If the normally solid strategy of backing ‘horses for courses’ failed spectacularly at Augusta, there is an ideal opportunity to immediately make amends. For as decades of form proves, there are very few golf courses on the PGA Tour that are quite as distinctive as Harbour Town Golf Links.
The clue is in the title; besides Pebble Beach, this is the only time outside the Open that US players get to play links golf. Of course even though its by the sea, this isn’t St Andrews or a classic Scottish layout, but the same skills criteria applies; success here is dependant on hitting high quality approach shots through the wind. Tee to green accuracy is particularly important here, because the greens are very small compared to the norm.
Predictably on such a track, several of the same names have popped up repeatedly on leaderboards over the years. DAVIS LOVE won the event five times, Stewart Cink and Boo Weekley twice each. Ernie Els has rarely been out of the frame here, and there are others who I’ll mention shortly.
Besides closely studying form, the other key discipline here is to assess last week’s events. Augusta is a completely different sort of test to Harbour Town; the greens here are much slower, the fairways tighter, the course much shorter. Perhaps also due to the inevitable ‘comedown effect’ after a Major, players who were in contention at Augusta have a terrible record in this event.
Its for this last reason that I’ve reluctantly overlooked the claims of one of those course specialists, Jim Furyk, who starts as favourite. The last six years have seen Furyk finish second twice, in addition to 4th, 10th and 15th, so there’s absolutely no argument with his chance. However, his best efforts here have come after finishing down the Masters field, and having been in contention for all four days at Augusta, there may be a negative after-effect.