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Johnson, Casey are RBS favourites


It is most appropriate that after the big buildup to the Masters and the drama that played out at Augusta National last week, the US PGA Tour should make this week's traditional stop at the Harbour Town Golf Links at the seaside resort of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

With its wide range of holiday facilities and its trademark red and white striped lighthouse brightening up the 18th green, it's the ideal place for winding-down golfers to bring their families and allow the tensions of the previous week to drain away.

Mind you, the RBC Heritage is much more than a fun-filled frolic.

It is a serious Tour event that comes with a purse of $1,17 million and a full quota of 500 FedEx Cup points so you can bet your bottom dollar that everyone playing in it will be gunning for victory.

This should include World No 1 Dustin Johnson and Masters standouts like Paul Casey, who came so close to breaking a final-round, 18-hole record at Augusta on Sunday as he took his Friday score of 5-over to a 5-under Sunday total with a closing 65, and like amiable but highly capable Charlie Hoffman whose splendid hole-in-one with a 6-iron on the iconic par-3 16th helped him finish in joint 12th place.

Others in the RBS Heritage field whose deeds last week earned them a place in the worldwide TV coverage of the Masters are the Australians, Mark Leishman, one of the championship's early leaders, and young gun Cameron Smith, one of its stronger finishers.

At 30/1, the fast-rising Smith is rated fourth behind Johnson (17/2), Casey (14/1) and Matt Kuchar (20/1) on the British bookmaker's list of favourites this week - and I am not in the least surprised.

The 24-year-old Queenslander has come up with top-20 finishes in five events since the start of 2018, including a tied for 5th at the Masters and what might make him a prime candidate to clinch a break-through win this week is the fact he does not rely on sheer power to make his birdies and that he is ranked as one of the best scramblers on Tour.

This because the shortish, 7,100-yard, par-71 Pete Dye golf links at Harbour Town is all about accuracy and shot-making rather than power and distance and where the disadvantages of its tiny, hard-to-hit greens, the smallest on Tour, can be offset by a top-class short game

The course has three par fives measuring just 502, 549, and 588 yards and that gives almost everyone in the field, not just the bombers like Johnson, a chance of going for eagles on at least two of the holes.

The course is also noted for its thick and heavy lining of trees, some of which overhang the fairways, so one of the keys to scoring well is an ability to work the ball both ways with accuracy and to find the right fairway positions off the tees as did Wesley Bryan when nabbing his breakthrough win last year.

Bryan has said of the course: "A lot of the guys rave about it because you have to work the ball both ways off the tee. You have to work the ball both ways going into the green. You have to miss it in the right spots around the green to have a chance. It’s one of the only courses on Tour where you’ll see that you have to play every single club in your bag."

Luke Donald, another whose game should be a great fit for the course this week, sees the Harbour Town Links as being "a very claustrophobic place with a lot of overhanging trees."

He believes "for some reason that the real tight feeling' he gets there narrows his focus and gets him "more engaged in the shot", and that’s why he seems to "hit it very well around there."

"Also the greens are very small, so if you do miss them you need to be really good around them."

Partly because he continues to rank as the World No 1 golfer, Johnson is the clearcut favourite of the bookies this week, but this is certainly not the case with many fantasy golf tipsters. One of them prefers the Americans Brian Harmon or Kevin Kisner, another Casey or Leishman.

And it's probably because those missed cuts at Harbour Town in his last two appearances there in 2008 and 2009 stand out like a sore thumb and give a clear impression that this particular course, which gives him very little advantage off the tees and heavily penalises his some-time driving inaccuracies can hardly be one Johnson's favourites.

Not so Donald. With his 9-for-9 record including five seconds and two third-place finishes on the Harbour Town Links, he would clearly have been a top-shot favourite if it were not for his poor, early-season form this year.

If any Englishman is going to beat the Americans and the Australians on Hilton Head Island this week, it is more likely to be Casey or Tyrrell Hatton - and especially if the weather goes all British on Sunday as our forecasters are expecting it to do.

Along with some brisk winds which could strengthen to 35 km/h on Sunday, they are expecting a morning drizzle to get steadily stronger in the afternoon, making the final-round conditions less than pleasant for those who are not used to battling wind and rain.

Tuesday pm April 10, 2018)

Dustin Johnson 17/2
Paul Case 14/1
Matt Kuchar 20/1
Marc Leishman 28/1
Cameron Smith 30/1
Tyrrell Hatton 33/1
Webb Simpson 33/1
Brian Harman 33/1
Patrick Cantlay 35/1
Adam Hadwin 33/1
Kevin Kisner 40/1
Emiliano Grillo 40/1
Charley Hoffman 40/1
Ollie Schniederjans 45/1
Bryson DeChambeau 45/1
Ian Poulter 35/1
Zach Johnson 50/1
Luke List 35/1
Kevin Chappell 50/1
Francesco Molinari 50/1.

NOTE: For all the latest odds go to

For more betting odds visit BetWay

Neville Leck

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