On a Friday afternoon clouded by a positive COVID-19 test, then interrupted by thunderstorms, Webb Simpson surged to the top of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing leaderboard with his second straight round of 6-under 65.
Simpson sits at 12 under par and leads Bryson DeChambeau and Corey Conners by one shot, while Ryan Palmer and Matthew Fitzpatrick are two back. Fitzpatrick was one of about 30 golfers still when play was halted at 5:42 p.m. due to lightning in the area before resuming two hours later.
It was a red-hot putter that carried Simpson to the top of the leaderboard, as he sank a career-best 186 feet, 7 inches of putts — a remarkable feat considering Harbour Town’s small greens — including eight from 10 feet or longer and three bombs from 20+.
“(My confidence) was definitely growing as the round went on,” Simpson said. “The small change I made yesterday felt great, and we were reading them well today.”
Playing the same group with Simpson, DeChambeau was just as hot. Despite a nagging concern with his putting stroke, the bulkier version of DeChambeau that emerged from quarantine scalded the front nine at Harbour Town for six birdies to close out a 7-under 64.
“It’s fun. We’re always feeding off each other,” DeChambeau said of playing with Simpson. “It’s fun playing with them. They’re great spirits all the time. Helps keep me in good spirits, and it’s one of those things that it’s never a bad thing to play with Webb. He’s a really good dude.”
Simpson is no stranger to success at Harbour Town. He’s made the cut here in 10 straight starts (he missed the event in 2014) and hasn’t failed to make it to the weekend since his Heritage debut in 2009, but his appreciation for Pete Dye’s masterpiece goes back even farther.
“I remember playing in the Junior Heritage tournament here,” Simpson recalls. “I just love coming here. I feel like the golf course hasn’t changed a whole lot. … I love that it’s kind of stood the test of time.”
While Harbour Town clearly suits Simpson’s game — he has two top-fives and six top-20s in 11 starts here — it doesn’t seem to be as good a fit for DeChambeau, at least not the bulked-up version.
DeChambeau spent the past several months focused on gaining mass and strength in an effort to create more distance off the tee, but that isn’t of much use at Harbour Town, where the narrow, tree-lined fairways have forced DeChambeau to keep “The Kraken” (his driver) in the bag.
Nonetheless, he has run hot and cold at Harbour Town, twice finishing in the top five and twice missing the cut, and he appears headed for another toasty finish. With the added power allowing him to hit shorter irons into greens, if DeChambeau can solve his pesky putting problem, he has a good shot at getting fitted for a tartan jacket — one that wouldn’t have fit him a few months ago.
“I’m still able to control the ball up to the same potential that I was before break, before last year, and everything,” DeChambeau said. “So for me, I’m extremely excited to showcase what I’m able to do this week with this added length because now, for example, on 17, I hit 9 iron and 8 iron into that green, whereas before I was at 7 iron and 6 iron last year and the year before. So it’s just a complete quantum shift for me that just allows me to go at things that I usually am not able to go at.”
The big names at the top of the leaderboard overshadowed Conners, who quietly carded bogey-free eight-under 63. Conners had missed the cut in all three previous starts at Harbour Town, and now he’s a shot off the lead going into the weekend.
The results on the course felt secondary, though, after Nick Watney withdrew from the tournament before the second round after testing positive for COVID-19. Watney is the first PGA Tour member to test positive for the illness since play resumed last week in Fort Worth, Texas.
Vaughn Taylor and Luke List were paired with Watney on Friday and learned at the turn that he had tested positive.
“I was a little shocked, to be honest,” Taylor said. “Heart started racing, got a little nervous. Just hope Nick’s doing well and we get through this.”
Story by Justin Jarrett