Rory Sabbatini made a perfect start to the RBC Heritage, carding a seven-under 64 gifting him a two-shot lead on Thursday in Hilton Head.
A six-time PGA Tour winner, Sabbatini played through back he suffered last Sunday on route to his lowest round ever at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Sabbatini put on a show to delight the South Carolina fans, reeling off seven birdies with a winning combination of 71% for fairways in regulation and an impressive 83% in green found.
The 42-year-old South African, who last last won at the Honda Classic seven years ago, rattled off the back nine in 31 and drained the longest putt of the day, a 50-foot putt for birdie at the 14th.
A blemish free round put him two clear of fellow Americans Matt Kuchar, Billy Horschel, Chesson Hadley and John Huh:
I love this golf course, it’s a very traditional golf course, it’s all out there in front of you.
Sabbatini continued, “Put the ball in the fairways, hit it on the greens, give yourself opportunities. If you do that out here you have a chance to shoot a low number.”
World number one and the top ranked player in the field Dustin Johnson lies five shots behind the South African.
The return of Johnson to his native South Carolina for the first time since 2009 promised fireworks, but fresh off a top-ten outing around Augusta National he started slow.
Carding four bogey’s and to his fuel his own kryptonite he played the par-fives in level par. After starting on the tenth hole Johnson birdied the 18th, his ninth hole, and went on to make three-in-a-row.
Matt Kuchar is 41-under at Hilton Head since the beginning of 2014, which is 8 strokes better than any other player during that span, and a champion here four years ago his opening round of 66 was a sign of things to come.
The American has not been outside the top-11 in his last three finishes here and proved why he’s still a threat.
Designed by Pete Dye, Harbour Town, is a course let can play havoc with the wind when it swirls between the pines, but on a windless day Kuchar began and ended his round with back-to-back birdies from inside 6 foot:
Pete Dye and I have gotten along awfully well. My track record for Pete Dye courses have been awfully good. This course definitely goes down as one of my favourites.
A first round 68 last week at the Masters saw him bank a seventh top-30 finish in eight years and on a course he enjoys, where his lack of distance is not exposed and has triumphed at he will contend come the weekend.
The afternoon wave at Harbour Town had the tougher conditions to deal with, averaging 72.5; 1.47 strokes tougher than the early wave.
Chesson Hadley, who teed off in the afternoon, broke through and wound up only two shots behind the leader. Firing a 66, the best round of the second wave, Hadley made over 112 feet of putts and only suffered one dropped shot.
Defending champion Wesley Bryan bogeyed two of his last three holes but still started his defence with a solid 69.
After missing four-straight cuts since the Phoenix Open he has dedicated time to grind on his driving, the part of his game that’s plagued him this season ranking 176th on tour for driving accuracy, on Thursday he hit 14 of 14 fairways.
Bryan’s thoughts on the weekend?
“I’m looking forward to the next couple of days and hopefully get in contention”.
More birdies and bogeys. Pretty easy.
Harbour Town maestro Luke Donald, who ranks first for the most birdies and eagles made at the RBC Heritage, opened with a 5-over 76, making it his highest score on Hilton Head Island since 2004.
Scot Martin Laird led the British charge on four under, only one bogey at the 16th tarnished an almost-perfect round of 67, which gave him a share of sixth with Patrick Cantlay, Harris English and Jonas Blixt.
English duo Ian Poulter and Matt Fitzpatrick finished on the same score as Dustin Johnson. Poulter, a recent winner at the Houston Open, birdied 15 and 16 to push inside the top-20. Whilst, Billy Horschel who was 18-for-18 putting inside 20 feet finished three better on 5-under.
Davis Love III, a five-time winner at Harbour Town, who turns 54 on Friday, double-bogeyed the third hole to shoot a 73.
2011 RBC Heritage champion Brandt Snedeker opened with a one-under 70, alongside two-time champion and 2018 Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk.