Rory McIlroy. Picture: AFP PHOTO/JOHANNES EISELE
Rory McIlroy. Picture: AFP PHOTO/JOHANNES EISELE

Hilton Head — Top-level golf continues its return from its coronavirus shutdown here on Thursday with the US PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage behind closed doors.

Here are some talking points after golf’s successful resumption at last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge, won by Daniel Berger.

For the first time in almost a year, world No 1 Rory McIlroy will tee up on Thursday in South Carolina without the momentum of a top-five finish behind him.

The Northern Irishman’s final-round 74 at Colonial on Sunday, including a disastrous front-nine 41, caused him to finish tied 32 to break a US PGA Tour consecutive top-five streak going all the way back to August 2019 when he finished tied 19 at the BMW Championship.

Bryson DeChambeau of the US plays a shot from the 18th tee during the final round of the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, the US, June 14 2020. Picture: TOM PENNINGTON/AFP
Bryson DeChambeau of the US plays a shot from the 18th tee during the final round of the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, the US, June 14 2020. Picture: TOM PENNINGTON/AFP

McIlroy is still the bookmakers’ favourite for the second PGA Tour event after the three-month coronavirus hiatus, though it will again be almost impossible to pick who will come out on top.

As at the Charles Schwab, the world’s top five will all play in a field that features no fewer than 114 PGA Tour winners in an elite 154-player field.

Bryson DeChambeau’s post-quarantine, bulked-up body drew much comment at Colonial Country Club, but the transformation paid off for the maverick American who pocketed a cheque for $367,000 after finishing a stroke behind Berger.

Remarks about world No 12 DeChambeau’s beefy physique turned to gasps as he launched drives into uncharted territory.

Bombing monsters

“I’ve put on about 9kg [during shutdown] and about 20kg in the last nine months,” said the 26-year-old. “My ultimate goal is to get as strong as I can, applying some force and speed to the swing to see what it can handle.”

DeChambeau led the field in driving distance, often bombing 320m monsters. That prompted a call from Colin Montgomerie for “tournament balls for professionals” to limit tour players.

“To see him carrying 320m in the air, this is getting unreal,” said Montgomerie on BBC Radio. “Something has to be done or these classic courses cannot be used,” said the Scot, who won the European Tour’s Order of Merit eight times.

“There were only four holes on which Bryson was more than 100m  away for his approach. It’s now brute force and a sand wedge.”

Berger’s win on Sunday caused the American to rocket to 31st in the world from 107th. While it was a well-earned reward for beating a star-stacked field and battling back from a career-threatening wrist injury, the decision to unfreeze the official golf world rankings has left a bitter taste for some.

As the European Tour is unable to restart until July and the Asian Tour will be idle until mid-September, US-based players have an unfair advantage. Former No 1 Lee Westwood has dropped a number of places to 33rd in the new rankings released on Monday, while fellow Englishman Eddie Pepperell was the biggest casualty in the top 100, falling six to 71st while watching at home on TV.

“By the time I restart I’m going to be outside the top 100 and 80m behind Bryson [DeChambeau],” tweeted Pepperell.

AFP