HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Matt Fitzpatrick prides himself on clean scorecards.
So, after playing his first 16 holes Saturday at the RBC Heritage in bogey-free 8 under, Fitzpatrick was thrilled with his scrambling ability at Harbour Town’s par-3 17th hole. The Englishman missed the green right, not only short-siding himself to the front hole location but also leaving a bunker in between he the little green he had to work with.
“It was just dead there,” Fitzpatrick said. “There was no shot.”
Only there was.
Fitzpatrick aimed well left of the flag, so far left that his chip positioned him off the green and 24 feet away. From the fairway cut, Fitzpatrick then rolled in the par saver. A par at the last gave him an 8-under 63 and moved him to the top of the leaderboard at 14 under.
“I think this is a golf course that’s shown that there are low scores around here this week,” said Fitzpatrick, who also holed out for eagle from 150 yards out of a waste bunker at the par-4 third hole, “and to do that for myself is a big positive.”
While the Masters hangover has been real for some this week at Harbour Town, Fitzpatrick has a little extra motivation. He used to vacation in Hilton Head Island as a kid, and he used a lighthouse headcover from the pro shop for his first couple years out on the PGA Tour; he now only pulls it out for the Heritage.
But his connection with the course has not yielded great results. Sure, Fitzpatrick owns a T-4 here in 2021, but besides that he’s missed three cuts in seven other starts with a best finish of T-14 (twice).
“Aside from Augusta [National], it’s my favorite golf course,” Fitzpatrick said of the Pete Dye design. “It really is. I love coming here to play it. I’ve not had the best results around here. I’ve had a couple good runs and a couple poor ones, but I really enjoy the design, enjoy the test, and I think it’s a great golf course.”
Perhaps Fitzpatrick’s affection for Harbour Town will finally produce a tartan jacket.
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Jimmy Walker was feeling like his old self after his second straight 6-under 65 on Friday — and so was Masters champion Jon Rahm halfway through the RBC Heritage.
Walker had his third straight round in the 60s overall to post a two-day total of 12-under 130 at Harbour Town, three shots better than Scottie Scheffler, Justin Rose and Xander Schauffele.
Rahm, who won at Augusta National last week — his second career major championship and his fourth PGA TOUR win this season — recovered from his opening 1-over 72 on Thursday with a 64 to move to 6-under. He’s still got work ahead, although another victory seems much more doable for the world No. 1 than it did after the opening round.
Walker will try to maintain his strong play, something he’s struggled with since stepping away from the game amid a lengthy battle with Lyme disease.
“I haven’t put two really good rounds together back-to-back out here,” said Walker, who has missed eight cuts in his past 12 events.
He’ll need to do it against a major-quality field with seven of the world’s top 10 players competing for their share of a $20 million purse at the TOUR’s sixth designated event of the season.
Scheffler, No. 2 in the world, shot 65, Schauffele 66 and Rose 67 to reach 9-under. The trio all reached milestones in this event with Rose making his 400th TOUR start, Schauffele his 150th and Scheffler his 100th.
Patrick Cantlay, who lost in a playoff to Jordan Spieth a year ago at Harbour Town, was in a group of four another shot back. Cantlay’s round of 65 included a hole-in-one (his third career ace on tour) on the par-3 seventh.
Also at 8-under were Tommy Fleetwood (65), Mark Hubbard (66), first-round leader Aaron Rai (71) and Viktor Hovland (70).
Spieth (67) and Matt Kuchar (67), the 2014 champion, were part of a group of eight at 7-under.
Walker has won six times on TOUR, the last in 2016 at the PGA Championship, his only major championship and the culmination of a rise to become one of the top Americans in golf. In the fall of that year, he went on a hunting trip in south Texas and fell ill afterward. He was diagnosed with Lyme disease the following spring and battled its effects for years. When he stepped away from the TOUR last year, he wasn’t sure he would ever return.
But with Walker in the top 50 all-time money winners, that gave him a one-time exemption to play on TOUR this year.
Walker wasn’t sure it was the right move, but supported by his family, he decided to come back. His return hasn’t been easy, but so far, it’s been a different story at Hilton Head.
Never the straightest driver, Walker has so far kept his ball in play at tight, tree-lined Harbour Town and made enough putts to move in front.
That was the case Friday as he made seven birdies, none from shorter than 7 feet. His most unlikely one came at the par-3 14th when he holed a putt of roughly 50 feet from off the green.
Walker hopes he can call on what’s worked so far on the weekend. The most difficult part, he said, is the inconsistency of how he feels.
“Since getting sick, mentally and physically feel different nearly every day, and that’s been the hardest part,” he said. “The things that work on one day, I can’t feel it the next day.”
