A jam packed gallery was treated to a great opening day of golf at the 2022 RBC Heritage presented by Boeing on Thursday, as Cameron Young stole the show with a flawless 8-under-par 63 in the morning session to open a two-shot lead over Joaquin Niemann after one round with a group of seven golfers another shot back at 5-under.
Young, a 24-year-old Wake Forest product, picked apart the tree-lined Harbour Town Golf Links, going out with a 5-under 31 and coming in with a flag-hunting 3-under 32. Young’s scorecard featured eight birdies, one hit pin on the 18th, and no bogeys as he set the mark early in round one. Young’s group was the first on the course at 7:10 a.m. and avoided the windy conditions that moved in during the early afternoon rounds.
While Young had a strong February on tour, highlighted by two top 20s including a second at the prestigious Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, the former Demon Deacon has missed two of his last three cuts including the Masters last week. Young led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green on Thursday, gaining more than five shots against the field, and was second to only Corey Conners in Strokes Gained: Approach, gaining 3.5 shots against one of the strongest fields in Heritage history.
But let’s not do Young an injustice, he did everything well with a strong 7.56 Total Strokes Gained against the field.
“I think my ball striking was very good. I was able to kind of make the most of the opportunities I was given with some shorter putts,” Young said. “Really the only one that got away from me was 17, just kind of a tricky one, but I was able to convert all the 5- to 10-footers, which was a nice feeling.”
While Young stole the scoring headlines, Heritage Academy and IJGA alum and one-time Lowco resident Morgan Hoffmann’s return to the PGA Tour was the feel good story of the day and week. The former No. 1 amateur in the world and rising superstar made his 2022 PGA Tour debut at the Heritage on a medical exemption.
This is Hoffmann’s first tournament since 2019, as the former Oklahoma State Cowboy has been on a nearly three-year sabbatical from the sport. The 32-year-old stepped away from the game and moved to the jungles of Costa Rica for a lifestyle change (to say the least) and to fight muscular dystrophy.
With his wife and beloved Doberman, Yama, following his round today, Hoffman played a steady front nine, carding three birdies to just one bogey and ultimately finished with a respectable 1-under par 70.
At the ever busy intersection between holes three and seven, the mega group of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Shane Lowry crossed paths with Hoffman trotting to his fairway-finder of a drive on the third fairway. A huge smirk came across the faces of Speith and Thomas followed by, “What’s up HOFF?,” accompanied by handshakes and pats on the back as the stars looked incredibly happy to see their eccentric friend back on tour.
“It felt awesome,” Hoffmann said. “It was pretty surreal, a lot different than the lifestyle I've been living the last 2 1/2 years, and having people cheer your name out there, it's very special.”
Needless to say if you are looking for a great story or a unique character to pull for this week, go follow Morgan Hoffmann.
When it comes to the leaderboard, it is all about the approach game. Conners’ amazing 5-under 66 was highlighted by a hole-in-one on the treacherous seventh hole. As mentioned, he leads the field in Strokes Gained: Approach with Young and Lowry in second and third. The elite ball strikers tend to score well at Harbour Town, as that is the only offense the golfers can play against well-protected greens.
Patrick Cantlay, the world’s No. 6 player, also looms after a strong ball-striking day left him tied for second at 5-under. The Californian also went bogey-free, scrambling successfully to save six pars and carding an impressive five birdies. Last year’s PGA Tour Player of the Year has three top 10s at Harbour Town since 2017, and his workman-like first round may set him up for a strong Heritage run.
Other rising stars that are lurking include two Chileans with Niemann, who fired a 6-under 65 in the tougher afternoon session and is one shot ahead of countryman Mito Pereira. Last year’s runner-up, Harold Varner III, finished at 4-under is tied for eighth place and looks very comfortable near the top of a crowded leaderboard.
Going into Friday’s second round, 31 players are within five shots of Young’s lead, and another 22 are six shots back. With rain expected overnight, softer conditions should lead to low numbers in the morning session, and Harbour Town will count on the swirling winds to kick up in the afternoon and provide some protection. Anything but red numbers will be a harbinger of leaving the island a couple days earlier than expected, and if Young can take it low again, he could put himself in position for a wire-to-wire win in his first Heritage start.
“It would be really nice, but you have good days and bad days, and rarely do you have four good ones in a row,” Young said. “I'm glad it came early, and I'm happy I kept myself around for the whole tournament. We have to start over tomorrow. It could be way windier tomorrow. Who knows?”