(CBS Miami/CBS Local) — The PGA Tour seems to have found a working formula for professional golf during the coronavirus pandemic. It includes lots of testing, tons of hand sanitizer and no fans on the course. The ropes remain. The cameras were watching, as Daniel Berger topped a stellar field and prevailed in an anti-climactic playoff with Collin Morikawa to take the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial.
Golf’s return was an overwhelming success. The Tour moves to Harbour Town Golf Links this week for the RBC Heritage, which has shifted from its usual mid-April slot on the calendar. Another strong field is expected to tee it up, this time in Hilton Head, South Carolina, with all of the world’s top-five players and 15 of the top 20 scheduled to play.
Tiger Woods, who is ranked 13th, will not be among them. Woods also missed the Charles Schwab and was last seen at The Match: Champions for Charity in late May, where he appeared to be healthy. The Memorial Tournament in a month seems the most likely event for his return.
The top five will look to rebound from a somewhat disappointing showing at the Charles Schwab. World number one, Rory McIlroy, who had never competed on the course, toyed with the leaderboard on Friday with a second-round 63 before dropping out of contention. Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson both missed the cut. Brooks Koepka tied McIlroy with a 32nd-place finish, but never really contended. Only Justin Thomas made the top 10.
“Rory will play better,” says CBS Sports on-course reporter Dottie Pepper. “There was some rust to be kicked off. It wasn’t super shiny. I think Koepka will do the same, kick off some of that rust. I look for Justin Thomas to play well. He got himself in there over the weekend and didn’t quite finish on Sunday.”
The current top five, save for Johnson, skipped the RBC Heritage last year. Its position directly following the Masters possibly had something to do with it. This year, they will have to contend with the event’s strongest field in some time. Eight winners from the last decade will return, including 2019 defending champion C.T. Pan and runner-up (and 2014 winner) Matt Kuchar. Brian Gay, who holds the course record (264) from his 2009 win, will also be in the field. The last four champions were first-timers, though, none had to face anything close to this major-caliber field.
Harbour Town, like Colonial, favors shot-makers. The par-71 track measures 7,099 yards, putting it on the shorter side for the PGA Tour. But what it lacks in length it makes up for in difficulty. Scoring low requires precise placement. As Pepper points out, “there’s a redemption quality to this place. You can make a big number, but you can also get on a very big run and make a lot of birdies here.”
The last six holes are among the best stretches on Tour. This portion of the course begins with the 353-yard par-4 13th, which features a relatively big green guarded by a giant front-side bunker. It ends with the 460-yard, par-4 18th, which plays along Calibogue Sound toward the red-and-white-striped Harbour Town lighthouse. The lighthouse should be in full view this year without the grandstand to block it.
“There’s a good balance of holes,” according to Pepper. “You have to be able to move the golf ball both ways. When the wind comes up here, it plays particularly difficult because the greens are so small. It places a premium on the short game.”
Harbour Town is not a bombers paradise. “If you look at the winners over the last few years, there are no big bombers that have really won here,” says Pepper. “It’s a player that has control that will consistently play well here.”
The favorites once again include the best of the best on the PGA Tour. All of them can drive for distance, but boast a well-rounded game that should serve them well around the greens.
>>STREAM: RBC Heritage
Here are the favorites:
Rory McIlroy (11-1)
McIlroy finished nine strokes behind the eventual winner and well outside the top 10 last week. But going into the event he hadn’t missed the top 10 since last August, and going into the final round he still had a shot. That should be the case again this week. McIlroy is over a decade removed from his last and only appearance at Harbour Town, where he finished 58th at the Verizon Heritage.
Justin Thomas (16-1)
Like McIlroy, Thomas was positioned to make a move going into Sunday at the Charles Schwab. He would end up tied for 10th, four strokes behind Berger. It marks his fourth top-10 finish of the year, he’s also missed the cut twice. The world’s third-ranked player last competed at Harbour Town in 2016, when limped to a 75th-place finish that included a disastrous fourth round. He finished 11th the year before.
Bryson DeChambeau (16-1)
The bulked-up DeChambeau looked good at the Charles Schwab, gaining strokes off the tee on a course where it may not have seemed possible. He was on pace to be part of the playoff that decided the tournament before bogeying the 17th hole. He finished one stroke back, tied for third. It was his fourth top-five Tour finish of his five events this year. Harbour Town, like Colonial, doesn’t usually favor the bombers. But DeChambeau has mastered it twice, placing third in 2018 and fourth in 2016. He’s also missed the cut twice.
Watch the RBC Heritage Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21, 3:00 – 6:00 PM ET on CBS.