Still, Walker’s never backed off when in the hunt and is ready to give it a go against a big-time field.
“I’ve never felt like I’ve ever been afraid to go win a golf tournament,” he said.
And neither has Rahm, who despite his Masters fatigue honored the commitment he and other top players made to play in the TOUR’s new designated events. He has a chance to collect this tournament’s plaid jacket to go along with his new green one.
Rahm put together a bogey-free round with seven birdies, flashing his best-in-the-world form early. He started on the back nine and had four straight birdies starting on the 11th hole. He rolled in a 33-footer on the par-3 14th.
There’s still work ahead to chase down Walker, but Rahm believes he can be a factor at the end.
“Today overall felt pretty good,” Rahm said. “I felt like my body was moving properly. Still not as good as I would like to be, but really, really good. So, hopefully, it can keep getting a little bit better.”
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – On a day when he was part of something you rarely see on the PGA TOUR – not one, but two elite players laying up into water – Viktor Hovland shifted gears seamlessly and produced scoring brilliance.
“That was really good,” a smiling Hovland said after his bogey-free, 7-under 64 led the morning wave Thursday at the RBC Heritage.
Of the fact that both he and playing competitor Justin Thomas laid up into the water at the par-5 15th: “That was really bad,” Hovland said sheepishly.
The good and bad were early – the ugly came at 2:52 p.m. when play was halted because of thunderstorms; it resumed at 4:15 p.m. – but given that there was so much more of the former we’ll start there.
Hovland’s ball-striking was impeccable. Not just because he hit nine of 14 fairways or 14 of 18 greens, but because he was at his best with the driver on fairways that don’t give you a lot of room.
“It’s pretty narrow,” he said, “so I can kind of hit that drive where I tee down, grip it down (the shaft) a little bit, and just hit like a low bullet. It’s hard for me to hit a disastrous shot with that shot.”
Examples were plentiful, the most gratifying of which were his tee shots on the final two holes of his brilliant round.
At the par-4 eighth, a tight dogleg left of 473 yards, Hovland was perfectly situated at the corner with a 292-yard drive. He hit his approach to 6 feet.
At the ninth, Harbour Town’s bowling-alley-tight par 4 of 328 yards, he hit that choked-down driver about 300 yards, then flipped a wedge to 5 feet.
The birdie-birdie finish gave him the morning’s best round, a 7-under 64, and Hovland spoke of how he hopes this week plays out better than the Masters, when he shared the first-round lead (65) but couldn’t sustain it.
“I didn’t putt it as good the last three rounds last week as I did in the first round,” said Hovland, who gave himself low marks for short-siding himself too much at Augusta. “This week, I’m just trying to play a bit more, not conservatively, but making sure that I hit more greens.”
Mission accomplished, because he hit 14 of them and converted half of those opportunities with deft birdie rolls to start stylishly at his second appearance in this tournament.
That such a splendid round shared the stage with the head-turning hiccups at Harbour Town’s 15th hole was quite inexplicable. Even Thomas rolled his eyes when asked about the two layup shots in the water at that corkscrew of a double-dogleg.
“Funky is not the right word for that hole,” said Thomas, though the 585-yarder is rather beguiling. It doglegs left, but you know there’s room right, so often times you cautiously play to that side.
Thomas drove it errantly right and was hitting off the sandy pine straw and made a mental error. “There was a lot of room right (of water that runs down the left side of the fairway and up to the green),” he said. “I just didn’t trust how much room was on the right.”
Trying to hit a mid-iron toward the water and carve it right, he wound up in the water. Shortly thereafter, Hovland was in the right fairway and had 275 to the flagstick but was playing it wisely, just trying to hit something up the fairway right of the water. Sound thinking; poor execution.
“I guess I maybe hit too much club,” said Hovland, who used 6-iron and figures he should have gone with 7-iron. “I just picked the wrong shot where I wanted to start it left and cut it off the water. Just a dead pull in the water. I should have just aimed right instead of trying to cut it off the water.”
He was only 1-under five holes into his first round and now he’d laid up in the water. But instead of letting the round fall apart, Hovland hit his fourth shot from 120 yards to 15 feet and made the par putt.
Call it a momentum-builder because Hovland birdied each of the next two holes, then shot 32 on the front nine to seize the clubhouse lead. Pretty stellar stuff from the world’s ninth-ranked player, who is among the 17 of the top 20 in the world in the field for this Designated event.
It was such a superb round, Hovland was asked if the mishaps at the 15th occurred because Harbour Town forces you to hit sliding and slicing shots.
He smiled, then laughed. “Those shots would have been pretty bad everywhere else,” he said.
On this day, he led the field in honesty, too.