The week of the Masters is arguably the biggest of the year in golf. It would, therefore, be easy for the tournament that follows the Masters to be swallowed up by all of the noise that emanates from Augusta National. Fortunately, relative peace and quiet is one of the real strengths of the RBC Heritage which is hosted every year at the tranquil Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
Despite slogging it out around Augusta, many of the world’s best players make sure they include a trip to Harbour Town in their plans for the season. The much-loved course was designed by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus and is a welcome change from the usual long, wide layouts seen on the PGA Tour. It takes guile and quality ball-striking to win around Harbour Town so this is a real opportunity for players who otherwise find chances to contend on the PGA Tour hard to come by.
2023: Matthew Fitzpatrick
Raised to designated event status and receiving a prize money boost from $8m to $20m, the event immediately following The Masters more than lived up to its billing, to produce a thrilling finale on Sunday afternoon. In the end, the title fell to an Englishman who had regularly played the course whilst on holiday as a child, but the defending champion from 2022 certainly didn’t go down without a fight.
Victor Hovland led the way after the opening round on seven under, one shot clear of Brian Harman and Jimmy Walker, with Matt Fitzpatrick, Sungjai Im, and Justin Rose amongst the big names who also started well. Walker was the man to keep the hot streak going on Friday with another round of 65 to move three clear of the field
However, by the end of Saturday, Matt Fitzpatrick had fired himself to the head of affairs with a sizzling round of 63, one shot clear of 2022 runner-up Patrick Cantlay. Jordan Spieth was a shot further back in third. It was all set up for a nail-biting Sunday.
Spieth roared out of the blocks in round four, with four birdies in the space of the first six holes to move into a share of the lead. Following a birdie at 13, Spieth found himself two shots clear of Fitzpatrick with five to play. Cantlay’s challenge floundered with back-to-back bogeys at 13 and 14, but Fitzpatrick wasn’t done with, drawing level with birdies at 15 and 16. Pars for each of the joint leaders at the final two holes meant we headed into a playoff for the second year in a row.
Spieth mastered Cantlay in additional holes in 2022, and it was he who had the first opportunities to close it out this time around – seeing a 12ft putt catch the rim at 18, and under-hitting a nine-foot attempt at the 17th. Back to the 18th for what would be the final hole, with the decisive shot being Fitzpatrick’s laser-like approach from 186 yards to leave himself with a near tap-in. Spieth also found the green but couldn’t sink the 33ft wonder putt required, leaving the reigning US Open champion to seal the deal.
Having lost his previous three playoffs in the BMW International Open, the Scottish Open, and the Italian Open, Fitzpatrick was no doubt delighted to get this one over the line, at a tournament he stated was at the top of his wishlist. With this success, he bagged the $3.6m winner's share of the prize pool and moved up to eighth in the Official World Rankings. A gallant defence from Spieth, and another excellent effort around here from Cantlay who finished one shot back in third place.
2022: Jordan Spieth
The RBC Heritage 2022 maintained the tournament’s reputation for providing final round drama. Although the week in general is markedly more relaxed than the previous week at the Masters, this is now a top-class tournament that demands a top-class performance from the winner. Jordan Spieth was the man who topped the class in 2022 as he saw off the challenge of Patrick Cantlay in a playoff in Sea Island, Georgia.
Spieth has long been one of the most entertaining golfers to watch on the PGA Tour. Recently, that has been because you’re never sure what he’s going to do. His game has flitted from the sublime to the ridiculous. There were some fairly ridiculous moments at Harbour Town during the week but golf fans were eventually treated to the best of Spieth.
Spieth was an incredibly popular winner. A large group of children had gathered desperately hoping to get his autograph but would require more patience. As Spieth explained to them himself, he had no idea whether his score of -13 was enough to win the tournament outright, whether he’d be forced into a playoff or if somebody else would win. It turned out that -13 was enough for Spieth and Cantlay to require a playoff while Shane Lowry was among the seven players marooned on -12. Those young fans didn’t have to wait too long for their hero though as he defeated Cantlay on the first playoff hole.
2021: Stewart Cink
The increasingly physical nature of golf is arguably the most important element of the sport currently. Much of this talk is around the fear of some courses becoming obsolete given the combination of power hitting and technological advances but the increased longevity of world-class golfers is a positive side of the investment in physical health that many players are making.
