HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC — Cameron Young has shown that it doesn’t always take years of practice to go deep at Harbor Town Golf Links, shooting an 8-under 63 on Thursday to take the lead in his RBC Heritage debut to take over in the first round.
The 24-year-old PGA Tour rookie had eight birdies in a bogey-free round, his first in the 60s in 11 rounds, coming from a finish of 65 at the Honda Classic more than six weeks ago.
Young was two shots ahead of Chilean Joaquin Niemann and three ahead of seven others including reigning FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay, Irishman Shane Lowry – who finished third at last week’s Masters – and Canadian Corey Conners – who finished sixth in the Augusta National.
Mito Pereira, also of Chile, former RBC Heritage winner Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Adam Svensson of Canada and Sepp Straka of Austria also shot 66. There were 10 players at 67 including 48-year-old defending champion Stewart Cink.
Young had only heard of Harbor Town’s treacherous gauntlet of narrow, tree-lined fairways and small greens that require accuracy. But the former Wake Forest player from New York quickly found his place in the top nine with five birdies.
Young ended his first Harbor tour with a birdie on the iconic 18th hole — the one with the red-and-white striped lighthouse in the background — with an 8-foot putt to end a shot from his lowest career round in his fledgling PGA Tour Career.
“You really have to pick the spots where you think you can be a little aggressive and the spots where you just can’t,” Young said.
A word of advice: stay aggressive, especially if you’re chasing a full RBC Heritage field. The tournament features five of the world’s top 10 players, including Masters third-place finisher Cameron Smith and Collin Morikawa, who finished fifth at Augusta National.
Masters champion Scottie Scheffler is not playing against the RBC Heritage.
Niemann started slow with back-to-back bogeys on the third and fourth holes. He then shagged seven of the last 14 holes to break out of the deadlock in third place.
Lowry, the 2019 British Open champion, said he couldn’t believe how quickly the post-pressure cooker round arrived at the Augusta National. Still, he got his round going with three straight birdies on the 16th, 17th and 18th holes along Calibogue Sound. He added two more birdies on his bogey-free round.
“It almost feels like half a holiday and you just go and play some golf,” said Lowry, who has had two top-10 finishes here in four previous appearances.
Conners mastered the seventh par 3 hole. He hit a 7-iron in front of the green where it bounced twice and rolled into the cup. Conners couldn’t see it fall from the tee but knew from the reaction off the green.
“A group of people put their hands around the green, so I thought it went in,” he said.
World runner-up Morikawa opened for a 70. Smith, whose triple bogey on the 12th hole in Augusta ended his master’s comeback, shot a 73.
Webb Simpson, the 2020 winner, was over late in his Round 3 when he reeled off five straight birdies (Nos. 14-18) on the difficult back nine for a 69.
Morgan Hoffmann played his first PGA Tour round since October 2019 after retiring due to muscular dystrophy. Hoffman hit a comfortable, easy par 71. “The game didn’t feel nearly as bad as I thought it would, so it was pretty exciting,” he said.
Everyone is chasing Young, who has proven that he is far more than a wide-eyed rookie, but one with a consistent game and nerves of steel.
He had two seconds this season and qualified for the Masters where he missed the cut after 77 seconds in a row. Young spent the weekend off with family, decompressing the Masters and planning what’s next.
“Honestly, I wanted to play last weekend,” said Young. “But in relation to this week, [missing the cut] is not the end of the world.”
Especially if he can field a few more 63s. Don’t bet on it, said Young.
“I know it would be really nice,” he said. “But you have good days and bad days and rarely four good days in a row. I’m glad it came early and I’m glad I held on throughout the tournament.”