As the crow flies, it's only 114 miles from Augusta, Ga., to Hilton Head Island, S.C., but for those making the short trip to this week's RBC Heritage from the season's first major, it can be a cathartic experience. Left behind is the stress and the urgency of peaking for a historic occasion. What awaits along the banks of Calibogue Sound is an arguably more relaxing week of competition.
Similar to the stark dichotomy of golf courses that comprise the two-event swing through Hawaii in early January -- mountainous Kapalua and sea-level Waialae are just 80 miles apart -- Harbour Town Golf Links favors the small ball that's not as relevant at Augusta National.
Created by Pete Dye, who updated the track in 2011, Harbour Town stretches just 7,101 yards and boasts a litany of shot-makers as champions, including Graeme McDowell, who defends last year's playoff victory over Webb Simpson. The general understanding to succeed here is placement off the tee. Even lies in fairways could yield obstructed angles due to sharp turns and low-hanging tree limbs.
McDowell tied for fifth in fairways hit and finished T7 in greens in regulation last year. He also led the field in scrambling and ranked sixth in strokes gained-putting. It's this kind of precision attack that this week's winner will likely author.
At +1.038 strokes to par, Harbour Town was the third-hardest par 71 of nine played in non-majors last season. Its GIR percentage of 57.15 was lowest on TOUR, not shocking given that the putting surfaces average just 3,700 square feet. Still, the par-breakers split of 16.49 percent was an eight-year low.
A moderate threat of rain and possibly thunderstorms populates the forecast on Friday and Saturday, but the primary test pre-cut is expected to come in the form of sustained winds of at least 15 mph. Rising temperatures will find a ceiling in the mid-70s by the weekend when breezes should abate.