The RBC Heritage began two months later than usual with a little rain, a little sunshine and a lot of birdies, most of them from Jordan Spieth to turn a rough start into a furious finish.
Ian Poulter holed a 30-foot birdie putt and followed with a 5-iron to 4 feet for a birdie that closed out his round of 7-under 64, giving him a share of the lead Thursday with Mark Hubbard at Hilton Head.
“I've always loved coming here to play golf,” said Poulter, and he has plenty of company this year.
The RBC Heritage, typically a week after the Masters in April, is the second tournament since the PGA Tour returned after 90 days from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The top three players in the world are at Hilton Head – Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas – and none broke par on a day in which 66 players in the 151-man field shot in the 60s. A year ago, only 38 players in the 132-man field opened with rounds in the 60s.
Spieth wouldn't have guessed he would be one of them after a tee shot what was 5 yards right of the 12th fairway hit a tree and didn't stop rolling until it was out of bounds. He made triple bogey and was 3 over through three holes.
“All of a sudden, I'm 3 over through three, and you start to see guys going 2 under through two, 2 under through three early,” Spieth said. “It's not a great feeling.”
Determined to at least try to get under par for his round, Spieth had a career-best six straight birdies on his back nine and finished with seven birdies over his last eight holes for a 66.
Poulter and Hubbard, who started birdie-eagle, were a shot ahead of a group that included Webb Simpson, Ryan Palmer and Viktor Hovland. Colonial winner Daniel Berger, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els and Bryson DeChambeau all shot 67.
DeChambeau, who added some 40 pounds of mass to increase his swing speed, was hammering shots over the range during practice this week. He had to tone it down on the tight, tree-lined Harbour Town Golf Links.
“I couldn't unleash the Kraken today,” said DeChambeau, a student of physics and Scandinavian folklore. “It was just too tight out there. The wind was swirling all day, and I couldn't feel comfortable to give it a good whack, but I was still able to manage keeping it mostly in the fairway.”
Dustin Johnson was poised to make a move until hit into the water on the par-3 14th and compounding the error with a three-putt triple bogey. He still managed a 68.
It was the first PGA Tour with spectators on the property, just not on the golf course with tickets.
Harbour Town is lined with vacation homes, villas and townhouses, and plenty of people spilled onto their decks and into their yards to watch. The tour has ropes to line the fairway. This year, they put up ropes to line the yards to keep people from coming all the way onto the course.
McIlroy and Thomas, had 72. Rahm had a 71.