48th RBC Heritage:
With a final-round 5-under-par 32-34=66 and a 72-hole aggregate of 9-under 275, Branden Grace erased a three-stroke deficit to win the 48th RBC Heritage by two shots over Russell Knox and 54-hole leader Luke Donald.
This is Grace’s first PGA TOUR title and it came in his 51st career start. His previous best was solo third at the 2015 PGA Championship. The South African, who’s a first-time member on TOUR though not a rookie, won in his second Heritage appearance after posting a T7 last year.
Grace is no stranger to the winner's circle having won seven times on the European Tour, including twice last year, and again this year with a successful defense at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters back in February. Overall, he’s now won 11 times worldwide since turning pro in 2007.
With the win, the 27-year-old moves from No. 14 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) to No. 11 and is exempt on TOUR thru the 2017-18 season. He is scheduled to make his third straight appearance at the Valero Texas Open after posting a T30 in 2015 and a T79/MDF in 2014.
The Winner’s Stats (rank):
Driving Accuracy: 30/56 (T50)
Driving Distance: 280.2 yards (T39)
Greens in Regulation (GIR): 44/72 (T14)
Scrambling: 22/28 (3rd) at 78.57 percent
Strokes gained: tee-to-green (SGTTG): 9.193 (2nd)
Strokes gained: putting (SGP): 5.406 (10th)
Putts per GIR: 1.727 (21st)
Total Putts: 109 (T23)
Putts per Round: 27.25 (T23)
Overall Putting Average: 1.514 (T23)
Birdies: 18 (T1)
Bogeys: 7 (T7)
Double bogeys: 1 (T13)
Golf Channel Perfect Picks ($2,360,000):
Group 1: Branden Grace (Won): $1,062,000
Group 2: Russell Knox (T2): $519,200
Group 3: Luke Donald (T2): $519,200
Group 4: Bryson DeChambeau (T4): $259,600 (non-PGA TOUR member earnings)
Yahoo! Low Rounds:
R2: Russell Knox (65)
R3: Kevin Na (66)
R4: John Senden (65)
Field Scoring Average by Round:
Harbour Town Golf Links
Par: 71 (36-35)
R3: 73.56 (second highest this season to the Masters)
9-under 275 (66-74-69-66)
Branden Grace: Playing out of the third-to-last twosome, Grace began the finale on 4-under (T5) after opening in 66-74-69, three shy of 54-hole leader Donald. He split nine (of 14) fairways and hit 11 greens in regulation, circling seven on the card, all from 13 feet or less, outpacing a 3-putt bogey on the par-3 fourth and a failed sand save on the par-3 17th.
Grace, who co-led with Donald after 18 holes, kicked off with his longest scoring conversion of the day, circling birdie-3 at the first from 13 feet. He went back-to-back from 38 inches at the par-5 second before retreating one with a 3-putt from 48’9” at the fourth. Grace bounced back with two straight circles on holes 5 and 6, and penciled his fifth birdie from 32 inches at the drivable par-4 ninth to turn in 4-under 32.
At that point, the leaderboard read:
-8 Branden Grace (thru 9)
-7 Russell Knox (thru 11)
-7 Luke Donald (thru 8)
-6 Patton Kizzire (8)
-5 Jason Kokrak (8)
-5 Whee Kim (12)
He made a key par-saving putt from 7'10" at the 10th and rode that momentum to back-to-back birdies on 12 and 13 to extend his lead to three on 10-under total – Grace was the first (and only) player to hit double digits under-par for the week.
The South African saved another with the flat stick from 11'9" on the par-4 16th before squaring his last bogey at the 17th. He went to the 18th tee with a two-shot cushion over Knox, who was in on 7-under, and Donald, who was in the final twosome with Kokrak and playing the 16th.
The 14th-ranked player in the world, second highest in the field behind No. 1 Jason Day, boldly launched driver 312 yards to the fairway, hit his second on the surface to 39’9”, and two-putted to post the number. Donald would need a birdie-birdie finish to force a playoff but posted par-par.
One week on from Danny Willett donning the green jacket for the first time, Grace slipped-on the tartan jacket at Harbour Town.
There was no advantage in the draw. In total, 40 (of 64) early/late made the 36-hole cut (two WDs), while 42 (of 64) late/early made the cut (two WDs).
Branden Grace (1st): Late/early
Russell Knox (T2): Early/late
Luke Donald (T2): Early/late
Bryson DeChambeau (T4): Late/early
Kevin Na (T4): Early/late
R3- (ONE): Shawn Stefani (69)
Russell Knox: Knox crafted a final-round 4-under-par 32-35=67 to post the clubhouse target at 7-under 277, up six places on the leaderboard to T2, but that is where he would finish, two back of champion Grace.
