Recap of the day
Morning wave: After a missed cut at the Masters last week (78-73), Ireland’s Shane Lowry found Harbour Town much more to his liking this morning, shooting a bogey-free 6-under-par 65. That secured a one-shot lead over a quartet of Americans, Trey Mullinax, Daniel Berger, Luke List and Ryan Moore.
Afternoon wave: With some big names out in the afternoon, Lowry’s lead looked as if it could come under threat. It did but no-one could get to him. Patrick Cantlay hit 4-under after 12 but stayed there while Ryan Palmer reached 5-under thru’ 11. A bogey at 7 dropped him back but a walk-off par breaker at 9 secured the low round of the afternoon.
R1 leaderboard: -6 Shane Lowry, -5 Trey Mullinax, Daniel Berger, Luke List, Ryan Moore, Ryan Palmer, -4 Sam Burns, Alex Noren, Peter Malnati, Scott Piercy, Kevin Na, Billy Horschel, Patrick Cantlay, Rory Sabbatini.
Selected others: -3 Graeme McDowell, Dustin Johnson, Rafa Cabrera Bello, -2 Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, -1 Jim Furyk, Branden Grace, Ian Poulter, Bryson DeChambeau, Evs Tommy Fleetwood, Jordan Spieth, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Kevin Kisner, Xander Schauffele, +2 Charles Howell III, Satoshi Kodaira (DC), +3 Francesco Molinari, +4 Matt Wallace, +5 Lucas Glover.
Revised betting: 11/2 DJ, 17/2 Cantlay, 14/1 Moore, 16/1 Lowry, 22/1 Kuchar, 25/1 DeChambeau, List, Palmer, 28/1 Noren, Horschel, Simpson.
Friday weather forecast
“You know the forecast is not going to be great. Yeah, I've seen it and knew this was my chance to go out and shoot a good number.” So said leader Shane Lowry who will have something very different to deal with in the afternoon session on Friday. Then again, with severe t-storms forecast at 2pm, perhaps Lowry won’t see much action on day two. Winds are a big factor on Friday, starting at around 18mph in the morning and hitting 25mph and gusting above 35mph in the afternoon. Saturday should be fine although winds are still present, a little calmer at 13mph.
Leaders after 18 holes
Shane Lowry (65) – Opened with a 66 on debut here last year before slipping to T44 so will want to make a better job of parlaying this fast start into a good finish. Missed just one of the 14 fairways and pelted 14 greens, gaining over 5.6 shots on Approach.
Trey Mullinax (66) – No-one bested his seven birdies today and it helped Mullinax shoot his best score since the R2 64 which secured a season-best T15 in Phoenix. Ranked 6th in SG: Tee-to-Green
Luke List (66) – Shot a Friday 64 on the way to third place here last year and showed his liking for the short par 71 once more. Steady start and then four birdies in five holes from the 12th. Ranked 1st SG: Tee-to-Green.
Daniel Berger (66) – Five of his six birdies came on par 4s. Gained over 2.7 strokes with the putter and solid numbers in all the main categories.
Ryan Moore (66) – Building on his top three in Texas, Moore fired his best round in four starts at Harbour Town thanks to a bogey-free morning lap. Hit only 11 greens but 100% Scrambling.
Ryan Palmer (66) – Looked set to reel in Lowry before ending one back. Rode a hot putter after finding ten greens. Second lowest round here in 10 visits.
Fate of the favorites
Dustin Johnson (68) – Four birdies against a single bogey. But having missed just one fairway, DJ will be frustrated he didn’t hit it closer with his short irons and wedges. Negative SG: Approach.
Francesco Molinari (74) – Leading the Masters for so long but losing it with a pair of double bogeys on the back nine was always going to leave a scar so no surprise today to see Molinari limp in with a 3-over-par round. Hit just half the greens and stone-cold putter.
Bryson DeChambeau (70) – Three back-nine bogeys kept DeChambeau in the pack. Just couldn’t get it right on the greens (see ‘Focus On – Augusta adjustment’ below).
Xander Schauffele (71) – The joint-runner-up at Augusta National turned in 2-under but bogeyed 10, 15 and 17. Split just half the fairways and found only 11 greens. Putter the biggest culprit though.
Shane Lowry (65): “It was a decent draw to get out there first thing and it wasn't very windy. My game felt good out there. I hit the ball well off the tee. And then I hit my irons decently, when I missed a green, it was in the right spots and I managed to get them up and down. I'm happy with my golf. My scores haven't been great as of late. But I felt like I've been playing okay. So maybe this is a reward for the perseverance.”
