The ghosts of Harbour Town have haunted Ian Poulter for nearly a decade. Could 2020 be the fateful year these demons are exorcised for good? The 44-year-old Englishman conjured an opening 7-under 64 to grab a share of the 18-hole lead at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing.
In a tournament with what may be the greatest lineup in its history, several low-profile names have asserted their presence. Denver’s Mark Hubbard matched Poulter’s 64 on the strength of a second-hole eagle. And along with former major champion Webb Simpson, six other underdogs started blazing hot, finishing one stroke off the pace.
Poulter, a longtime veteran of Harbour Town, got to his 7-under total the hard way with birdies on 17 and 18, a pair of finishing holes that rarely pull any punches. He drained a difficult 31-footer on the penultimate green before sticking a 5-iron four feet from the cup on the 18th, bringing some huge momentum into Friday’s second round.
“Any time you shoot 7 under par around this golf course it’s obviously a pretty solid day,” Poulter said. “I felt like I didn’t hit it that well off the tee today. My iron play was pretty solid, I holed out really well from kinda within seven feet, and good to obviously finish with two birdies on the last two holes.”
Hubbard, sitting at 36th in the FedEx Cup standings, surged to the top of the leaderboard with a 3-under stretch on holes 1 and 2, including an eagle on the second, taking advantage of the easiest hole on the course. He credited his putting for the wildly successful opening-round performance. A 20-foot par save on the 17th ended up being an important catalyst as he turned to the front nine, where the short game got even better and catapulted Hubbard to a tie for the lead.
“I made a lot of par putts early on that got me some momentum, and from there — you know, with that momentum, I started hitting a lot more iron shots close,” Hubbard said. “So once I had it rolling, it kind of went from there.”
And then there are the giants just waiting and hoping to devour their prey as the weekdays pour into the weekend.
This year, it could be Jordan Spieth, who can heat up with a drop of a hat. His tournament opened with a disaster at the 12th when Spieth clipped his tee shot off a tree and landed out of bounds, leading to a triple bogey. But after a far from ideal back nine, the three-time major champion rolled off a sizzling 29 on the front half, including a run of six consecutive birdies. We’ve seen it so many times before in his outstanding career. When Spieth gets hot, he performs up to a level that is rarely seen in professional golf. Suddenly, after a real early scare, he sits just two back at 5 under par.
“I’ve been making a lot of putts,” Spieth said. “I’ve been making a lot of birdies in my rounds, and I knew that, if I could try, my goal was to get four more. I said, all right, that’s over. Let’s get four today and shoot under par for the day, and that’s the new goal. I ended up getting a few more than that.”
A cloudy early morning turned into a beautiful afternoon and brought some stellar scores to the clubhouse. Fifteen players put up scores of 5-under 66 or better, including seven just one back of the duo at the top.
With another near-flawless early summer day on the horizon, expect the birdies to keep rolling in and the competition to keep heating up – just like the temperature – as we approach a fantastic weekend of golf at Harbour Town.
Story by Wes Kerr