Odds-on Spieth puts up brave defence
Read my Zurich Classic of New Orleans preview here
Read my ISPS Handa Championship preview here
As highlighted in the In-Play blog, 54-hole leaders have had a poor record at Harbour Town over the last decade or so, so when the defending champ, Jordan Spieth, who has began round four trailing by two, led by a couple of strokes deep into the back nine on Sunday, it looked like pre-event 38.037/1 chance, Matt Fitzpatrick, was going to be the latest to come up shy.
Spieth, who had started round four brilliantly, birdying four of the first six holes, was matched at a low of 1.412/5 in-running and it was impossible to fault his valiant title defence, but Fitzpatrick isn't just a brilliant golfer, he's extremely good in-contention too so it wasn't a surprise to see him make back-to-back birdies at 15 and 16 to draw alongside Spieth.
Harbour Town specialist, Patrick Cantlay, was matched at a low of 2.1211/10, but he stumbled on the back nine with back-to-back bogeys at 13 and 14 and his birdies at 15 and 18 saw him finish a shot shy of Spieth and Fitzpatrick.
Spieth had an opportunity to retain the title at the first extra hole, but he missed from 12 feet for birdie and Fitzpatrick holed out from six feet for par.
Both men then missed great chances to win at the second playoff hole (the par three 17th) before Fitzpatrick put it to bed with this scintillating approach on 18.
After Spieth missed his birdie attempt from 33 feet, Fitzpatrick tapped in for the win and his record from the front really is impressive.
The Englishman has now led or co-led through 54 holes 11 times, and he's never finished any worse than second.
This was his sixth victory from the front and it was one of his sweetest.
Having holidayed in the area since the age of six, Fitzpatrick was delighted to take the title at Hilton Head.
"I think I can retire now," laughed Fitzpatrick his win. "This is the one that I've always wanted to win. (Besides the majors) there isn't a higher one on my list and that's the truth."
'Messy' schedule and Masters disappointment costly for Rory
The RBC Heritage was one of the PGA Tour's designated events, hence the ridiculously strong field, so Rory McIlroy's withdrawal on Monday, after his disappointing missed cut in the US Masters the week before, is going to cost him a cool $3million!
The top players are obliged to play in all but one of the designated events and Rory had already skipped the Tournament of Champions back in January so he's believed to have been fined 25% of the $12million he received in November via the Player Impact Program.
The PIP is a way of rewarding players who, according to the Tour, "generate the most positive interest in the PGA Tour."
Tiger Woods topped the PIP top-20 so received a juicy $15 million, Rory was awarded $12 million in second, and Jordan Spieth, who finished third in the list, will receive $9miilion, once he's played all but one of this year's designated events.
Those that finished between 16th and 20th earned as much as $2million from the PIP so there's plenty of cash up for grabs but 25% of the fund is kept back until the players have met the mandatory requirements.
Joel Dahmen didn't sound like he had an awful lot of sympathy for Rory after his opening round last week.
"I feel like Rory was leading the charge on the changes that have been made and he helped make the rules.
"He knew what the rules were. So, he knew what was coming. He also has so much money, he doesn't care about $3 million."
Others were a bit more charitable, and Matt Fitzpatrick described the schedule as 'messy' and he certainly has a point.
The RBC was the eighth designated event of the year and while it's hard to sympathise with megarich sportsmen, expecting them to play the week after a major isn't ideal and it certainly explains why the Velero Texas Open had such a weak field in the week before the Masters.
McIlroy's absence, while costly, is understandable and it's interesting to see that Jon Rahm was the first reigning Masters champion to play the following week on Tour since Jordan Spieth in 2015. I'm sure he'd have preferred to spend a bit more time celebrating.
TV appearances make no sense
The big story at halfway was the performance of pre-event 1000.0 chance, Jimmy Walker, who led by three through 36 holes, and he was matched at a low of just 6.411/2 after he'd played his first nine holes of round three in two-under-par.
Given his off the pace sixth place finish in the Memorial Tournament nearly two years ago had been his only top-10 in the last five years, him being in-contention was quite a story, so it was understandable that CBC wanted some extra coverage but Walker made a mistake agreeing to go live while he played the 16th hole.
As it transpired, he made a miraculous par there after a poor drive, but I doubt it was coincidence that he made back-to-back bogeys at 14 and 15 before he went live and it was ridiculous how little time he had to prepare to play his shots on 16.
Bang in-contention and attempting to win a tournament, chatting to Ian Baker Finch instead of concentrating fully makes no sense at all to me.
The DP World Tour visits Japan for the first time this week for the ISPS Handa Championship, which I've preview here, and we've got the only pairs event on the PGA Tour, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which I've previewed here.
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