Harbour Town is one of the most strategic and fun-to-watch venues on tour, and it gets the full spotlight it deserves this week, as the PGA Tour rolls on in a post-quarantine world. Finally out of the shadow of Masters week, the RBC Heritage has a strong field and plenty of eyeballs on the action. Thursday was another strong day of live golf. Here are our takeaways from Day 1 in Hilton Head.
Harbour Town always produces a wacky leader board
During a normal year, the RBC Heritage would be played after the Masters. It’s always a laid back affair with a weak field that produces a short-hitting winner who keeps the ball in play. This year, with the need for the top players to get starts after a long layoff, the field is stacked, with all five of the top five players in the world on Hilton Head Island. DJ, Brooks, Rory, JT, Rahm and Hulk Bryson. The big boys are all here to spoil the fun at the quiet little shindig that is the RBC Heritage.
And yet, the top of the leader board features names like Ian Poulter and Mark Hubbard. Mark Hubbard! It’s only Thursday, but it’s further proof that at a place like Harbour Town, it really is anybody’s game. It doesn’t matter how long you are, you still have to be able to put yourself in the right position to attack the small greens at the tricky Pete Dye layout. It’s why Jim Furyk has done so well here (69 on Thursday). It’s why Boo Weekley is a two-time champ here. It’s why Matt Kuchar, Luke Donald and Brandt Snedeker own the place. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the top names are in the mix through 18 holes, but come Sunday afternoon there will be plenty of underdogs who average less than 300 off the tee gunning for the tartan jacket.
Imagine what these rounds are like for Jordan Spieth?
As always, my colleague Joel Beall summed up the one-man thrill ride that is Jordy nicely here. Thursday was more of the same from last week for the three-time major winner. After making a triple on the 12th hole (his third), Spieth was in dead last of the players on the course. Hours later, he was posting a five-under 66 that featured a back-nine 29. It’s just nonstop chaos with this dude right now, and his fans (and gambling backers) are living and dying with every shot. Just imagine how he feels? Like walking on the very edge of a cliff for five straight hours. Fun!
Brooks Koepka is very much back
No, he’s not leading and he didn’t go crazy low, but Koepka’s four-under 67 is *checks notes* his lowest round of the season. Wait, what?
Four-under 67s are always nice, but on Thursday at Harbour Town they’re hardly cause for a big celebration. But for Brooks, it was his round of the year. Yes, he’s only made seven starts, but it’s still encouraging since it came after quarantine, when he had plenty of time to get his knee back to (somewhat) full health. Koepka has stated that his knee may never be 100 percent again, but 91 days off had to have helped a little.
He was also back to being a quote machine. When asked his thoughts on players being mic’d up, Koepka said, “if the announcers would just shut up and listen, you could hear every word that we’re talking about.”
So good to have you all the way back, Brooksy.
This goes back to my first takeaway that anybody—young, old, skinny, large, short, long, etc.—can play and win at Harbour Town. Ernie Els, 50, got it to five under through 16 before making his lone bogey of the day at the par-3 17th. He finished with 67, while 62-year-old Bernhard Langer posted a two-under 69 despite going out in 38. Vijay Singh, who turned 57 in February, got it to three under early before finishing with a one-under 70. Unfortunately, Davis Love III didn’t join in on the old-head-under-par party, shooting a one-over 72.
Patrick Reed’s short game is out of control
You may be asking yourself, “why is he writing about a dude who barely shot one under and is tied for 58th?” To that I’d say: 1. I have a wager on Reed this week (bad reason); 2. Reed was on PGA Tour Live featured groups this morning, so he was one of six players fans could watch (good reason); 3. How he shot one under was one of the more remarkable things I’ve ever seen (great reason).
I’m not breaking news in saying that there may not be a player with better hands on tour than Reed (OK, maybe Phil Mickelson). On Thursday, Reed was absolutely abhorrent off the tee, something I was afraid of when I decided to bet on him on Wednesday. His approach game was even worse, and on numerous occasions I was expecting him to walk off with doubles, maybe even triples. But he made just one double, and it came on a hole he hit it out of bounds, AND he almost holed out the bunker shot for bogey. He almost holed out about five bunker shots on Thursday. He gained 2.742 strokes on the greens, good enough for first in the field. It was just a ridiculous scrambling performance that was worthy of a shoutout, with or without money on him (but more the former).