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Tuesday, 16 October, 2018

Matt Fitzpatrick threatens Stateside breakthrough at beloved Links

Cameron Smith to build on impressive Masters

Matt Fitzpatrick is being dismissed too easily by the layers
1 of 1

Live on Sky Sports from 8pm Thursday
Play starts midday

Dustin Johnson became a brand ambassador for RBC in February, so is obliged to tee up in the RBC-sponsored Heritage, but it is questionable how much appetite the world number one has for the tournament or the course.

Johnson failed to find top gear on his way to tenth place in the Masters last week and would probably rather be spending this week at home. Instead, he is tackling a fiddly little track on which he has never beaten par in his four previous rounds. He carded a pair of 79s to miss the cut in 2007, then 71 and 76 to again face the halfway cut in 2009.

Harbour Town is a layout which requires patience, precision and sound strategy, which are not strengths of Johnson, and he is one of the most unappealing favourites of the season.

Palmer's top tip
Matt Fitzpatrick 66-1
Peace of mind is particularly important for positive performance and few players get such a warm glow when arriving for the Heritage as sweet-swinging 23-year-old Matt Fitzpatrick.

The Sheffield man says Harbour Town is his favourite place on earth and he relishes the Links. Fitzpatrick signed for a Nick Faldo-like scorecard on his Heritage debut in 2014, making 18 consecutive pars in his final round, sharing 23rd spot. He has failed to make the weekend in two subsequent visits, hence the enormous price, but there is no question this fine young talent can act on this turf and four rounds should be expected this time.

Fitzpatrick possesses all the tools to flourish at Harbour Town – his game is based on tee-shot precision and his putting stroke has been in excellent nick from September onwards. A streak which started with winning the European Masters in Switzerland resulted in ten consecutive top-20s, including four European Tour Final Series events, ending with third place in Abu Dhabi at the end of January.

A quiet spell has followed Abu Dhabi, but there is no way Fitzpatrick should be so far down the betting for the Heritage. A third-round 67 was a timely boost to confidence at Augusta last week, and although a 75 followed, he closed with three birdies in his final six holes to head for Harbour Town in high spirits.

The 2013 US Amateur champion is a four-time European Tour winner and this is a decent opportunity to get off the mark on the US Tour.

Next best
Cameron Smith 28-1
The Heritage has traditionally been a tournament in which older, experienced campaigners dominate, but the latest generation are so good that this trend will probably go out of the window over the next decade or so. Wesley Bryan at 27 may have started the ball rolling last year and a duel between Fitzpatrick and Cameron Smith, 24, could be in the offing this time.

Smith is coming on leaps and bounds, fifth place in the Masters on Sunday his latest piece of stellar form, and Harbour Town seems a perfect spot for the improving Aussie to threaten a US Tour breakthrough. He won the Zurich Classic pairs event with Jonas Blixt last May, then claimed the Australian PGA title in December.


The Heritage match betting

Spanish Open tournament preview

Spanish Open match betting

Spanish Open threeballs


While Jon Rahm had to trek across the Atlantic to the Spanish Open, the drive from Augusta to Harbour Town is only three hours, so Fitzpatrick and Smith can quickly shrug off their Masters exertions.

Smith has solid Heritage form of 15-29 and returns to the event more confident than ever. The forecast for a breezy weekend adds to the appeal of Fitzpatrick and Smith, who are typically excellent in such conditions.

Other selections
Patrick Cantlay 35-1
Brian Harman 33-1
Si Woo Kim 100-1
Patrick Cantlay missed the cut in his first Masters as a professional, double-bogeys at the first and 18th in round one proving too tough to recover from, but this class act will not be panicking. Cantlay finished third on his Heritage debut last year and could easily bounce back from his Augusta heartache at a layout which suits. A second US Tour victory is unlikely to be long coming.

