South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini shot a 7-under par 64 on Thursday to build a two-shot lead after the first round of the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, S.C.
Sabbatini, 42, shot a bogey-free round at Harbour Town Golf Links that included seven birdies as he seeks his first PGA Tour victory in seven years.
“I think any time you can go bogey-free on this golf course, you’ve accomplished something,” Sabbatini told the Golf Channel. “The golf course is in absolutely excellent condition. So the scores are out there.”
Sabbatini shot his lowest round at the event despite not knowing as late as Thursday morning if he would be able to play after tweaking his back in practice while testing out a different posture at address.
“It’s called getting old and stupid,” he said. “Just tweaked my back and I’m not young anymore, so it took a lot longer to get over than I’d be accustomed to. This morning I still wasn’t 100 percent certain that I’d go out and play, but we got here, got a good stretch in, and felt good enough.”
Matt Kuchar is among a group of four players tied for second place at 5-under that also includes Chesson Hadley, Billy Horschel and John Huh.
“This is a course I so enjoy playing,” said Kuchar, the 2014 champion who has made the cut 13 consecutive times at the event. “To start out with a 5-under par round, I’m very pleased.”
Hadley carded six birdies during his opening round.
“Certainly very pleased with it,” said Hadley, who is back on the PGA Tour after playing on the Web.com Tour in 2017. “Had the putter going today, made some nice putts. I hit the ball pretty well, I definitely got some good breaks. Very pleased with the round, six birdies around here is pretty good.
“It’s come a long way. Any time you lose your job — I fired myself in a sense — it’s never fun, and maybe it is a little embarrassing for sure. I’m very proud of myself for getting back here. It’s amazing what a difference 12 months makes.”
Patrick Cantlay, Harris English, Sweden’s Jonas Blixt and Scotland’s Martin Laird are another shot off the pace.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, a South Carolina native and the only top-10 player in the field this week, shot a 2-under 69. He teed off on the back nine and put together an uneven round that included six birdies and four bogies. Three of the bogies came during the final five holes of his round.
“It was alright, I’m pretty pleased with it,” said Johnson, an RBC “ambassador” who said he plans to play in the event the next few years. “It’s always great to come back and play where I grew up. I’ve got a lot of family and friends to come out and support me.”
Johnson sits in a tie for 20th along with defending champion Wesley Bryan and England’s Ian Poulter, who had four birdies against two bogies as he plays in the United States for the fourth consecutive week.
“Pretty good,” Poulter said when asked to assess his round, admitting he is a “little tired” after traveling home for a day between winning his first stroke-play event on the PGA Tour 11 days ago and then heading to the Masters. “I didn’t really have much rest between Augusta and coming here. So I didn’t actually play any golf at all. I withdrew from the pro-am this Wednesday, so today was my first look at the course. I’ve got some time off next week.”
England’s Luke Donald, who has finished second in the event five times but has yet to win in Hilton Head, struggled to a 5-over 76 and is in a tie for 118th. That’s one shot behind countryman Paul Casey, the 13th-ranked player in the world who shot a 65 during the final round of the Masters. Casey was 9-under through 16 holes on Sunday before bogeying his final two holes at August National, and now has eight bogies over his past 20 holes.
–Derek Harper, Field Level Media