Harbour Town Golf Links, the site of the PGA Tour’s annual RBC Heritage, does not typically surrender especially low scores on the PGA Tour, with the winning score of the Hilton Head Island, South Carolina-based event bettering 14-under just once in the past decade.
However, just as 2020 has been anything but a typical year of golf, this year’s edition was far from typical as well, with 20 players eclipsing 14-under for the week.
The best score? It was Webb Simpson, who finished the week with a blazing 22-under score, the lowest in the event’s 51-year history, and he needed every one of those under-par holes, taking the Tour’s second tournament following a three-month pandemic layoff by a single stroke over rising star Abraham Ancer.
To illustrate how phenomenal the 34-year-old Simpson was in bettering Harbour Town’s exceptionally strong field, it should be noted that Simpson began the final day in a four-way tie for the lead, with Ancer among that lead group (Tyrrell Hatton and Ryan Palmer were the others).
Ancer, an international star in December’s Presidents Cup, put on a shot-making showcase for the ages, hitting all 18 greens in regulation on Sunday, and an absurd 65 of 72 for the week (90.2%). Last season’s GIR leader finished 17% south of that number. Ancer shot a 6-under 65, his third consecutive round of 65 or better… and Simpson still won.
Simpson was bogey-free himself, catching fire late with five birdies over his final seven holes to shoot a 7-under 64, and finish at that 22-under number. The late charge is especially impressive when considering that there was a weather delay of more than 2.5 hours. Simpson himself did not believe the tournament would be finished that day.
It is the seventh career PGA Tour victory for Simpson, who has arguably played the best golf of his career during the 2020 season. The 2012 U.S. Open Champion made five season starts before the COVID-19 layoff, with a victory at February’s Waste Management Phoenix Open in addition to a runner-up, a solo-third, and a T7. He missed the cut at last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge, but roared back this week in South Carolina, becoming the third player on Tour this year to notch multiple victories (Justin Thomas and Brendon Todd are the other two).
And more validation to admirable level Simpson has taken his game to: the win jumped him from 9th to 5th in the Official World Golf Rankings, tying his career best which he achieved following that U.S. Open triumph.
Sunday may have had no fans, as the Heritage was the second event in a row to employ that particular health precaution (it will be the same with the next three tournaments), but there was a very crowded leaderboard that Simpson did not separate from for good until his birdie on 16. Ancer birdied 17 and then had a shot to force a playoff, but his 34-foot birdie attempt slid past the hole.
A first career victory for Ancer appears imminent, as he also notched runner-ups at last August’s The Northern Trust, the opening event of the FedExCup Playoffs, and at January’s The American Express, where he finished the tournament at 24-under.
Finishing two strokes back of Simpson at 20-under, a number that would typically mop the field in this event (the last player to reach 20-under for the week was Brian Gay in the 2009 edition, which won him the event by a ridiculous ten strokes) was Hatton, who shot 64-63 in the middle rounds and has now finished T6 or better in four of his five 2020 season starts (and was T14 in the other), and Daniel Berger, the red-hot winner of last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge, who has finished in the top 10 in each of his last five starts, after notching just two in his previous 56 starts.
Final Top-10 Finishers
Pos-Name-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Webb Simpson -22 (-7)
2. Abraham Ancer -21 (-6)
3. Daniel Berger -20 (-6)
3. Tyrrell Hatton -20 (-5)
5. Sergio Garcia -19 (-6)
5. Joaquin Niemann -19 (-6)
7. Brooks Koepka -18 (-6)
8. Dylan Frittelli -17 (-9)
8. Justin Thomas -17 (-8)
8. J.T. Poston -17 (-6)
8. Bryson DeChambeau -17 (-5)
8. Michael Thompson -17 (-4)
8. Ryan Palmer -17 (-2)
Pos-Name-To Par (Final Rd)
14. Justin Rose -16 (-6)
14. Ian Poulter -16 (-3)
17. Dustin Johnson -15 (-3)
21. Rory Sabbatini -14 (-6)
21. Viktor Hovland -14 (-5)
33. Jon Rahm -12 (-3)
33. Tony Finau -12 (-1)
41. Charl Schwartzel -11 (-2)
41. Matt Kuchar -11 (-1)
41. Rory McIlroy -11 (-1)
48. Ernie Els -10 (-3)
52. Bubba Watson -9 (-6)
58. Bernhard Langer -8 (-2)
61. Branden Grace -7 (+1)
62. Gary Woodland -6 (-1)
64. Xander Schauffele -5 (-5)
64. Collin Morikawa -5 (+3)
68. Jordan Spieth -4 (-2)
Final Stat Leaders
Driving: Erik van Rooyen (306.3)
Fairways: Abraham Ancer (46/56, 82.1%)
Greens: Abraham Ancer (65/72, 90.3%)
Putts/GIR: Ian Poulter (1.522)
Birdies: Sergio Garcia (27)
How Webb Simpson Won the RBC Heritage
Simpson did not need long to put aside the disappointment of missed-cut in Fort Worth last week, opening with a pair of 6-under 65s to secure the tournament’s 36-hole lead. A Saturday 3-under 68 was comparatively underwhelming, but was enough to hold on to a share of the lead.
On Sunday, though, he was spectacular, particularly on the back nine where he played Nos. 9 through 18 to 5-under 30 – his best for the week by three strokes. He led the field for the week in strokes gained: total, achieved largely by finishing second in birdies (25) and strokes gained: putting.
Simpson finished with just five bogeys for the entire week – three of those coming on a Friday round where he STILL shot 65, and he had nothing worse than bogey the entire week.
