Expect chip-ins by the dozen at Harbour Town

April, 15, 2009

After a brilliant 2009 Masters, the PGA Tour makes a 100-mile drive from Augusta, Ga., to Pete Dye's Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, S.C. The host course for the Verizon Heritage is a 6,973-yard, par-71 public facility that averages more than 38,000 rounds a year -- quite a contrast from Augusta National, which has only about 300 members.

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Harbour Town is one of Dye's most famous courses, featuring a very tight design with exceptionally small greens; this puts a premium on accuracy, shot-making and scrambling rather than distance. This week the golf stats blog examines what skills are essential to victory in Hilton Head and details some of the standout records of the past winners here, including two-time defending champ Boo Weekley.

Week after week, the stats blog has been emphasizing GIR percentage as the key predictor of success on the PGA Tour. Because of the small greens this week, it's time to change that tune at Harbour Town.

For each of the past five years, Harbour Town has been in the top 10 of most difficult courses for hitting greens in regulation. The GIR average over this time is 55 percent, compared to the PGA Tour average of 64 percent. This gives Harbour Town an average rank of fifth most difficult in GIR out of roughly 50 courses over the past five years.

Because the field is hitting greens barely half the time, scrambling and timely putting take a slight precedence over ball striking at the Verizon Heritage. Here are some of the 2008 numbers from Harbour Town that help illustrate the small greens and reinforce the importance of scrambling.

Even when players had sand wedges in their hands at Harbour Town, they were hitting greens at a lower rate than the tour average from all distances (61.46 percent vs. 63.91 percent).

2008 courses with the lowest GIR % from 100 to 125 yards

Rank Course %
1 Harbour Town GL 61.46
2 TPC Four Seasons 63.04
3 TPC Sawgrass 65.94
4 TPC Southwind 68.22
5 Muirfield Village 68.43

Because of the small green size, players often narrowly miss these greens. In 2008, that led to some chips that were very close to the hole, and the most hole-outs on tour. Ball striking and accuracy are still important, as near-misses of the green can result in birdies and easy pars at Harbour Town.

2008 courses with the shortest scrambling average distance to the hole

Rank Course Average
1 The Classic Club 6' 9"
2 Magnolia GC 7' 0"
3 TPC Louisiana 7' 3"
4 Harbour Town GL 7' 4"
5 Bellerive CC 7' 8"

2008 courses with the most hole-outs

Rank Course No. of hole-outs
T-1 Harbour Town GL 83
T-1 Muirfield Village 83
3 TPC Deere Run 80
4 TPC Southwind 80
5 TPC Four Seasons 78

Combine these short scrambling opportunities with the most hole-outs, and it is not surprising that Harbour Town had the fewest putts per round of any course on tour in 2008.

In fact, the PGA Tour's 72-hole putting record was set here in 2005 by David Frost. Frost's 92 putts in 72 holes broke Kenny Knox's mark of 93, which was set at Harbour Town in 1989.

2008 courses with the lowest putts per round

Rank Course Average
1 Harbour Town GL 27.67
2 Monteux GC 28.06
3 Doral 28.25
4 Silver Rock 28.29
5 Riviera CC 28.5

The Fantasy Foursomes
Let's use the above analysis, along with past champions and the hot players on tour, to put together this week's picks.

• Jim Furyk's opening round at the Masters last week was nearly flawless. He shot a bogey-free 66 and hit 18 of 18 greens in regulation. Furyk ranks fifth on the PGA Tour in scrambling, getting up and down 67.88 percent of the time. His last five starts here are equally impressive: 4th, MC, 2nd, 2nd and 10th.

• Justin Leonard won here in 2002 and has been very solid in 2009 with three top-10s in nine events. Leonard ranks 15th in scrambling at 64.94 percent. He has back-to-back top-25 finishes at Harbour Town.

• Weekley will be looking for his third consecutive win at the Verizon Heritage this week. If he claims it, he'll be the first player other than Tiger Woods to win an event three times in a row since Tom Watson won the HP Byron Nelson Championship from 1978 through 1980.

Last year Weekley had a much easier time defending than he did winning the first time in 2007. In 2008, Weekley won by three shots over Anthony Kim and Aaron Baddeley. In 2007, Boo chipped in for par on the 71st and 72nd holes to hold off Ernie Els by a single shot. Boo hasn't done much lately. He missed his first cut of the year at the Masters and has not finished in the top 50 in his last five starts. Still, Boo is fun to root for, and he's got a great thing going at Harbour Town.

• This has been a good year for rookies. Through the first 16 events of the season, seven rookies are among the top 125 on the FedEx Cup points list and would qualify for the FedEx Cup. Jeff Klauk (No. 36 on the money list) leads the way, followed by Scott Piercy (No. 44) and Webb Simpson (No. 49). The others are James Nitties, Bill Lunde, Aron Price and David Mathis. Klauk is a solid pick this week, as he has made nine of 10 cuts, including three top-25 finishes. He is fourth on the PGA Tour in scrambling at 67.8 percent.

• Tim Clark didn't shake the Par 3 Contest curse last week after failing to win the Masters, and he still has yet to notch a victory on tour. That has got to change soon as Clark's game remains solid. The South African -- who finished just outside the top 10 last week at Augusta -- has six top-25 finishes in eight starts and ranks 14th on tour in scrambling at 65.03 percent. The confidence from beating Tiger in the WGC-Match Play should result in a banner year.

• Davis Love III is another strong option this week. He has won here five times and is the event's all-time money leader, with over $2.5 million in earnings. He will turn 45 this week. Another former champion to watch this week is Aaron Baddeley. He has followed up his 2006 victory here with two top-10s, including a runner-up last year. Baddeley is fourth on tour in putting average, at 1.716.

• Who currently leads the PGA in scrambling? If you guessed "C" player Matt Kuchar at 72.25 percent, you are correct. The former amateur sensation is quietly playing very well this year with six of seven made cuts, including four top-25 finishes.

• Arguably the most talented young "C" player is Augusta, Ga., native Charles Howell III. He has two top-20 finishes in three starts here and is playing solid golf this year, with four top-25s. He's also made the cut nine out 10 times in 2009.

The Starters: Jim Furyk, Boo Weekley, Tim Clark, Matt Kuchar

Next in Line: Justin Leonard, Jeff Klauk, Aaron Baddeley, Charles Howell III

Send comments, suggestions and corrections to Nathan.J.Easler@espn.com.





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