Hilton Head always seemed the perfect wind down event after the full-on intensity of The Masters.
The change in the calendar has changed all that but we have probably the next best candidate, Sea Island.
Sea Island Resort is around a 3hr 45min drive from Augusta National, so only about an hour further than Hilton Head.
As usual, most of the big names have decided that the best way to relax is to have the week off but there are plenty of Augusta contenders staying out on the road.
They include joint runner-up Sungjae Im and Webb Simpson – the 10/1 market leader here – who took tied 10th at The Masters.
The standard practice at Hilton Head was to look at those who didn’t feature near the front of the leaderboard and history backs that up as a good policy.
So I’m going to go with a player who finished down in tied 51st at Augusta National, Zach Johnson.
Although he proved otherwise when winning the Green Jacket in 2007, the course is too long for him really so I’m not fussed about his final finishing position.
Instead, I’ll rewind a little bit further to the tied eighth he somehow managed at the US Open and the T23 (Sanderson Farms) and T19 (Shriners) he managed after that.
Johnson’s iron game was on point in those latter two events as he ranked 1st and 2nd respectively in Greens In Regulation. And I’m hoping it will be just as sharp here.
It’s well known that he has strong connections with the tournament. Sea Island is his home, RSM are his sponsors and he’s played a big role during the event’s history.
Maybe he tried too hard in some of the previous editions when missing four cuts, including three-in-a-row from 2014 to 2016. But he was T12 on debut, T16 in 2013 and has added a pair of top eights in two of the last three years (2017 and 2018). He shot a 64 in both.
“It’s home, you know,” he said a couple of years ago. “Anytime you can go work a little bit and then head back and, you know, obviously have a six-course meal waiting for you at home, sleep in your own bed, it’s pretty amazing. I love everything about this tournament.”
Also T7 at the Wyndham Championship in August, Johnson will surely have taken note that some of his peers have shown that winning in your 40s is still very much a thing. As is making the top 30 at Augusta aged 63. Nice one Bernhard Langer.
So after watching 47-year-old Stewart Cink (Safeway Open), 40-year-old Sergio Garcia (Sanderson Farms) and 48-year-old Brian Gay (Bermuda Championship) triumph on the PGA Tour in the last couple of months, let’s hope 44-year-old Johnson can follow suit.
As with that trio, put them on the right course and they can still do great things. This is such a venue for Zachary Harris as he seeks to add to Dustin’s win and make it a memorable fortnight for golfers named Johnson.
This seems to be one of those weeks where no end of players make the longlist.
One way to whittle them down is to go for the players you’ve been following for a while in the hope that they’re due a win soon.
In my case, such a player is Denny McCarthy.
I’ve backed him outright in the following:
Houston Open at 60/1
Bermuda Championship at 28/1
Sanderson Farms Championship at 66/1
He had to settle for T38 at the Houston Open but a top four in the Bermuda produced a full each-way return and he also did us a favour with T6 at the Sanderson Farms.
In other words, I feel fairly justified in following him off a cliff!
The Florida man has certainly started to warm to his task in this event too. He missed the cut on debut but shot a closing 65 in 2018 before firing 69-62-68-67 to take tied eighth last year.
One of the best putters around, it’s another event he will have bookmarked as he goes in search of that first win.
And history shows that it’s been a good one for those trying to shed their maiden tag.
Six of the 10 winners of this event hadn’t won before so, as a McCarthy fan, that has to bode well.
As at the Sanderson Farms, he’s 66/1 and that’s definitely worth a play.
I’ll quickly spin through some of the names who came close to selection.
Near the front end of the market, Russell Henley, Harris English and Shane Lowry.
At 33/1 to 45/1, Joaquin Niemann, Sebastian Munoz, Kevin Kisner and Brian Harman.
And at 50s and above, Doc Redman, C.T. Pan, Mackenzie Hughes, Brendon Todd, J.T. Poston, Lee Westwood and Russell Knox.
But you can’t back them all as a wise man called Steve Rawlings once said, so my final pick is Ian Poulter.
The Englishman is clearly a good player by the coast having finished second and third in Open Championships.
He’s also shown he can follow up putting full effort into The Masters with a strong performance the week after. Check his Hilton Head results and you’ll find 10 cuts out of 10 and top 15s in each of the last four years.
That course suits him and this one should too. We don’t have much evidence as he’s only played it once, in 2016. However, T36 was a decent opening knock and he started with a pair of 67s.
The other slightly hidden factor is Poulter’s ridiculously good record at this time of year.
He has four European Tour wins to his name in November along with two more that ended right at the end of October. Another November win can be added when noting his Dunlop Phoenix victory in Japan.
Poulter’s recent play suggests he could continue that record. In his last four starts he’s posted sixth at the Scottish Open, fifth at Wentworth (where he’s often struggled), 12th in an elite field at the CJ Cup and a top 25 at The Masters.
He’s driving it straight and putting well and that combination will definitely work well here.
Try another Poulter November win at 55/1.