Brian Harman, a Georgia man all his life, is playing a home game this week and can be fancied to contend on Sunday. The little left-hander has done some giantkilling over the last year, edging Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm to win the Wells Fargo last May, then thrashing Rory McIlroy 5&3 in the WGC-Match Play last month. Harman was runner-up in the US Open in June and is more confident than ever. Nobody scored better than him over the weekend of the Heritage last year and he finished ninth.

Complete your staking plan with Si Woo Kim, the Sawgrass champion. The Korean youngster staged a terrific comeback at Augusta, weekend rounds of 68 and 71 hauling him up to a creditable 24th spot, and he made four birdies in his final six holes. Kim is well suited to Harbour Town, where he finished 14th on his only previous visit.

Others to note
Zach Johnson
The old grinder was Heritage runner-up in 2012 and has an excellent record of success in Georgia, his adopted home state. Worth considering for punters wanting more than five strings to their bow.

Kevin Kisner
The WGC-Match Play runner-up is extremely well suited to the Heritage assignment and must be respected. He lost a playoff to Jim Furyk in 2015.

Webb Simpson
The former US Open champion is another accurate sort entitled to go well on this layout. He finished with a flourish at Augusta and continues to putt well.

Austin Cook
The RSM Classic champion faces a similar test to that on which he made his US Tour breakthrough. This excellent driver is another likely title contender.

Corey Conners
The Canadian rookie has produced some superb golf this term and has the game to be on the leaderboard on Sunday.

Luke Donald
The former world number one has a remarkably consistent record at Harbour Town, without ever lifting the trophy. If he is to ever win again, this is a likely venue.

Staking plan
M Fitzpatrick
2pts each-way 66-1 Sky Bet
C Smith
2pts each-way 28-1 Coral
P Cantlay
1.5pts each-way 35-1 Hills
B Harman
1.5pts each-way 33-1 bet365, Lads
S W Kim
1pt each-way 100-1 Coral

The lowdown

Course Harbour Town Links, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Prize money $6.7m ($1.17m to the winner)
Length 7,099 yards Par 71 Field 132

Course records – 72 holes 264 Brian Gay (2009) 18 holes 61 David Frost (1994),Troy Merritt (2015)
Course winners taking part Davis Love (five times), Stewart Cink (twice), Aaron Baddeley, Brian Gay, Jim Furyk (twice), Brandt Snedeker, Carl Pettersson, Graeme McDowell, Matt Kuchar, Wesley Bryan

When to bet By midday Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 8pm Thursday
Time difference South Carolina is five hours behind the UK and Ireland

Course overview The Harbour Town Links is a classic Pete Dye-designed track, which was created in 1969 and revised in 2000, and has a history of producing great champions. Arnold Palmer, Hale Irwin, Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Greg Norman, Payne Stewart and Nick Price have all triumphed on this tricky, seaside track.

Despite its lack of yardage, the Links is a difficult assignment, with 49 bunkers and 12 water hazards. There are only three par-fives (the 502-yard second, the 540-yard fifth and the 588-yard 15th) and they are the easiest holes on the course.

The 332-yard par-four ninth is another pick-up hole, but players will only score well with straight hitting to tight targets and good scrambling around the smallest greens on the circuit.

Trees and strategically placed bunkers demand precision hitting and the 472-yard 18th is one of the toughest finishing holes in the business. The fourth and eighth holes are historically the most difficult of all.

Story of last year Wesley Bryan became the first South Carolina native to win the event, a final-round 67 enough to edge Luke Donald by a shot.

Weather forecast Sunny with light breezes for the first two days, before a windier weekend. Thunderstorm expected Sunday afternoon.

Type of player suited to challenge Straight hitting from the tee to thin fairways and then on to the tiny greens is essential for success at Harbour Town. It is a shotmaker's paradise – many of the best ball-strikers who have ever lived have held silverware aloft there.

Key attribute Accuracy


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A third-round 67 was a timely boost to confidence at Augusta last week
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