Jordan Spieth (11-1) at the Valero Texas Open. At The Players, Christopher Powers called Justin Thomas’ victory (18-1) as did Rick Gehman. That’s each of their second accurate predictions of 2021, with Powers hitting Koepka (50-1) and Gehman calling Daniel Berger at Pebble Beach (14-1). Pat Mayo nailed Collin Morikawa at the WGC-Workday three events ago at 33-1 in addition to Koepka at the WMPO. And Brandon Gdula also called Berger’s win at Pebble Beach. We’ll stop there! Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!
RBC Heritage 2021 expert picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (Odds from William Hill)
Caddie: Abraham Ancer (33-1) — It’s a bit of a stretch to call Ancer a sleeper at these odds, but I just really wanted to tell you to bet him this week. It’s the perfect course for him, as evidenced by his runner-up last year, and he’s just due for a win. Plus, wouldn’t it be fitting after that penalty at Augusta last week for the Golf Gods to reward him with a victory? Sometimes the game works like that.
Mayo: Doug Ghim (125-1) — The Ghim Reaper’s putting has been atrocious for about two months now, but if Hideki’s win taught us anything, keep following the ball striking and hope you get lucky on the greens. Ghim’s gained on approach in eight consecutive events, and the last time we saw him at Valero, despite a T-44 finish, he was actually seventh in the field tee-to-green. Don’t forget Ghim was in the mix entering Sunday at the Players and the best finish of his career came at The American Express in January, both Pete Dye courses.
Gdula: Brendon Todd (80-1) — Todd always seems to be worth a dart when it’s an accuracy-heavy Bermuda course, which is what we have this week. He is the most accurate golfer in the field over the past 100 rounds, according to FantasyNational.com, and he is one of the best Bermuda putters. His missed cut last year came when losing only a single stroke to the field, so we probably shouldn’t read too much into that.
Gehman: Brendon Todd (80-1) — Todd enters the week having made his last five cuts—and only missing two in his past 10 starts. Driving accuracy won’t be a problem, as Todd leads this field in fairways hit in the last 50 rounds. Combine that with the fact that only two golfers have gained more strokes putting in that timespan, Todd has the combination of skills to get hot and steal a golf tournament. Remember, this event has produced winners like C.T. Pan, Satoshi Kodaira and Wesley Bryan—longshots are live here!
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Brandt Snedeker (100-1) — It has been a long, long time since I placed a bet on Brandt Snedeker. He’s been in rough form—until the Valero Texas Open. Sneds gained seven strokes on his approaches—his best mark since he won the Wyndham Championship in 2018. We know Sneds likes Harbour Town, winning here 10 years ago. Plus, if it gets windy as the early forecasts indicate that it could, Sneds absolutely eats in the wind.
Powers, Golf Digest: Chris Kirk (60-1) — Both Billy Horschel and Jordan Spieth have finally capitalized on consistent form with a win in the last few weeks. Now, it’s Chris Kirk’s turn. In 2021, Kirk has made seven of eight cuts, and finished inside the top 25 in six of those starts. The only time he didn’t finish top 25 was at the Players, where he was just three off the lead after 54 holes before shooting a final-round 79. He quickly bounced back at Honda and Valero, where he gained four strokes on approach and 6.1 with the putter. He’s so close, and I’m happy to take 60-1 on a guy who keeps gaining on a win.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jim Furyk (150-1) — Luke Donald gets credit as being Mr. RBC Heritage, but shouldn’t it be Jim Furyk with his two victories and two runners-up? He ranks first in strokes gained/total in his career at Harbour Town—and he has a BIT of form—finishing in the top-30 in two of the past four starts. A bit of a form is all you need to back the real Mr. RBC Heritage.
RBC Heritage 2021 expert picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Sungjae Im (33-1) — I love his game, but the inconsistency will cost him golf tournaments. That was on display at the Masters—that nightmarish Friday cost him a made-cut, and it will take more than a week to figure all that out.
Mayo: Webb Simpson (14-1) — Top-5 bet: Sure. Top 10: Even better. It’s just so rare for any player to go back-to-back at an event, especially coming off a grueling week at The Masters.
Gdula: Cameron Smith (30-1) — I like the current form but not so much the course fit for Smith. He’s not accurate off the tee, and he has also not produced great wind splits on the PGA Tour either. His three made cuts here were virtually all reliant on elite short game.
Gehman: Dustin Johnson (12-1) — For the first time in recent memory, Dustin Johnson is not the favorite (at some sportsbooks … William Hill still has DJ marked as the favorite). That should tell you all you need to know about his chances this week. Johnson enters in poor form, missing the cut at the Masters. The trip to Hilton Head might be more of a sponsor obligation than a true fit for his game: Johnson’s best finish is a T-16 in five trips. Per the RickRunGood.com golf database, this is the event that Johnson has played the most in his career without earning a top 10.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Dustin Johnson (12-1) — This is an easy one … I think he’ll go into reset mode after this week to get ready for Kiawah Island.
Powers, Golf Digest: Will Zalatoris (25-1) — Just feels like a natural let down spot for Willy Z, who damn near had the week of his life (still might have been) at Augusta. Going to be tough to match that energy at RBC, the chillest tour stop on the entire schedule.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Collin Morikawa (20-1) — Morikawa finished a disappointing 64th place on his only visit here, last year. He hasn’t fared much better at similar courses either and ranks just 92nd for strokes gained/total on FanShare’s corollary courses. He also only has one top-15 place finish on his last six events (yes, I know it’s a win).