J.T. Poston leads RBC Heritage with exhausted Scottie Scheffler six back

J.T. Poston leads RBC Heritage with exhausted Scottie Scheffler six back
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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Scottie Scheffler is running on fumes after an exhausting Masters victory just four days ago. He hit a shank from a bunker. He nearly lost his mind from mud on his golf ball. And he still managed a 2-under 69 at the RBC Heritage on Thursday.

J.T. Poston set the pace on an idyllic day on Hilton Head Island with nine birdies — six of them in a seven-hole stretch — for a 63 that gave him a two-shot lead over Collin Morikawa and Seamus Power.

Ludvig Åberg, the runner-up at Augusta, was in the group another shot behind. Rory McIlroy birdied his last two holes to salvage a scrappy day with the irons for a 67.

Thousands of fans lined the fairways of Harbour Town to see Scheffler, the Masters champion who is going for his fourth win in his last five tournaments. There were times Scheffler didn’t look like the No. 1 player in the world, and he figured that would be the case with very little time to prepare.

“That’s why I tried to give myself an extra little bit of grace on the course today, just because yeah, emotionally a little drained. Mentally, definitely a bit drained,” he said.

“I feel like I have more energy now than I did at the beginning of the day, waking up to go play golf,” he said. “I think getting into the tournament, hitting some shots, getting a bit frustrated, getting a bit excited about my finish there, all good emotions to feel. It’s nice to be kind of back into tournament mode.”

All but 16 players in the 69-man field were at the Masters, at least for part of the week. Poston closed with a 70 at Augusta National and arrived at Hilton Head Island with a little excitement away from golf. This is the first time traveling with his month-old daughter, Katherine Scott.

They’re calling her Scottie, a family name from both sides of the family.

“Good time to be called Scottie,” Poston said with a smile.

Poston chipped in from 65 feet on the par-3 fourth hole to begin a remarkable run — three straight birdies from the 10-foot range followed, and then a 15-foot birdie putt on the short par-4 ninth and another birdie from 10 feet to start the back nine.

Highlights: RBC Heritage, Round 1

Relive the best shots and more from first-round action at the 2024 RBC Heritage, taking place at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

For Morikawa, it was more validation he’s on the right track. The two-time major winner was among those who had a share of the lead Sunday at the Masters until he took a pair of double bogeys around the turn. He wound up in a tie for third.

“A lot of swing thoughts I’ve kind of been flipping the book through worked for one day or two days and then it’s gone,” Morikawa said. “But look, it lasted all the way through the Masters. It’s lasted through here. What I’m doing, it’s working. I’ve just got to stick to that and understand why it’s working and just go out there and play golf.”

Scheffler and Jordan Spieth were in the group behind Poston getting all the attention — Scheffler as the dominant player in golf, Spieth because his entertainment level is high. The fans probably weren’t expecting a shank, and neither was Scheffler.

It happened on the third hole. He was in a bunker right of the green and hit it off the hosel of the club at a 45-degree angle away from the pin, over the green. He chipped to 6 feet and missed the putt, making double bogey.

“I shank it a decent amount, but never in competition,” Scheffler said. “I tried to give myself a little bit of grace there. It clearly was just a mental lapse and I wasn’t quite into it yet. I had a much better back nine.”

That had its moments, too, all on one hole. The 11th gives him fits off the tee, and he finally drilled one, only to see a clump of mud on his ball. His approached headed left and kept going as Scheffler shouted, “MUD BALL!” And the frustration was evident.

He talked to himself harshly down the fairway, especially seeing the ball carom off a slope into the bunker, leaving him an impossible shot. Scheffler did well to blast out to the fringe, and then he holed the putt for par.

“I was obviously frustrated with that type of break, and then to get up there and knock the putt in was a nice feeling,” he said. “Used it as some good momentum for the closing stretch.”

He hit wedge to 4 feet for birdie on the 16th, made a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th and ended the day with another round below par. Scheffler now has 37 consecutive rounds at par or better dating to the Tour Championship last August.

Justin Thomas missed the cut at the Masters in horrific fashion by playing the final four holes in 7 over to miss by one. He had only one glitch Thursday — a double bogey when he chipped into the bunker on the par-3 14th — that spoiled an otherwise decent round of 69.

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