Simpson’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 283 yards (33rd)
Fairways: 39/56, 67.9% (33rd)
Greens: 53/72, 73.6% (12th)
Putts/Per GIR: 55/1.547 (3rd)
Scores: 1 Eagle, 25 Birdies, 41 Pars, 5 Bogeys
Off the Tee: 0.891 (34th)
Approach the Green: 5.698 (8th)
Tee to Green: 7.174 (7th)
Putting: 6.605 (2nd)
Total: 13.779 (1st)
What It Means For Simpson
In addition to the healthy jump in the world rankings, where he now trails only Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, and Brooks Koepka, Simpson also took over the season FedExCup Standings lead from Sungjae Im.
Simpson’s career best FedExCup finish occurred in 2011, when he finished a narrow second to Bill Haas, who had ranked 22nd in the standings going into the final event.
If it was not already true, it is time to again take Simpson as serious threat in the biggest events. After winning the 2012 U.S. Open, he became a complete non-factor in the majors for the next five seasons, but over the past two, he has has finished inside the top 20 in six of the eight, as well as a blowout victory at the 2018 PLAYERS Championship – golf’s defacto fifth major.
Now that he clearly knows how to win again… watch out.
Simpson’s 2019-20 Season
Cuts Made: 6
Wins: 2 (WM Phoenix, RBC Heritage)
Additional Top 10s: 3
Earnings: $4,029,300 (1st)
FedExCup Pts: 1,583 (1st)
World Rank Before/After: 9/5
Abraham Ancer’s shotmaking clinic brought the most “oohs and aahs” among those who weren’t Webb Simpson, but there were a lot of low scores in the final round.
South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli, a 30-year-old who played a starring role for the University of Texas in their 2012 NCAA Championship (a thrilling 3-2 win over Alabama in an event that featured a final round matchup between Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas), had been struggling to assimilate to the PGA Tour until he notched his first top-10 when he claimed victory at last season’s John Deere Classic.
Frittelli got his 2020 season off to a fast start, but had been struggling since a T11 finish at last November’s Mayakoba Golf Classic. Well, if Sunday is any indication, Frittelli may be again rounding into form, and a new streak might be imminent.
Frittelli’s bogey-free 9-under 62 was not only the low round of the day, but the low round of the tournament. He propelled a field-high 39 spots up the final leaderboard, moving from T47 to a final position of T8.
Current world No. 3 and FedExCup No. 2 Justin Thomas has two victories among six top-10s in nine starts this season, but came into the week likely not feeling his best after limping down the stretch at last week’s Charles Schwab Classic after beginning Sunday just a stroke off the lead.
This week at Harbour Town was a near opposite. The 12-time Tour winner had an uphill battle after shooting a 1-over 72 in the first round, but was at his best on Sunday, when an 8-under 63 jumped him from T36 to T8 in the final standings. Thomas was able to offset two bogeys with eight birdies and an eagle.
The 2020 career resurgence of two-time Tour winner Harris English continued on Sunday, as the 30-year-old matched Simpson’s 7-under 64, to jump 30 spots up the final leaderboard, into a tie for 17th place.
English had come into the season in danger of losing his Tour card after a disappointing 2019 season where he had no top-10s just four top-25s in 28 starts, but has again found his game this season, as he now has 7 tops 25s in 12 starts (five top-10s). At 24th in the FedExCup standings, he has nothing to worry about in regards to eligibility next year.
Of the four players who began the final round tied for the lead, one (Simpson) finished first, one (Ancer) finished second, and one (Hatton) finished third.
The other was Ryan Palmer, who stayed in the mix early when he played the first five holes in 2-under, but a bogey on No. 6 seemed to derail him, resulting in a mediocre (given the scoring conditions) 2-under 69 to finish T8.
Ancer got the bulk of the final-round Mexico-resident hype, but sitting just a stroke out of the lead through three rounds was native Mexican Carlos Ortiz, a 29-year-old looking for his first career victory. With a T2 and two T4s on the season, Ortiz’s contention was no fluke, but he was completely out of sorts on Sunday, as a birdie-less 3-over back-nine meant a 2-over 73 that knocked him from T5 to T33.
Another player looking for his first victory, and also sitting just one stroke out of the lead after three rounds, was Joel Dahmen. The 32-year-old shot 12 strokes worse on Sunday than Saturday, carding just one birdie in a 4-over 75 that plummeted him a field-high 43 spots, from T5 to T48.
Dahmen was red-hot before the layoff, finishing T5 in his last two starts.
Is Brooks Back?
Perhaps the most exciting development to occur was the monster Sunday round and top-10 finish by world No. 4 Brooks Koepka. His resume is undeniably great: over the past three seasons, he has six wins, with four of those coming in majors, in addition to seven runner-ups.
However, the then-world No. 1 finished his 2019 season with a T3 at the Tour Championship, a knee injury has left the golf titan looking thoroughly non-Koepka. In five season starts prior to this week, with all but a tournament and a half coming before a lengthy injury layoff, he had no finishes of better than T32. A Sunday round of four birdies and two eagles meant a 6-under 65 that jumped him nine spots and into a solo seventh-place finish. Koepka led the field for the week in strokes gained: off-the-tee.
“It was a crazy day! Seriously, I’m speechless right now. We had that big delay, I texted my friend Mark to see if I could stay at his house tonight. It looked like we weren’t going to finish, but the Tour did a great job of getting us out there quickly; we only had a 20 minute warmup, and it was a long day on the golf course as well. I didn’t really get going until 12, and then the putts started going in, and I was getting confident and it’s amazing to be sitting here right now.”
– Webb Simpson, RBC Heritage Champion