HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Viktor Hovland’s round of 7-under 64 at the rain-delayed RBC Heritage on Thursday gave him a first-round lead for a second straight week — and left Masters champion Jon Rahm eight shots behind and with plenty of work ahead to get into contention after his major victory.
Hovland had the lowest of his five career rounds Harbour Town, the tight, tricky Pete Dye layout.
The Norwegian was a stroke ahead of Brian Harman. Jimmy Walker and Aaron Rai were also at 6 under but had not completed their rounds when play was suspended because of darkness at 7:50 p.m. Six players will conclude their first rounds on Friday morning.
The group at 66 included U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson, Justin Rose, Sungjae Im, Scott Stallings and Joel Dahmen.
Rahm, who slipped on his first green jacket just a few days earlier, finished at 1-over 72. He acknowledged the fatigue from Augusta National, and it didn’t help that his afternoon included a rain delay of nearly 90 minutes. He never got comfortable on a course he had competed on only once before.
“I hate to make excuses, but a couple of the swings towards the end were my body being tired and surprised me,” Rahm said.
The RBC Heritage is the sixth designated event this year on the PGA Tour, meaning an increased purse — up to $20 million from $8 million a year ago — and many of the world’s best, like Rahm and Hovland, in the field when they may have otherwise taken a post-Masters break.
Hovland, like Rahm, had only played here in June 2020 when Harbour Town hosted the tour’s second event after its COVID-19 stoppage. But the lack of experience didn’t slow him down as he birdied seven of his final 14 holes. Hovland shared the first-round lead at the Masters and finished in a tie for seventh.
Hovland missed birdie putts inside 15 feet on three of his first four holes but didn’t lose confidence in his stroke.
“Instead of freaking out or questioning all the reads that you make, that’s not going to fix anything,” he said. “So I just kind of kept trusting the process.”
Rahm was cheered loudly as he got to the first tee and was the focus of cellphone cameras as he moved around Harbour Town. He showed quickly he was not quite recovered from meat-grinder of Augusta National.
His drive on the par-5 second hole was way left and he needed two chips to save par. On the fifth, another par-5, Rahm was gesturing with his hands when his putt didn’t go where he planned. After the mid-round delay, Rahm bogeyed the sixth, seventh and eighth holes.
He received a big ovation by fans in the stands alongside No. 8, but after his tap-in for bogey, Rahm didn’t pause and headed straight for the ninth tee before playing partner Jordan Spieth putted out. Spieth, the defending champion, shot 68.
Rahm made consecutive birdies on the 13th and 14th holes. But things turned again on No. 16 when his drive went into a bush in a waste area. He took a penalty drop and made his fourth bogey of the day.
“I’m hoping tonight is the day where I start turning things back around and start feeling a little bit better,” Rahm said.
Harman is from nearby Savannah, Georgia, and has played this event for 12 straight years. He missed the cut at the Masters, then took the weekend off and didn’t touch a club until arriving on Hilton Head.
“I killed a pig Friday night at my farm, and I killed a turkey Saturday morning,” Harman said. “I didn’t hit any balls until I got here Tuesday.”
His hands-off preparation appeared to work well as he had six birdies without a bogey to tie his lowest career round at Harbour Town.
After a week where PGA Tour and LIV Golf players were together, it was back to separate sides of the globe. Dustin Johnson was the most prominent member of the Saudi-funded tour who regularly played Harbour Town. Johnson is a South Carolina native and had an endorsement deal with RBC.
LIV Golf’s next event in April 21-23 in Adelaide, Australia.
DIVOTS: Kevin Kisner withdrew after a 79. … Ryan Fox of New Zealand, who plays on the European tour, withdrew due to illness.
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