by Drew Davis
on Tuesday, June 30th, 2020 at 10:02pm.
Nothing about this RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament was normal.
So maybe it was fitting that the eventual champion was a steady presence who knows this golf course as well as anyone.
In the end, Webb Simpson punched through a tightly packed leaderboard fueled by unprecedented low scoring to win Sunday at Harbour Town Golf Links. He finished 22-under-par 262 to beat a group that included a charging Daniel Berger, Sergio Garcia and Brooks Koepka.
The winning total was a record, beating Brian Gay’s 20-under 264 finish in 2009.
More than Simpson’s course knowledge was experience in contention and knowing how he would react as birdies flew, he said.
“That was what I was thankfully leaning on those last few holes,” Simpson said.
The victory was Simpson’s second of the year, adding to the Waste Management Phoenix Open in early February. He won at Harbour Town for the first time, in his 11th try.
He had earned $1.3 million at the tournament before Sunday. He pocketed $1.278 million with the Heritage win.
Rain showers and light wind softened a course that can play like a major championship and welcomed anyone to claim the tartan jacket.
A pop-up storm Sunday caused a weather delay of almost three hours. During the break Simpson texted a friend to see if he had a place to stay on Hilton Head for a possible Monday finish.
Leaders raced remaining sunlight and seemed destined for a playoff.
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At one point Sunday, seven players were tied for the lead. Just before 8 p.m., four players shared the lead on the back nine.
Kopeka had stirred earlier in the day by playing a seven-hole stretch in 6-under par. Berger chipped in for birdie on the 71st hole while vying for a second win in as many weeks.
“Everybody is tearing it up,” Koepka said. “It’s kind of frustrating because you feel like you make a couple birdies in the row and don’t feel like you go anywhere.”
Tyrrell Hatton, trying to win his second PGA Tour event in consecutive starts, wasn’t out of it until narrowly missing a chip-in on the 71st hole.
Simpson slammed the door with three consecutive birdies starting on the par-5 15th.
The drama was without many witnesses as the PGA Tour has closed early events to fans to prevent spreading COVID-19.
No spectators cheered the birdies, except those in folding chairs, patios and balconies along the course and vessels anchored in the Calibogue Sound off of Hilton Head.
Simpson casually strolled down the 72nd fairway to a serene scene of more than a dozen boats on the water. As he approached the green, boat horns honked and Simpson acknowledged people cheering from yards of neighboring condominiums.
The father of five closed out his seventh PGA Tour victory. He won for the second time as a dad on Father’s Day, along with the 2012 U.S. Open.
Simpson wore a yellow shirt as he does on Sundays to honor his father, Sam, who died in 2017. When his children give him Father’s Day cards, they’re in yellow crayon or marker.
Simpson on Sunday recalled calling his father on his way to the news conference after the U.S. Open victory at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
“And when he picked up the phone, he just was laughing,” Simpson said. “That’s kind of what he did when he was happy, he would just laugh. So I’m going to miss that laugh today for sure.”
He said he thought about him often during the final round on Hilton Head.
That one of the state’s premier events was revived in time for June required a herculean effort and affirmation from federal, state and local officials that this was safe and proper.
One player of 151 tested positive for COVID-19 during the tournament. Nick Watney was quarantined and at least 11 people he had been close to were identified and tested negative.
Faces unfamiliar to Harbour Town strode the tight fairways. The second PGA Tour event back during the pandemic drew the world’s best — Rory McIlroy, Koepka, Jon Rahm.
Simpson, at No. 9 in the world, is expected to now creep toward his career-best of fifth in the Official World Golf Ranking. The position is the result of hard work examining which areas the 34-year-old could improve after 12 years as a pro.
The wild finish was staged by furious scoring through three rounds.
A tournament record 35 players were 10 under or better entering the final round. The previous high was seven players in double digits after 54 holes.
The field’s 223-under total on Saturday shattered the previous cumulative single-round score.
Simpson said his familiarity with Harbour Town was less an advantage in June. He had to check yardages and hit different clubs off the tee with shots reacting differently on warm-season grass.
The birdie-fest was different, too, and Simpson described the final stretch as a blur. When the picture cleared, he had donned the tartan jacket on the putting green outside the clubhouse as cameras flashed in the dark.