Golf’s most exciting young player, some Masters Tournament contenders and the return of a pair of the game’s legends highlight a strong field at this week’s RBC Heritage presented by Boeing at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island.
This year’s list of participants continues a resurgence for South Carolina’s only PGA Tour event.
After nearly becoming the youngest Masters champion by sharing the 54-hole lead and taking a two-shot lead through seven holes Sunday over eventual champion Bubba Watson, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth was resigned to settle for a tie for second with Jonas Blixt.
Spieth confirmed following his press conference Sunday as the Masters runner-up that he is honoring his commitment to play at Harbour Town despite the draining disappointment at Augusta National Golf Club.
Spieth received a sponsors exemption into last year’s RBC Heritage and tied for ninth. The Dallas native went on to earn his first PGA Tour win at the John Deer Classic and finished 10th on the PGA Tour money list.
The Heritage has attracted a pair of legendary players who no longer regularly play on the PGA Tour.
Eight-time major championship winner Tom Watson and six-time major champion Nick Faldo, who is much more of a broadcaster today for Golf Channel and CBS than a player, are both entered in the tournament.
“I can’t wait to watch Watson and Faldo play in the 46th annual RBC Heritage,” Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot said. “These past champions have been household names for 40 years. Their memorable moments at Harbour Town have enriched our tournament’s history.”
Watson won Heritage titles in 1979 and ’82 and will be making his 24th Heritage start and first since 2001. Faldo is recognizing the 30th anniversary of his first win on the PGA Tour in the 1984 Heritage. He finished 18 under to defeat Tom Kite by one shot. Since Faldo began working as CBS’ lead analyst he has only played in the British Open.
Only three players held at least a share of the final-round lead in the Masters, and two are in the Heritage Field. Matt Kuchar reached 6 under on the front nine before eventually tying for sixth at 2-under 286. Kuchar, who was the 2013 runner-up in the FedExCup standings, is competing in his 11th Heritage.
First-round Masters leader Bill Haas, a Greenville resident, is also in the field.
The Heritage has attracted an impressive first-time participant in 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, who has 10 international victories, including seven on the European Tour.
The title sponsorship of Royal Bank of Canada, which is in its third year of a five-year agreement, has probably had the greatest influence on the improved strength of the fields in the past three years.
The bank sponsors many of the world’s top players, and they have committed to participate again this year.
Players in the field representing Team RBC, as its known, include Kuchar, defending Heritage champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker. All seven players are ranked in the top 41 in the Official World Golf Ranking, led by Kuchar at No. 6.
RBC and presenting sponsor Boeing helped save the tournament with their five-year sponsorship agreements beginning with the 2012 Heritage.
Past Heritage champions in the field include Furyk, Snedeker, Aaron Baddeley, Justin Leonard, Carl Pettersson, Brian Gay, Glen Day, two-time winners Stewart Cink and Boo Weekley, and five-time winner Davis Love III.
PGA Tour winners this season who have committed include Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Kevin Stadler, Steven Bowditch, Chesson Hadley, Russell Henley, Harris English, Matt Jones, Chris Kirk and Matt Every. Reed, who played at Augusta State, has two of his three PGA Tour wins this year at the Humana Challenge and the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
A strong international contingent at Harbour Town includes Ryo Ishikawa, Vijay Singh, Martin Kaymer, Brendon de Jonge (who now lives in Charlotte, N.C.), Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, K.J. Choi and Camilo Villegas.
Players who have received sponsor exemptions include John Daly, Paul Casey, Trevor Immelman, Kevin Kisner, Kevin Tway, Beaufort native Mark Anderson and 2013 Players Amateur champion Hunter Stewart.
Players in the field with South Carolina connections include Haas, Jonathan Byrd, Tommy Gainey, Lucas Glover, Kyle Stanley, Ben Martin and Brian Harman, a native of Savannah, Ga., which is 30 minutes from Hilton Head.
Other notables include Jamie Donaldson, Stephen Gallacher, Billy Horschel, Jason Bohn, Charles Howell III, Will MacKenzie, Steve Marino, J.B. Holmes, Kevin Na, David Toms and amateur Matt Fitzpatrick, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and No. 1 amateur in the world from England who played in the Masters. The 19-year-old withdrew from Northeastern University in Boston last month to dedicate all of his time to golf.
Four players withdrew Monday, including a couple headliners in world No. 5 Jason Day and No. 27 Webb Simpson. Day needed a cortisone shot into his left thumb in order to play this past week for the first time in nearly two months. Simpson had played in five consecutive Heritage tournaments and is coming off a runner-up finish in the event, having lost in a playoff to McDowell. Also withdrawing were D.A. Points and Jeff Overton.
Spectator tickets for tournament rounds are $70 for Thursday and Sunday and $80 for Friday and Saturday. Juniors 15 and under are always admitted free when they are accompanied by a ticketed adult. Tickets may be purchased on site or by calling tournament offices at 843-671-2448.
Representatives of the Heritage Classic Foundation, general sponsor of the RBC Heritage and host of last November’s South Carolina Congressional Cup, presented $40,000 last week to 16 technical/community colleges across the state, including Horry-Georgetown Technical College to provide $2,500 for use as scholarship awards to deserving students.
Johnson to play in NC
Coastal Carolina alum Dustin Johnson has not played in the RBC Heritage since 2009 and is not playing again this year, though he has committed to make his next start at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., from May 1-4.
Johnson missed last year’s Wells Fargo tournament to nurse a hand/wrist injury. He was also aware the course suffered from very poor bentgrass greens following a tough winter. The greens were changed to an ultradwarf Bermudagrass following the 2013 tournament.
Johnson has missed the Wells Fargo in 2009, ’11 and ’12 with injuries and has had little success otherwise. He missed the cut in 2011 following rounds of 72 and 79, tied for 29th in 2010 with a 1-under 277 that included rounds of 65 and 77, and missed the cut as a tour rookie in 2008 with rounds of 78 and 71.
Johnson isn’t likely to miss the Wells Fargo tournament again in the next three years barring injury. Already a favorite among players, the Wells Fargo fields should be bolstered even more in the next three years in advance of Quail Hollow hosting the 2017 PGA Championship.
“I like the golf course there, and then the PGA is going to be there in a couple years,” Johnson said.
A place at Augusta
The competition held at Augusta National the Sunday before the Masters was the national finals of the Drive Chip & Putt Championship, and registration is now open for both volunteers and participants in local qualifiers for the 2015 finals.
River Hills Golf & Country Club in Little River will host a local qualifier at noon on Saturday, June 21. Nine qualifying sites have been selected in the Carolinas.
The youth golf development initiative will again include boys and girls ages 7-15 competing in separate divisions in four age categories. Top qualifiers at River Hills advance to sub-regional qualifying Aug. 16 at Fort Jackson Golf Club, and top finishers there advance to a regional event Sept. 6 at River Bend Golf & Country Club in Great Falls, Va.
Participants will be placed in age categories based on their age on the day of the final on April 5, 2015.
In its second year, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship will nearly triple the number of local qualifying spots, expanding to more than 50,000 playing opportunities at 256 host sites in all 50 states during the months of May, June and July.
To register to participate, visit www.DriveChipAndPutt.com. For volunteer opportunities, contact the Carolinas PGA at 336-398-2742 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.