Branden Grace wins the RBC Heritage
Branden Grace fired a 66 on Sunday at Harbour Town, leading to his first PGA Tour win by two shots over Russell Knox and 54-hole leader Luke Donald.
Donald entered the day with a one shot lead, and was three ahead of Grace at the conclusion of play on Saturday, and to be honest, it just wasn’t his day. He got around a very difficult track in even par, but Grace charged hard, opening with a front nine 32 that allowed him to tie Donald at the top as he went out for the back nine. What got him there was his usual superb short game, as he was dialled in with his wedges throughout the final round. When Donald made bogey on the par-4 10th, he fell one behind the lead and he never got it back thanks to back to back birdies on 12 and 13 by Grace.
Grace would go on to bogey the difficult par-3 17th, but no one was able to catch him, leading to a two-shot win.
- 1. Branden Grace -9
- T2. Luke Donald -7
- T2. Russell Knox -7
- T4. Kevin Na -5
- T4. Bryson DeChambeau
What The Win Means For Grace
“He’s not well known, but he’s a wonderful player.”
Those were the words of Nick Faldo as Grace was coming down the stretch at Harbour Town, and to a certain extent, he’s right. Grace has been well known to serious golf fans for some time thanks to his record on the European Tour, where he has won seven times in his career, including once earlier this year in Qatar. Outside of him nearly coming away with the U.S. Open last year at Chambers Bay, there really hasn’t been a whole lot of success for Grace in North America despite him clearly being one of the best players in the world. It’s very similar to the situation we saw with last week’s winner, and fellow Callaway staffer, Danny Willett. Both are fantastic players, and ultimately, what this means for Grace is that now he has full control over his schedule.
With the win, Grace is now exempt on the PGA Tour for the next two seasons and when you combine that with his high world ranking and already exempt status on the European Tour, it means that Grace can now play wherever and whenever he wants. That kind of freedom is a very nice thing to have, especially when you know that you’ve probably deserved it for some time.
- Grace earns $1,062,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points with the win.
- Fully exempt on the PGA Tour through the 2017-18 season.
- Jumps from 14th to 11th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
- Moves from 90th to 19th in the FedEx Cup.
What The Loss Means For Donald
Coming into the week, I had high hopes for Donald. I’ve always enjoyed watching him play, and with his prior record at Harbour Town, you knew that it was likely that he would have a good week. It was weird to not see him at the match play a few weeks ago, and even stranger not to see him at Augusta last week, which was his first missed major since the 2008 PGA Championship. Even with his lack of distance, he’s too good of a player to not contend on a pretty regular basis, even if that means that he can only do it on courses like Harbour Town. If he can string together some good starts, he’ll move back up the OWGR pretty quickly. With his runner-up finish here, he jumped from 95th to 68th and when you look ahead at the schedule, there should be some favourable tournaments for him to keep this going.
DeChambeau’s Pro Debut
So, after last week, I was pretty excited that Bryson DeChambeau was going to be around on the PGA Tour. Regardless of what you think about him personally, and there are certainly people on both sides of that fence, there’s no doubt that the guy can flat out play and he proved it again this week in his first start as a professional with a T4 finish on a very difficult track. In the short term, what that means is that the sponsor’s exemption he was set to receive this week at the Valero can now be used somewhere else thanks to him finishing inside the top-10. He can take six more sponsor’s invites to get himself inside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings, and if he stays there through the season, he’ll be fully exempt for 2016-17. I’d be shocked if that didn’t happen.
What was really impressive about him all week was, again, he did it on one of the most difficult courses on the PGA Tour. Harbour Town is short, but it requires so much precision that you have to be dead on with your ball striking to give yourself a chance, something which DeChambeau’s coach at SMU is very bullish on as it relates to the 22-year old.
So, how did that play out? The putter was what ultimately cost him a shot at the tournament, as he just couldn’t seem to figure out the tricky greens at Harbour Town, and he wasn’t alone. A lot of the players commented on how different the greens were to previous years, and on the broadcast, CBS mentioned repeatedly that they seemed to change significantly day to day as well. What was plainly obvious though was that Jason Enloe was pretty accurate when talking about DeChambeau’s ball striking, as CBS flashed this graphic late on Sunday.
Yes, it’s only one tournament so the sample size is literally the smallest we have, but man, if you were already on the DeChambeau bandwagon (the DeChambagon?), it’s pretty easy to feel excited about where this is headed.
I’m all in, and you should be too.
