RBC Heritage First Round Leader Picks, Bets & More (2024)

We need a “get right game” with a first-round leader play after another rough outing at Augusta. I blame myself and Ben Rasa — the latter filling my head with dreams of a pot of gold at the end of a Tony Finau rainbow. The good news is we aren’t wasting our money on Finau doing anything this week at Harbour Town, as the RBC Heritage provides fantastic value if you know the course. That in itself doesn’t require a hole-by-hole breakdown, rather the demands of this beautiful course at Hilton Head, S.C. Finding a fit for this course is the same for a first-round leader to overall winner.

Tee times are always of note and are no different this week. Identifying course fits that have an earlier tee — especially with weather not a concern — is a great place to start. The course fit should best be defined with strong iron play, scrambling around the green and gaining strokes on approach shots. Distance and even putting are secondary, as we’ve seen anti-bombers and some older guys on tour win this thing.

There’s still — for now — a field led by Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy. It’s an elevated event requiring a qualifier to take a shot at this increased purse money. Don’t treat this as any letdown from the Masters, even with a heavy favorite like Scheffler lurking after a day or two. Some of the bigger names — McIlroy, Ludvig Aberg and Matt Fitzpatrick –are teeing off at the end of the day, so we are focusing on good fits in earlier slots.

Just a reminder, bombing the ball off the tee isn’t going to help anyone win, or lead after the first day. We’ve seen courses that put heavy emphasis on power and distance, but that won’t translate at the RBC — it never does. Make shots and knock down some putts, the rest will come.

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RBC Heritage First Round Leader Picks

The Keys To The Kingdom

Harbour Town offers very little surprises as a difficult course to navigate. That’s the operative word here, as many golfers will fail to correctly navigate holes, forcing bad second shots. The most important thing anyone can do at the RBC Heritage is gain strokes on the approach. It’s the holy grail of success here, especially with any first-round leader play. Again, the course won’t change much outside of pin positioning, which can be mitigated by strong approach shots.

Speaking of “navigate,” expect to see water on most of the holes, which limits overall pounding of the golf ball. We’ve seen a significant drop in driving distance at Hilton Head versus the tour average. That comes from setting up second shots more than gripping and ripping. The fairways are tight and tree-lined with bunkers riddled throughout. The emphasis is on accuracy more than anything — be it off the tee or from 100 yards. This is a shorter course overall, but what it lacks in distance it makes up with strategy.

Identifying a golfer who is elite with iron play and can scramble to save par — especially on these longer par 3’s — will be key in winning any first-round leader bet. Mid-iron play will separate the good from the great and put even more weight on gaining strokes with approach shots. We’ve seen the greens go from Bermuda to poa with COVID, so it will be interesting to see how players approach the greens this year.

RBC Heritage First-Round Leader Picks

RBC Heritage First Round Leader Picks: Russell Henley (+3500 at FanDuel)

So about that whole “course fit” approach, we found the perfect middle for any first-round leader Venn diagram. Russell Henley is precision defined off the tee and strikes mid-irons as well as anyone in this field — outside of Collin Morikawa. There’s some strong course history mixed in with some stinkers, but riding a couple of recent trends from Henley shows the value this week. He’s played Harbour Town ten times and missed five cuts, finished top 20 three times, and added a 23rd and a 26th. When he makes the cut, Henley is live — he just needs to make the cut.

The one year that stands out is 2021, with a ninth-place finish — his best since his 2013 debut. Henley gained strokes everywhere except the green, showing he can still lose 0.6 strokes putting and be in contention. Not many courses afford that chance as other areas of importance take over — like driving distance, for example. Here at Harbour Town, Henley can dominate with approach shots and still get ahead of the pack. We anticipate that happening on Thursday, especially with an earlier look at the course.

Henley gained over 2 strokes on the approach in 21 and has been dialed in with recent outings. With a 10 a.m. ET tee time and a dynamic fit for this course, Henley is good value at 35-1 as a first-round leader play.

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RBC Heritage First Round Leader Picks: Austin Eckroat (+8000 at BetMGM)

We are staying the course by targeting golfers who are dominating strokes gained on approach. Austin Eckroat is a longshot this week despite having some strong fits to Harbour Town, especially to the field. Last week at Augusta was the first time he’s lost strokes on the approach since the Waste Management, adding a win over that stretch in Florida at the Cognizant. Eckroat is one of the top 10 players in this field at gaining strokes on approach shots, a must-have for anyone leading after one round.

Approach shots aren’t uniform and can come in the range of 125 to 200 yards out, another category where Eckroat finds himself as one of the top golfers in the field. He’s dialed in with mid-iron play from that range of yardage more so than most players this week. Approach shots also come from laying up off the tee, forcing a different approach than most courses. Simply having success clubbing down to adjust to shorter distance can be a difference maker. Once again, we find Eckroat as one of the better golfers on shorter courses.

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