The Party Rolled On at Hilton Head After Masters Madness

Andre Martin | Last Updated : April 19, 2024

In one of the quicker turnarounds on the PGA Tour calendar, the RBC Heritage teed off just four days after the final putt dropped at Augusta National for the Masters. The transition from the year’s first major championship to a regular tour stop felt abrupt, but the world-class players embraced the changeup at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island.  

While some of golf’s biggest names took a backseat after the grind of the Masters, a mix of proven talents and rising stars seized the opportunity in the $20 million designated event. Swede Ludvig Åberg continued his blazing start to 2024, joining an elite leaderboard after an opening 66. But it was J.T. Poston stole the show, firing a brilliant 63 to grab the opening round lead.

Poston Pounces with Hot Putter

If the 30-year-old Poston was going to card the low round of the day, a scorching putter was a necessity. He ranked second in the field in putts per greens in regulation, pouring in over 130 feet of putts during his bogey-free 63.  

“I’m rolling the ball so nicely right now,” Poston beamed. “When you get that confidence on the greens, it allows you to stay aggressive and free-wheel it.”

While the flat stick was the catalyst, Poston’s ball-striking was equally impressive. After a mini-slump through the Florida swing, he rediscovered his form off the tee, ranking in the top 15 in that category for the first round. Perhaps some quality rest played a role too.

“We’ve got a two-bedroom condo here,” Poston explained. “My mom is staying with us to help out with the newborn. Last night, my wife was great and got up to let me sleep through. Maybe we’ll keep doing that!”

With no course knowledge advantage thanks to the schedule shuffle, Poston leaned on a simple strategy of fundamentally sound target golf around the tight Harbour Town layout. Avoiding the miss was critical, and he did it with precision en route to grabbing the solo lead.

Young Stars Shine Bright 

While Poston topped the leaderboard after 18 holes, two of the game’s future cornerstones jockeyed for position right behind him. Masters runner-up Ludvig Åberg and Collin Morikawa matched 66s to kick off their week in style.

For Åberg, the debut victory remains elusive, but the 24-year-old is quickly becoming one of the most feared players on tour with his textbook swing and unyielding consistency. His Sunday duel with Scottie Scheffler at Augusta set the golf world ablaze, and Åberg carried that form to Hilton Head.  

“My focus shifted right when I got here,” Åberg said matter-of-factly. “We were trying to make sure last week was last week, and this week was this week.”

The torrid Swede striped his way around Harbour Town’s tight confines, hitting a staggering 13 of 14 fairways. With his picture-perfect ball-striking, Åberg stressed that fatigue from his major championship efforts wasn’t a concern.

“I’d like to think that I’m young and I’ll be able to handle it,” he said of playing his third straight event. “But yes, I think I’ll crash for a few days next week when I’m not playing.”

Morikawa was equally electric in the opening round. The two-time major winner has been arguably the most consistent player this season, notching seven top-10 finishes already. The swing instructor’s kid is dialed in tee-to-green, which bodes well for his chances to add another victory.

Scheffler’s Mastery Faces New Test

For Scottie Scheffler, this was new territory – competing so quickly after the euphoria of another major triumph. The world #1 has been the most dominant force in golf since March, capturing three huge titles at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, THE PLAYERS, and last week’s Masters.  

But the quick reset to Hilton Head provided a fresh challenge for the 26-year-old Texan, and it showed in some uncharacteristic miscues during his opening 70. After a double-bogey at the 3rd hole where he shockingly shanked a bunker shot, Scheffler conceded he wasn’t quite mentally plugged in initially.

“I tried to give myself a little bit of grace there, but I got pretty frustrated towards the middle of the round,” he explained. “I shanked the bunker shot on 3. I shank it a decent amount, but never in competition.”

The errors could largely be chalked up to the quick turnaround and emotional fatigue from the Masters pressure-cooker.

“I think I was maybe too settled down to start the day. I wasn’t quite into the competition. I think maybe it was a bit of fatigue, whatever it was. But I felt like I was still kind of getting adjusted to the golf course.”

Despite the sloppy start, Scheffler righted the ship on his inward half, which explains his remarkable streak of 36 straight rounds at par or better dating back to early 2024. With his “A” game, he’s still a threat to make it four wins in five starts this week.

“I had a much better back nine,” Scheffler noted. “Hit a lot of really good shots. Hit some nice putts, too. Looking forward to the rest of the week.”

Rory, Cantlay Take Backseat…For Now

While Scheffler aims to swiftly rebound, Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay will have more ground to make up after lackluster opening efforts of 71 and 72, respectively. The two superstars who finished in the top 10 at Augusta could never quite find their groove in the opening round.

McIlroy struggled to dial in his iron play and was plagued by three early bogeys before a late birdie binge brought him back to red numbers but well off the pace. As is often the case with the Northern Irishman, the driver was a strength as he gained over a stroke off the tee. If he can find the range with his irons, McIlroy has the firepower to make a weekend charge.

Cantlay, always an excruciating grinder, fought his way along to an even-par 71. The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year was solid if unspectacular tee-to-green but couldn’t find the proper touch on the tricky putting surfaces. With hot players like Poston, Åberg, and Morikawa setting a blistering pace, Cantlay must go low in round two to avoid being left behind.

With $20 million on the line at this designated event, the stakes remain incredibly high no matter where the tournament falls on the schedule. The quick reset from the Masters provided an immediate test for the game’s elite players, and many underwhelmed out of the gate. But betting against proven champions like Scheffler, McIlroy, and Cantlay rebounding would be an unwise gamble. As the RBC Heritage heads into the weekend, the race for the ultimate prize is still wide open.

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