Viktor Hovland’s round of 7-under 64 at the rain-delayed RBC Heritage on Thursday handed him a first-round lead for the second week in a row, leaving Masters winner Jon Rahm eight strokes down and with a lot of work ahead of him to get back into contention following his major triumph.
Hovland recorded the best round of his career at Harbour Town, a narrow, tough Pete Dye course.
Brian Harman was a stroke behind the Norwegian. U.S. Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick, Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson, Justin Rose, Sungjae Im, Scott Stallings, and Joel Dahmen were among the 66 players.
Rahm, who had just received his first green jacket a few days before, ended at 1-over 72. He recognised his exhaustion from Augusta National, which was exacerbated by a roughly 90-minute rain delay. He never felt at ease on a course he had only competed on once before.
“I hate to make excuses, but a couple of the swings towards the end were due to my body being tired and surprised me,” Rahm said.
The RBC Heritage is the PGA Tour’s sixth designated tournament this year, with a larger prize – up to $20 million from $8 million a year ago – and several of the world’s best, like Rahm and Hovland, in the field when they may otherwise have taken a post-Masters rest.
Hovland, like Rahm, has only played here once before, in June 2020, when Harbour Town hosted the tour’s second tournament after its COVID-19 break. Despite his lack of experience, he birdied seven of his last fourteen holes. Hovland tied for eighth place after sharing the first-round lead at the Masters.
Hovland missed birdie putts within 15 feet on three of his first four holes, but he didn’t let that deter him.
“Rather than freaking out or questioning all of your reads, that’s not going to fix anything,” he added. “So I just kind of kept trusting in the process.”
Rahm was applauded heartily as he approached the first tee and was the subject of mobile cameras as he walked through Harbour Town. He swiftly demonstrated that he had not fully healed from the meat grinder of Augusta National.
On the par-5 second hole, his drive went well left, and he required two chips to preserve par. Rahm was gesticulating with his hands on the fifth hole, another par-5, when his putt didn’t go where he wanted it to. Rahm bogeyed the sixth, seventh, and eighth holes during the mid-round delay.
Fans in the grandstand applauded him beside No. 8, but after his tap-in for bogey, Rahm didn’t wait and went right to the ninth tee before playing partner Jordan Spieth putted out. The reigning champion, Jordan Spieth, shot 68.
Rahm birdied the 13th and 14th holes in a row. But things changed on No. 16 when his vehicle ended up in a thicket in a waste area. He took a penalty drop and bogeyed for the fourth time on the day.
“I’m hoping tonight is the day I start turning things around and feeling a little better,” Rahm remarked.
Harman is from nearby Savannah, Georgia, and has competed in this tournament for the last 12 years. He missed the cut at the Masters and then took the weekend off, not swinging a club until he arrived in Hilton Head.
“I killed a pig Friday night on my farm, and a turkey Saturday morning,” Harman said. “I didn’t hit any balls until I got here on Tuesday.”
His hands-off approach looked to work well, as he scored six birdies and no bogeys to equal his career low round at Harbour Town.
After a week of PGA Tour and LIV Golf players working together, it was time to return to different parts of the world. Dustin Johnson was the most visible member of the Saudi-funded tour that played Harbour Town on a regular basis. Johnson is from South Carolina and formerly had an endorsement agreement with RBC.