Daniel Berger (66): “I like flighting the ball. I like hitting balls really well. I like shaping it. This is the exact golf course that you're going to see and you're going to have to do that. It really fits my eye. I'm kind of bummed I've taken so many years off playing it. Not being in the Masters, I knew that I wanted to come play here. There's a lot of doglegs and when the wind picks up you have to be able to flight the ball underneath the tees. And that's how I grew up playing in South Florida, hitting the low shots, hitting big cuts, big draws.”
Luke List (66): “Obviously I have some good vibes from last year, it was tough to finish one short. I hadn't been playing great coming in, kind of a dinged up little elbow. So I was just really happy with the way I played today. Just hung in there and just went out and enjoyed this golf course, fun to have some good rounds on it. This is one of my favorite stops on Tour all year.”
Graeme McDowell (68): “I felt a little steery out there. My iron playing was a little off. There's lots of room for improvement. But scoring-wise, it felt good. And the greens kept the ball reasonably under control. On the tee kind of did what you have to do today, give yourself a few looks at the greens and make a few putts. But blustery enough out there, kept us on our toes.”
Jordan Spieth (71): “I felt like I hit a lot of really good shots today. It is tough out here when the wind is kind of swirling through the trees. I haven't played here in four years, I forgot about that. I felt like I stayed really patient, took some punches today on some wind gusts or whatever it may be, and some putts that almost went in. But with the conditions we have coming up through the next three days I kept myself in it. I really could have shot 2- or 3-over today. And feel like the game is progressing.”
Road to victory at Harbour Town
2018 Satoshi Kodaira – R1: 82nd, R2: 13th, R3: 12th
2017 Wesley Bryan – R1: 35th, R2: 10th, R3: 6th
2016 Branden Grace – R1: 1st, R2: 21st, R3: 5th
2015 Jim Furyk – R1: 36th, R2: 4th, R3: 5th
2014 Matt Kuchar – R1: 1st, R2: 4th, R3: 7th
Notes: Recent winners have had very contrasting opening laps. Grace and Kuchar had a piece of the round one lead although still needed to come from behind on the final day. Four of the last six champions were between five and nine shots back after day one and outside the top 30. This is a good course for playing catch-up.
Fate of the 18-hole leaders at Harbour Town – where did they finish?
2018 Rory Sabbatini – 23rd
2017 Bud Cauley – 9th
2016 Branden Grace – 1st, Luke Donald – 2nd
2015 Matt Every – 18th, Graeme McDowell – 26th
2014 Matt Kuchar – 1st, William McGirt – 9th, Scott Langley – 38th
Notes: Kuchar went on to win in 2014 while joint-R1 leaders Grace and Donald finished 1-2 in 2016. But, otherwise, fast starts haven’t been cashed in too well with 11 of the last 19 players to top the first-round leaderboard failing to make the top 10.
Focus on – Post-Masters letdown
The RBC Heritage is the best-known post-major event and gamers and bettors are well aware of the relatively poor record of those who have contended in the previous week’s Masters. The theory is that players come to Hilton Head to unwind and decompress and find it hard to get the game face on again after being in the heat of battle in the amped-up atmosphere of Augusta National. The hard facts? Going back to 2000, Matt Kuchar is the only winner here to have finished better than 15th at the Masters a week prior.
Looking at this week’s field, these are several players who contended/held a prominent position at Augusta National. So how did they react today?
Molinari, somewhat predictably, appeared to suffer a reaction while Harding also fired 3-over. Nothing too bad from the rest although Cantlay was the only one to finish the day inside the top ten.
Focus on – Augusta adjustment
Perhaps part the reason for poor/modest post-Masters performances is physical rather than mental. This was Jordan Spieth after his round today: “I really got Augusta'd out here. What I mean is I was still putting to the speed of Augusta. I haven't fully made the transition away from that. And as we are expecting high winds I'm sure the greens will slow down even more to make it fair. I'm really going to need to dial in my speed on the greens.”
It affected Spieth, who ranked 74th in SG: Putting -0.469.
Here’s how all those who made the top 15 at the Masters fared on the greens today.
Dustin Johnson 0.878 (41st)
Xander Schauffele -2.571 (124th)
Francesco Molinari -2.268 (121st)
Webb Simpson -0.209 (69th)
Patrick Cantlay 1.094 (35th)
Justin Harding -2.366 (122nd)
Matt Kuchar 1.213 (32nd)
Ian Poulter 1.952 (16th)
Poulter and Kuchar did a decent job of adjusting but, notably, they’re both experienced hands at switching from fast to slow. This is Poulter’s ninth start at Harbour Town and Kuchar’s 16th. Schauffele, Molinari and Harding struggled horribly on the greens. This is Harding’s debut and just Schauffele’s second appearance.