Stewart Cink showed the value of that investment with his second win of the 2020/21 PGA Tour season after winning the Safeway Open in week 1. Yes, Harbour Town Golf Links is far from a bombers’ paradise and Cink gained most strokes in the tee to green and approach categories but the man himself puts his recent resurgence down to working hard on increasing his driving distance. Cink’s view is that all other stats are improved if you hit it further with the driver and the 47 year old is averaging 306 yards off the tee this season.
Despite his recent good form and previous strong performances at Harbour Town, Cink was a triple price to win the RBC Heritage. That goes to show that punters should by no means write older players off and that there is value to be found when players who have made improvements after prolonged slumps are underestimated in the betting.
2020: Webb Simpson
The original hosting of the 2020 RBC Heritage fell foul of the enforced pause in the PGA Tour schedule. Such is the importance of this tournament though that it was rescheduled to be the second event following the PGA Tour’s restart.
All the concerns about playing tournament golf without fans fell by the wayside with what was a high class and hugely entertaining edition of the RBC Heritage. Tyrrell Hatton, Abraham Ancer, Ryan Palmer and Webb Simpson all had a share of the lead at the start of the final round with some big names just in behind. As if that wasn’t enough tension, the final round was postponed due to poor weather just as the principal contenders were getting into their rhythm.
Hatton and Ancer Joaquin Niemann all made some fairly early moves in the charge for the title but in the end it was the experience of Webb Simpson that saw him through to win a seventh PGA Tour title. Simpson played mostly solid golf before coming up with vital birdies on 16 and 17 and then a very well constructed par on his 72nd hole of the tournament as the light faded.
2019: Cheng Tsung Pan
Winning for the first time on the PGA Tour is never easy, just as C. T. Pan found in this one. The Taiwanese star came onto the main ranks having had a very good amateur career and with professional wins on the PGA Tour Canada but he admitted to being disbelieving that he found himself pulling on the plaid jacket awarded to winners of the RBC Heritage in 2019.
Pan had to draw on his previous experience of winning and also of a very painful memory in order to find the inner steeliness he needed to win at Harbour Town. The victory came less than a year after he blew a great chance to break his PGA Tour duck at the Wyndham Championship on the 18th hole so it was fitting that he just about did enough on the final hole this time around.
Conditions in the final round were tough enough to keep a lid on the scoring which can be pretty low at Harbour Town. Pan had to work hard to keep his mistakes off the card and after making a birdie on the 16th, a pair of pars at 17 and 18 were enough. He admitted in his post-round press conference that he thought he had only done enough to earn a place in a playoff but as it was he managed to beat Matt Kuchar by a single stroke, a lead he could thank his excellent second round of 65 for.
2018: Satoshi Kodaira
The RBC Heritage has a long history of international winners stretching back to Graham Marsh’s win in 1977 and including Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Greg Norman. Going into the 2018 renewal there had never been a winner at Harbour Town from Asia but that all changed thanks to Satoshi Kodaira’s win against the odds.
To say that he was not the most fancied of all the highly talented players from the Far East to make the breakthrough on Hilton Head Island would be a massive understatement. Kodaira wasn’t even the most fancied player for any stage of the tournament until he won. He started the final round in a tie for 12th, six shots off the lead and during the final round each of Ian Poulter, Luke List and Si Woo Kim appeared the most likely winner.
Kodaira played some stunning golf on the Sunday though to set up a sudden death playoff against Kim. It would take three holes until the final two standing could finally be separated allowing Kodaira to enjoy what he called a win “I’ve been dreaming about”.
2017: Wesley Bryan
Wesley Bryan took a unique route to the PGA Tour. Like only 10 players before him, Bryan earned his PGA Tour card by winning three events on the Web.com Tour in the previous season but before making his mark on the biggest stage he was best known for performing outlandish trick shots on the YouTube channel that he starred in with his brother.
Victory in the 2017 RBC Heritage was a vindication of Bryan’s inner belief that he was a much better golfer than those who had only seen him online would give him credit for. He had to outlast some world-class golfers at Harbour Town including former world number one Luke Donald who ended the tournament just one shot behind Bryan.
Donald has the right sort of profile to succeed at Harbour Town – top-class iron play, a rock-solid short game and calmness on the greens – and this was the fifth time that he used those strengths to finish second in the RBC Heritage. Bryan excelled in similar ways but just had that bit extra for a win which took him into the world’s top 40 for the first time in his career.