10 who can win: Taking a shot in the dark at picking a champ

mmccombs@islandpacket.comApril 11, 2012 

When I started to write a 10 Who Can Win column for this year's RBC Heritage, I admit, I was at a little bit of a loss as to how I wanted to go about it.

Aside from one round in 1998, this is my first Heritage. Along with the Royal Bank of Canada, I'm jumping in with both feet this year.

So I peeked at a couple of these type columns from years gone by written by those who preceeded me.

One thing most had in common?

They acknowledged that it's borderline insane to try and pick the winner of a professional golf tournament.

So why try?

I mean besides the obvious need to fill this space in the section.

Because people like knowing who the favorites are. The public usually wants to know what to expect. Fans want to know who should win. And then they are typically pretty split between rooting for one of them and rooting for the underdogs.

If one of the guys listed at the end of this column wears the plaid (like Brandt Snedeker last year), I'll gain a little bit of credibility.

If someone from outside this list wins on Sunday, we can all revel in the stories about the surprise winner who came from nowhere to win at Harbour Town.

Knowing no better way to go about it, the first thing I did was to make a list of former champions who are in the field this week. My logic is if they've won it before, they can do it again.

Then I added a few more golfers who have played well here before but come up short.

And finally, I took a look at the FedEx Cup standings for this season and added a few more golfers who are playing well.

I ended up with a list about twice as long as I needed it to be, so then I turned to that age-old prognostication tool -- my gut. I went on feel as I whittled the favorites down to an elite 10.

So, with no more delay, here are my 10 who can win:

RICKY BARNES

Heritage scoring average: 68.63 (8 rounds)

Best finish: T-4th, 2011

2011 finish: T-4th

Why Tartan suits him: Barnes's Harbour Town debut in 2010 was good for a fifth place finsh at 9 under. He bettered that by a stroke and a place in the standings in 2011. In his two years at the Heritage, Barnes has the lowest scoring average in tournament history. He also has no wins. It's almost impossible for both to continue. So for now, I'm betting on the latter.

STEWART CINK

Heritage scoring average: 69.96 (46 rounds)

Best finish: Won (2000, 2004)

2011 finish: T-30th

Why Tartan suits him: He's played the Heritage for 11 straight years, missing the cut just once and winning twice with three other top-10 finishes. He's obviously got this place down. He's the closest thing to Davis Love III in the field, aside from Love himself, of course.

LUKE DONALD

Heritage scoring average: 70.00 (20 rounds)

Best finish: 2nd, 2009, 2011

2011 finish: 2nd

Why Tartan suits him: He shares the mark for most consecutive rounds under par at Harbour Town with 11, and that streak is still active. The world's top-ranked player has finished second, third and second here the past three years. It would seem as though a win here is inevitable.

ERNIE ELS

Heritage scoring average: 69.98 (44 rounds)

Best finish: 2nd, 2007

2011 finish: Cut

Why Tartan suits him: His seven top-10 finishes at Harbour Town are tied for fifth best. Despite missing the cut last year, he's made 10 of 12 here and has three times finished in the top three. He'll have some extra rest this year after missing his first Masters in 18 years.

JIM FURYK

Heritage scoring average: 69.93 (46 rounds)

Best finish: Won, 2010

2011 finish: T-21st

Why Tartan suits him: Furyk has twice shot all four rounds of the tournament in the 60s (2008, 2010). In the nine times he's played the tournament since 2002, he's finished inside the top 21 seven times with four top-5 finishes, missing the cut twice. Like Luke Donald, there was a time when it seemed as though it was just a matter of time before he won here.

BILL HAAS

Heritage scoring average: 71.65 (20 rounds)

Best finish: T-27th, 2006

2011 finish: T-30th

Why Tartan suits him: He's never cracked the top 25 since first playing Harbour Town in 2005, missing the cut in three of his six trips to Sea Pines. Why's he on my list? Haas has taken his play to another level since last year's tie for 30th at Harbour Town. He has six top 10s and two wins, including the Tour Championship. He won the FedEx Cup and has made nine cuts in nine tournaments this year.

TOMMY GAINEY

Heritage scoring average: 70.4 (10 rounds)

Best finish: 3rd, 2011

2011 finish: 3rd

Why Tartan suits him: Finished third in his third try at Harbour Town, just a shot behind behind Brandt Snedeker and Donald, who went to a playoff.

BRANDT SNEDEKER

Heritage scoring average: 70.95 (20 rounds)

Best finish: Won, 2011

2011 finish: Won

Why Tartan suits him: He won last year, after missing the cut the previous two years, by shooting a final-round 64 and forcing a playoff with Luke Donald. He's healthy and he loves Harbour Town. And he knows he can win here, which is half the battle. Factor in that he's playing well (10th in FedEx standings, a win, 8 for 8 in cuts made in 2012) and a repeat isn't out of the question.

BOO WEEKLEY

Heritage scoring average: 68.85 (20 rounds)

Best finish: Won (2007, 2008)

2011 finish: T-46th

Why Tartan suits him: After winning in his first two tries at Harour Town, he turned in a tie for 13th and a tie for 12th before slipping into a tie for 46th last year. But his scoring average of 68.85 through his first 20 rounds is the third best in Heritage history.

MARK WILSON

Heritage scoring average: 71.28

Best finish: T-21, 2011

Why Tartan suits him: He's the second among all the players in the field in the Fed Ex Cup standings. His scoring average at Harbour Town is over par, however, he has carded rounds in the 60s in each of his past four Heritage appearances. That includes an opening-round 66 last year, when he posted his career tournament-best 21st-place finish. He won the Humana Challenge in January and was third in the WGC Match Play in late February. He's slumped since, but his accuracy off the tee could put him in the Heritage mix.

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