By Sam McPherson
Any professional golfer who opens a tournament with a round of 66 and then closes with the same score on Sunday has a great chance of topping the leaderboard. South Africa’s Branden Grace did just that en route to the win at the RBC Heritage, held this weekend at Hilton Head’s Harbour Town Golf Links.
Grace probably didn’t expect to compete after his second-round 74, not with England’s Luke Donald sitting on the third-round lead. But Donald’s unremarkable Sunday round of 71 left the door open for Grace and Scotland’s Russell Knox, who took advantage.
Grace shot a 32 on the front nine to put himself in position, and then closed with two more birdies on the back nine to post a 66 and get the win at 9-under par. His only blip was a bogey at the 71st hole, but Donald still couldn’t close the gap late. He missed a birdie putt at 17 that could have given him a decent chance at forcing a playoff with a birdie on 18. And then he put his approach shot on 18 into the bunker, sealing Grace’s victory.
Knox also went out with a 32 on Sunday, but he was unable to gain more ground on Grace on the back nine. His round of 67 did elevate him into a second-place tie with Donald at 7-under par.
The top three finishers in the RBC Heritage at the Harbour Town Golf Links were international players. With England’s Danny Willett walking away with the Masters the previous weekend, Americans appear to have their work cut out for them in early 2016.
It seems all the top contenders had at least one challenging day at Harbour Town, making the tournament quite the adventure. To overcome his rough Friday, Grace needed a 69 and 66 over the weekend to win his first career PGA Tour event. Knox’s Saturday wasn’t much better. In fact, every golfer who finished in the top 10 this weekend — except Donald — had at least one round over par.
Eight Americans finished in the top 10 (including ties). Bryson DeChambeau closed with a 68 on Sunday to tie Kevin Na for fourth place at 5-under. Meanwhile, Bryce Molder charged forward with a 67 in the fourth round to secure a three-way tie for sixth at 4-under par with South Korea’s Whee Kim and Jason Kokrak, who double-bogeyed the 72nd hole. Ricky Barnes, William McGirt, Kevin Chappell, Matt Kuchar and Aaron Baddeley finished at 3-under par to tie for ninth.
Next On The Tee: Valero Texas Open
The Valero Texas Open, played at TPC San Antonio, is next up on the PGA Tour. The purse this year is $6.2 million, and the winner of the event with get 500 FedEx Cup points. The defending champion is Jimmy Walker, who shot an 11-under 277 here last year. He will attempt to become the first back-to-back winner of the Texas Open since Zach Johnson in 2008-09. Recent champions in the field this year include Ben Curtis (2012), Brendan Steele (2011), Johnson, and Justin Leonard (2000-01, 2007).
Longtime crowd favorite and five-time major winner Phil Mickelson will make his first PGA Tour appearance since the Masters. Other participants of note this week in San Antonio include are four-time major champion Ernie Els, three-time major winner Padraig Harrington and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen. Donald and Kuchar will be on hand, as will Grace, DeChambeau, Kokrak and Molder who will be looking to carry over their success from the RBC Heritage. However, 2015 Texas Open runner-up Jordan Spieth will not be playing, and neither will 2013 runner-up Rory McIlroy.
The Valero Texas Open course itself is part of the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa, designed by PGA legend Greg Norman with an assist from current PGA star Sergio Garcia. The event is the sixth oldest professional tournament in golf worldwide, the third oldest on the PGA Tour and the event to be held the longest in the same city. The 2016 tournament will be the 94th Texas Open.
The AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio plays 7,522 yards and is a par 72.
Favorites: Luke Donald, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson
Players to Watch: Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Kokrak, Bryce Molder
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.