Viktor Hovland of Norway didn’t have a letdown after tying for seventh in the Masters.
The ninth-ranked Hovland posted a brilliant, bogey-free seven-under-par 64 and held a one-stroke lead over Brian Harman, Aaron Rai of England and Jimmy Walker when darkness halted play in the 55th RBC Heritage after a rain delay in the middle of the day at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Six golfers, including Rai and Walker, will return in the morning to finish their rounds before round two begins.
“That was really good,” said Hovland, who has claimed seven titles as a professional, including three on the PGA Tour. “This course, it’s pretty narrow, so I can kind of hit that drive where I tee down, grip it down (the shaft) a little bit, and just hit like a low bullet. It’s hard for me to hit a disastrous shot with that swing.
“I didn’t putt it as good in the last three rounds last week as I did in the first round (at Augusta National). However, this week, I’m just trying to play a bit more, not conservatively, but making sure that I hit more greens.
“Instead of freaking out or questioning all the reads that you make, that’s not going to fix anything. So I just kind of kept trusting the process and today it paid off and I made some putts.”
The 25-year-old Hovland made three birdies on his front nine and four on the last seven holes coming home, and had remarkable par save at No. 15 after hitting his second shot into the water before sinking a clutch 15-foot putt for par.
The left-handed Harman birdied four of the first nine holes and added two more birdies down the stretch in his 65.
“I love coming here,” said Harman, who lives not far away in St. Simons Island, Ga. “I got two sponsor exemptions to play here as an amateur, once as a junior, once when I was in college. I didn’t do any good, but I was thrilled to come over here. It was the first golf tournament I ever attended. I think I was 10 or 11 years old.
“I missed cut in the Masters last week, so I went home to my farm and I killed a pig Friday night and I killed a turkey Saturday morning, so I didn’t hit any balls until I got here on Tuesday. .. I mean, golf is my job, so I try to make it as business-like as possible because, if I get so wound up in who’s coming and who’s getting tickets and who’s coming out to watch, like I just end up focusing on the wrong things.
“So my job is to hit fairways, greens, and try to make putts. Whether that’s here or in Memphis, or in New York City, it’s all the same.”
Walker birdied five of his first seven holes and was six-under with a single bogey through 16 holes when the end came, while Rai birdied four straight holes on the front nine and was a bogey-free six-under through 15 holes when the horn blew.
Two-time major champion Zach Johnson, 47, birdied three of his last four holes in a 66 and is in a big tie for fifth with Matt Fitzpatrick of England, who had three birdies on each nine; Justin Rose of England, who bounced back from bogeys on his first two holes and collected seven birdies; Scott Stallings, who made five birdies in seven holes in the middle of his round; Joel Dahmen, who had three birdies in the first seven holes of a bogey-free round, and Sungjae Im of South Korea, who birdied four of his last five holes.
Sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State made four birdies on the front nine in a 67 and was tied for 11th, second-ranked Scottie Scheffler shot 68 and was in a tie for 15th that included defending champion Jordan Spieth, who had four birdies and a bogey in his 68, while fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA totaled 69 and was in a tie for 28th that included 10th-ranked Sam Burns.
Top-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, coming off his victory in the Masters, struggled to a 72 and was tied for 92nd, while fifth-ranked Max Homa of Valencia and Cal managed only a 73 and was tied for 110th.
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