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  • Writer's pictureWes Kerr

2023 RBC Heritage: Fitzpatrick fulfills childhood dream, dethrones Spieth in playoff

Seconds removed from hitting the shot of a lifetime, Matthew Fitzpatrick savored his walk to the 18th green, the historic candy-striped lighthouse in the backdrop. And then, just as he envisioned as a youngster, he drained Sunday’s final putt. The 28-year-old Englishman who was seemingly destined to win at Harbour Town earned his tartan jacket.

After posting a 3-under 68 to fight his way into a playoff with defending champion Jordan Spieth, Fitzpatrick nailed his approach shot inches away from the 18th flag to dethrone Spieth on the third extra hole and capture the 2023 RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.

It was a historic payday for Fitzpatrick (66-70-63-68 267), who took home the tournament’s largest top prize ever in a $3.6 million dollar payday to mark his second win on TOUR after the 2022 U.S. Open. And it was the culmination of a lifelong dream for Fitzpatrick to don the elusive plaid.

“It means a lot that this is the place that I managed to pick up a win,” Fitzpatrick said. “I just stuck to my game plan all along. I didn't change. We were hitting the same targets, same shots as we did all week. I just felt as long as I could hang on — not hang on, but as long as I was within two shots going into the back nine, I was easily in with a shout.”

Fitzpatrick started the day one shot ahead of Patrick Cantlay and two clear of Jordan Spieth, but it was the defending champ who made the initial surge on Sunday. Spieth started his day with a clinical birdie on the par-4 first and added another on the 552-yard par-5 second. Fitzpatrick kept pace with Spieth to maintain his slim lead, including a tremendous save at the third, but Jordan’s impeccable approach game struck again on the sixth hole. With another large gallery beside him, Spieth drilled his second shot inside three feet and drained the ensuing putt to tie Fitzpatrick at the top at 16-under par.

The red-hot Spieth surged to 4-under through his first six holes and took the lead on a Fitzpatrick bogey on the seventh. The Texas native was starting to eye the first back-to-back Heritage title since Boo Weekley’s in 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, Korean Sungjae Im was building a comeback bid of his own. With a white cap adorned with last October’s CJ CUP logo back in Congaree, Im rode a 5-under par front nine to get within two shots of the pace. After losing his world No. 1 status to Jon Rahm’s Masters victory, Scottie Scheffler was looking to find his putting stroke late to reclaim his spot at the top. But after signs of life with two early birdies, Scheffler’s luck on the greens fizzled out and kept him three strokes back at the turn.

As some names like Scheffler began to fade, a surprising one began to emerge from the pack. Sahith Theegala dominated the challenging Sunday pins, shooting 4-under on the front nine before keeping his strong play rolling with back-to-back birdies on 12 and 13 including a 51-foot putt on the latter.

Every Heritage champion seems to have a signature moment, whether it’s a memorable chip shot or a miraculous recovery. And it looked to be the case with Jordan Spieth at the 10th. After driving his tee shot into the lagoon on the left side, the iron-play wizard stroked another beauty to set up a tremendous par save. But Cantlay made a birdie to pull even with Spieth at 16-under while Fitzpatrick stayed one back.

The reigning champion Spieth picked up some separation at the 13th. His drive off the tee found the right side of the fairway, setting him up in the perfect position to clear the bunker and settle just inside four feet from the flag. The impressive birdie, coupled with a bogey on the card for Cantlay, gave Spieth a two-shot advantage over his two playing partners.

But the par-3 14th was lurking next, and it never pulls any punches on Sundays. After a conservative tee shot to the left fairway, Spieth bounced his second well past the flagstick and just in front of the menacing water. He couldn’t save his par, putting Fitzpatrick right back in the mix after salvaging an up and down. Both Spieth and Fitzpatrick took care of business on the par-5 15th with a pair of birdies and the tension grew as the galleries pushed toward Calibogue Sound.

The Englishman Fitzpatrick, who first visited Harbour Town on family vacation at age 6 and has returned often, was in need of a clutch putt to draw even, and he found it on the tricky 16th. Thanks to a terrific approach leaving himself five feet for a birdie, Fitzpatrick rattled in the golden opportunity to match Spieth at 17-under. Both contenders left the penultimate hole with a par as Fitzpatrick sent an 8-foot birdie putt begging.

With the tournament resting on the 72nd hole on a gorgeous late afternoon, Fitzpatrick attacked the green in two while Spieth found himself just to the right of the fringe. With some work to do to stay alive, Spieth pitched his ball to six feet from the flag, leaving a clutch par putt to keep the repeat bid intact.

Fist pump.

For the second straight year, the RBC Heritage needed extra holes. And this time, it would decide the largest payout in tournament history.

Spieth could almost see himself slipping into a second tartan jacket when the ball left his putter and scurried towards the cup. But his birdie bid on the first extra hole lipped out at the last moment, leaving him dumbfounded and sending the duel back to the par-three 17th. Fitzpatrick had yet another look at the birdie putt that eluded him in regulation, but he missed the opposite way this time to give Spieth another shot at a walk-off win. The second verse was the same as the first, just scraping past the hole for a pair of pars and a trip back to 18.

On the third extra hole, Fitzpatrick saw an opening to steal the headlines and fulfill his childhood vision. He seized the moment with one signature swing. From the middle of the 18th fairway, Fitzpatrick lifted his majestic second shot, which settled just a few revolutions away from dropping in the cup. Spieth needed a heroic effort from the back of the green, and his last gasp fizzled wide of the cup. With a sense of relief on the face of the Englishman, Fitzpatrick did the honors and tapped in a birdie he’d never forget.

The inevitable became a reality, and the kid with the big dream was finally a Heritage champion.

“I felt like the shot that I hit was right down it from the moment it left the club face,” Fitzpatrick said. “We knew it was the perfect number for the club. Then I knew it was good because my mom and my girlfriend were jumping up and down with their arms in the air. I knew it must have been decent.”

Cantlay reeled in some extra cash on the final hole with a birdie putt to finish alone in third at 16-under 268. Xander Schauffele fired a final-round 66 to finish fourth at -15, Theegala and Hayden Buckley (-14) tied for fifth, and Cam Davis, Emiliano Grillo, and Sungjae Im joined Savannah native Brian Harman (-13) to round out the top 10.

When he came across the pond to Hilton Head as a young boy, Harbour Town Golf Links gave Fitzpatrick a special passion to ignite his game and to one day stand on the other side of the ropes. In 2014, he made his first cut here as an amateur. And on Sunday, the ultimate prophecy was fulfilled, and that young boy became the tournament’s most lucrative winner. He’s already won a major, but in his eyes, Hilton Head might be the most special win of them all.

“Yeah, this one is the one that I've always wanted to win,” Fitzpatrick said. “Any golf tournament, you know, other than the majors, of course, there isn't a higher one on my list than to win this one, and that's the truth. My family can tell you that, and my friends can tell you the same thing. This place is just a special place for me, and it means the world to have won it.”

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