Mike Weir’s WD
Before we delve into the WD, I think it’s worth noting something. It’s difficult to explain this to people outside of Canada, but Mike Weir is an icon in this country that people will always go to bat for and defend, and to be honest, I’ve been one of those people for some time. His story, from the very beginning to that of a Masters champion and eight time winner on the PGA Tour, makes him easy to root for and I’ve always personally hoped that he would find his form again.
It’s not a stretch to say that along with Tiger Woods, Weir is a big reason why a lot of people in this country are playing golf and I’m one of them, but to say that he has struggled over the last few years is an understatement. Weir has made 119 starts worldwide since the start of 2010, and he has placed inside the top-10 in just two of those tournaments: the 2010 Bob Hope where he finished in solo sixth, and the 2014 Byron Nelson where he was the runner-up to Brendon Todd. The last eighteen months or so have been particularly bad, made worse by the fact that Weir’s essentially relying on his medical extensions or any sponsor exemptions to get into events.
Now, the most recent WD came this week at Harbour Town with Weir citing a flu, and while this normally wouldn’t be a talking point, it became one on Thursday night when Dawie van der Walt called Weir out on Twitter.
“Gota love a guy who gets an invite into a Tour event and then WD after the first round #hangitupmike.”
The tweet was later deleted and van der Walt, who was one of the alternates in the field, apologized saying that what he meant was that Weir should only come back when he’s 100% healthy. There’s a few different layers here, and before we get into them, I think it’s important to note that as per the PGA Tour, Weir was not in the field this week on his medical extension. He was given an exemption by RBC, who has been sponsoring Weir for as long as I can remember.
First off, if Weir says he was sick, I have no reason to doubt him even if there’s potentially some proof that he was teeing it up in Scottsdale the next day. According to Bob Weeks at TSN, Weir was bedridden after the round thanks to a bug that was going around the house he was staying at last week while playing in the Masters. Secondly, Weir has earned the right to choose where and when he tees it up on the medical extension and if he gets into fields because of sponsor’s exemptions, I can’t fault the guy for showing up even if it’s pretty obvious that his game isn’t where he wants it to be.
It’s like the whole Paige Spiranac thing all over again: if someone gives you a spot, you’re probably not going to turn it down and in the case of Weir, maybe he thinks he’s closer to something than we all believe. I mean, it happened once in 2014 out of absolutely nowhere, so it’s not impossible, right? This is pretty much all Weir has left to rely on these days, so it makes sense for him to take anything he’s given. If you want to cast “blame” on anyone, look in the direction of the people who gave him the exemption, not Weir himself.
However, it is a bad look to WD after one round, especially when you fire a 78, after getting a sponsor’s invite. As I mentioned before, Weir pretty much has deity status here in Canada, but I can’t imagine that RBC, a Canadian company, is too thrilled that he decided to pull out when they offered him a spot that could have gone to someone else. That’s why it’s pretty easy to sympathize with van der Walt, who could have teed it up and earned some money but wasn’t given the opportunity. The flip side to that of course is that Weir has earned this status based on prior play, and if van der Walt had played better in other events, he wouldn’t be in the position he was in on Thursday.
Withdrawing after one round, and a particularly bad one at that, is the type of thing that doesn’t go over very well with the other players, even if it’s someone as well respected as Weir. Like I said, there are a lot of layers here, and I don’t think that anyone is really 100% in the right or the wrong in this instance. As much as we’d like this to be black and white, there really are shades of grey at play here.
In any event, Weir’s currently scheduled to play in the Zurich later this month, as well as the Byron Nelson in May along with the French Open in June, so he’s going to have ample opportunity to improve his form. We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.
- Notables to miss the cut: Paul Casey, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Danny Lee, Graeme McDowell, Brandt Snedeker and Robert Streb.
- GIFs of the week are posted here.
- This tournament, along with the Northern Trust, is consistently at the very top of the list in terms of my favourite events to watch and it all has to do with the course. It always produces a quality winner (seriously, look at the list) and is proof that you don’t need to have a super long course to challenge the best players in the world.
- Special mention to Ernie Els for coming back after last week’s nightmare at Augusta to post a T14, thanks almost entirely to his putter where he was third in strokes gained putting.
- Andrew Johnston won the Open de Espana at Valderrama with a 1-over par score and whenever I turned on the television, I was reminded of how much I love that course too even if it played like a U.S. Open.
The Valero Texas Open, with a good field headed by Grace, DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson.