We’ve certainly seen some new things in the 2020 edition of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. A tournament in June. A “bubble” to attempt to keep the novel coronavirus out. A fanless gallery. And now, a new scoring record.
With near-flawless conditions continuing on an early summer weekend on Hilton Head Island, the field combined to set a single-day tournament record of 223 under par during Saturday’s third round. The low-scoring bonanza has set up a barn-burning Sunday finish with a four-way tie at 15 under.
Webb Simpson, the leader after Friday, now shares the top spot with Tyrrell Hatton, Abraham Ancer, and Ryan Palmer. These four are on pace to match the tourney’s individual record, set with Brian Gay’s 20-under-par total in 2009.
Hatton was one of an astounding six players that recorded a round of 8-under 63. He started his day grabbing quick momentum as he sunk a 40-foot putt on the opening hole, leading to birdies on four of the first five. He bookended his day with a brilliantly played 18th hole, sending an approach shot to the left side of the green before knocking in a beautiful downhill putt.
After he finished at 15 under, he wasn’t sure that his score would hold up as a leader, especially with outstanding play all the way around the field. But with Saturday’s final pairing struggling at times, it ended up being enough for a share. He’ll surely take it, as he looks for his second PGA Tour victory in the 2020 season.
“I putted well all three days, to be honest,” said Hatton. “I’ve only missed one inside six feet in three days. Holing out has been really good and pretty solid from inside 20 feet, which is nice, and I hope that continues tomorrow.”
After a trio of birdies on the front nine, Ancer kept it up with a phenomenal shot on the 10th from the right fairway, setting up an easy tap-in. He nailed a 15 footer for birdie on 13 before dropping a shot on the par-3 14th. But Ancer quickly bounced back and went under par on the next two holes to grab a tie for the 54-hole lead.
Palmer didn’t have the greatest start to his Saturday, but he found some consistency in the middle par-4 stretch, picking up three birdies on 9,10,and 12 while cashing in on all three of Harbour Town’s generous par 5’s.
Although it did not replicate his two solid weekday 65s, Simpson stayed out of trouble to maintain his spot on top going into Sunday. An impressive approach shot leaving a three-foot putt for birdie on 6 ended up becoming an important difference maker.
Trying for a second straight win after the pandemic pause, Daniel Berger matched Hatton’s 63. After a bogey on the par-3 seventh, he quickly turned around as he made the turn with three straight birdies including two 20-foot putts. And he did it again on the last, sinking that ever-important final putt from 25 feet out to go into Sunday just a shot back.
“I hung in there,” Berger said. “It was a step in the right direction to have a chance for tomorrow. I struck it way better today than I did the first two days, and then I putted it better. It definitely gives you a freer mindset when you won last week. I needed to play a good round to be in contention, and I did that. So I’m happy with the performance today.”
Four more golfers recorded an eight-under 63 on a historically low-scoring day at Harbour Town, including Carlos Ortiz, Joel Dahmen, Joaquin Niemann, and Chris Stroud.
In all, a whopping 21 competitors are either tied or within three shots of the lead, and 35 have shot at least 10-under through three rounds. There are still some other big names in serious contention, highlighted by Sergio Garcia’s 6-under Saturday to come within two of the lead. The former Masters champion birdied three of the final four holes to propel himself into the hunt.
“It was a nice round,” said Garcia. “Obviously, missed a couple of short putts on 11 and 16. But other than that, it was very solid. I think I hit pretty much the three par 5’s in two and gave myself good eagle chances on all of them. It feels good, and I’m excited to have another good round tomorrow and see where that puts us.”
Whether is Garcia or someone else, it appears this Heritage will result in someone adding a unique item to their wardrobe. All of the last seven Heritage champions trailed by at least two shots going into Sunday’s finale, and the highest past champion on the leaderboard is Matt Kuchar, who is tied for 28th at 10-under, making a first-time champ a near certainty.
Since the middle of March when sports were shut down, this Sunday is the day we have been waiting for. After three rounds of low scores unlike any other Heritage we have seen, an unpredictable day of golf beckons with a chance for nearly anyone on the board to walk away with the tartan jacket.
“Yeah, it’s obviously a packed leaderboard,” Hatton affirmed. “It wouldn’t be surprising to see someone around 20th place go out and shoot a potentially low score to win the tournament. I am sure it will be exciting to watch back home on TV.”
He’s got that right. In this period of few sports in the Lowco and around the country, we all should savor what we are about to see on Sunday at Harbour Town.
Story by Wes Kerr