The 30-year-old began the finale in a five-way T8 on 3-under after opening his third RBC in 72-65-73, four adrift of 54-hole leader Donald. His 65 in R2 ended up being tied for the low round this week with John Senden/R4.
Knox kicked off with birdie from 4'8" at the par-4 first and added further par breakers on holes 5, 6 and 9 to turn 4-under, the latter dropping from 17'3". He stayed blemish-free on his first half with par-saving putts of 5'4" at the par-5 second and 7'6" at the par-4 eighth.
After the break, Knox exchanged bogey-5 at 12 with a five-inch birdie at the par-4 16th, but brushed-in one-putt pars of 12'7" at the 17th and 8'5" at the last. He co-led the field in total birdies with 18 and was first in driving accuracy at 76.79 percent (43/56). Knox’s previous best at Harbour Town was T9 in his 2014 debut.
The Scot was seeking his second TOUR victory after winning his maiden title in his 93rd career start – and first World Golf Championships appearance – at the HSBC Champions back in November.
Luke Donald: The overnight leader sleepwalked to an even-par 35-36=71 in the finale for a total of 7-under 277, down one on the leaderboard into a two-way T2, two back of champion Grace.
The 38-year-old was trying to log back-to-backs wins on TOUR for England after Danny Willett’s come-from-behind win at the Masters, and was seeking his sixth TOUR title in his 299th career start and first since the 2012 Valspar.
Donald co-led with Grace with first-round 66s, but after tacking on 71-69, led outright by one thru 54 holes over playing competitor Jason Kokrak, who shot 73, and Charley Hoffman, who was in the penultimate twosome and languished to a 75.
All of Donald’s action in R4 came in a four-hole stretch, posting birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey on holes 7-10, otherwise recording 14 pars, including the par-par finish when needing birdie-birdie to force sudden death. He played his inward half in birdie-less 1-over and settles for his first top 10 of 2015-16 in his 11th start.
This was the Englishman's 10th 54-hole lead/co-lead on TOUR and he's now converted just two into victories, most recently at the 2006 Honda. He had a two-shot lead after 54 holes here in 2014 as well, eventually finishing solo second with a closing 69, and now owns four runners-up at Harbour Town in 11 visits, with third-place finishes two other times.
What We Learned:
The pre-tourney odds-favorites have won just ONCE this season thru 23 events (Spieth- Hyundai TOC).
World No. 1 Jason Day was the book-maker favorite this week (11/2) and finished T23 on 1-under 283 (67-69-79-68), eight back of Grace who was a pre-tourney 40/1 outright. Day’s 79 in R3 was a season worst in 26 rounds and a career-worst weekend round.
Of the top-3 finishers this week, Grace and Knox both missed the cut at the Masters and Donald didn’t qualify.
Seventeen (17) of the Top 50 OWGR were in the field:
World No. 34 Justin Thomas finished last (75th) on 17-over 301, playing the weekend in 77 and a career-worst 82 (in 188 rounds).
World No. 46 and 2014 FedExCup champ Billy Horschel was 4-under thru 45 holes but played his last 27 without a birdie, squaring eight bogeys and a double to finish T54.
There were 20 first-timers at Harbour Town GL in the 132-man field, including six TOUR rookies.
Bryson DeChambeau: Making his professional debut, the 22-year-old took top honors of the RBC debutants with T4 on 5-under 279 (70-69-72-68) and pockets $259,600 in non-member earnings.
He entered the Masters No. 464 in OWGR, bumped to No. 349 after T21 at Augusta National, and leaves Hilton Head at No. 205. DeChambeau led the RBC field in SGTTG at 10.642, including 2.266 in the final round. His totals for the week were 17 birdies, 10 bogeys and one double-bogey.
Patton Kizzire: The 30-year-old was top rookie at 2-under 282 (69-68-71-74). He was T4 thru 36 holes, solo fourth after 54, and T2 with nine holes remaining, just one shy of Grace, who was one hole ahead.
Unfortunately, the Sea Island, Georgia, resident came home in birdie-less 5-over 40, squaring three straight on holes 10-12 and back-to-backs on 17 and 18.
For the third time in the last four weeks, the TOUR is in The Lone Star State, this time for the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. Texas resident Jimmy Walker is the defending champion, winning last year’s wind-swept edition by four strokes over Jordan Spieth (who’s not in the field), and by seven over third-place Horschel, who is scheduled to compete.
Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news and opinions as the TOUR readies for its 24th tournament of the season.