The fans dressed in plaid made their triumphant return to Harbour Town Golf Links on Thursday, but the stellar low scores never left. Australia’s Cameron Smith outdueled the vicious afternoon winds off Calibogue Sound, topping the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing leaderboard with a dazzling 9-under 62 through 18 holes to claim a one-shot advantage over two-time champion Stewart Cink.
“Everything just came together,” Smith said. “It was a great day on the green. I had a lot of good looks, and I just took advantage of them.”
This year’s edition of the Heritage could be another thrilling shootout, as a total of 16 golfers carded scores of 4-under or better on the first day despite challenging windy conditions.
The Aussie sensation was brilliant from start to finish on a cool and breezy afternoon, posting a bogey-free round and dominating a difficult back nine with four birdies to follow up an outward 31. His approach shots were phenomenal, showcased by a pinpoint iron strike at the 12th hole to get to 6-under before collecting three more birdies in the final four holes on a highlight-reel bunker holeout at 17 and another superb iron shot on the last. Smith has been knocking on the door of a breakout win after top-10 finishes at the previous two Masters Tournaments.
“I just feel really comfortable,” Smith said. “Mentally, I feel very free out there. I feel like every shot I’m hitting, I’m putting 110 percent into it, and on a day like today, it’s really rewarding.”
It may have been 17 years since his most recent victory at Harbour Town Golf Links, but Cink brought his dominant form back to the course in the opening round in 2021, shooting a scorching 8-under 63 that was good for second place alone.
The 47-year old veteran began with an opening bogey on the 10th hole but quickly turned it around, making a pair of birdies on the challenging 16th and 18th before knocking in an eagle on the par-5 fifth. Cink hit the green in two shots and nailed a 20-foot putt on the 544-yard hole to catapult himself up the leaderboard. The former tartan champ finished strong with two more birdies on the eighth and ninth to cap off a sensational morning of golf.
“It really was a very smooth round once I got past the obstacle of the first hole,” Cink said. “It was probably one of the worst opening drives I ever hit in my life. You’d think that’s a bad way to start, but in a way it’s a wake-up call. And so we were really good and clean the rest of the way. It was a good tee-to-green day… the putts I had a good chance to make I was very calm on and rolled some in. This was a really tidy round.”
He’s taken the golf world by storm after a win at the PGA Championship last year, and now Collin Morikawa is looking for more after a 6-under 65 to share third place with Englishman Matt Wallace. The California native took advantage of the par-5s to get going on the front nine before making two more birdies on the seventh and eighth.
Morikawa’s putter was sizzling late in the round, knocking in a 35-footer on the 13th and draining another lengthy bid on 18 to close out his spectacular opening day. The 24-year-old already has a win under his belt this year at the WGC-Workday Championship and is looking like a mainstay at the top of the FedEx Cup standings.
“I think overall it was probably one of the best rounds I’ve played all year,” he said. “I didn’t make many mistakes and got away with a little heavy shot on 18 and was able to capitalize on some birdies. The putts were feeling really good today. Speed was really good, and there really wasn’t too much break on that last hole, so I knew if I gave it a good shot we could get it to the hole. Always nice to finish on a birdie.”
Wallace played lights-out golf early on, setting the tone with a birdie at the 10th before making three more on the back nine including the treacherous par-3 14th on an outstanding 38-foot putt. The Englishman stayed steady on the front nine, completing a bogey-free round while reaching 6-under on a closing birdie at the ninth.
South Carolina’s own Lucas Glover impressed to start his tournament, carding a 4-under 67, and Savannah’s Brian Harman matched Glover in a tie for eighth after his standout weekend at the Masters, sitting just one behind Charles Howell III, Billy Horschel, and Harold Varner III all at 5-under.
“It’s hard coming back after last week,” Harman said. “You just put so much into that tournament. But this is a great tournament. Wind was really blowing, kind of picked up right as we teed off, and the entire front nine was very difficult. Kind of laid down on the back a little bit, but I hit some nice shots, made a couple putts, and I’ll go get a nice sleep and get after it tomorrow.“
Former Gamecock and 2017 Heritage champ Wesley Bryan lurks just behind at -3 alongside fellow tartan winner Branden Grace and Augusta runner-up Will Zalatoris.
It was a tough outing for former Hilton Head Christian Academy and Clemson star Bryson Nimmer, who finished the opening round at 9-over 80, but the hometown hero was supported by a massive gallery of friends and family cheering the Okatie native on, and the Lowco’s own standout will look to bounce back Friday morning.
“I had a great time. I had so many people out here following me and just to have the backing of everybody was awesome. I told my caddie on 10, if I make this putt I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a roar as big as Tiger gets. It was awesome. I’m looking forward to having some fun tomorrow.”
By Wes Kerr