Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Winner: C.T. Pan
Taiwan’s C.T. Pan would have to forgive the fates if they nailed an asterisk beside his name at the RBC Heritage, his first win on the PGA Tour. It’s not every day that Dustin Johnson — in this instance, the No. 1 golfer in the world — is leading going into the final round, then gets buried under a landslide of bogeys and double bogeys.
This was one of the improbable tales of the year — of how the little known Pan, 27, whose best finish in nine previous starts in 2019 was a tie for 42nd, trailed by six in the first round, then caught fire in the final round when Johnson was stumbling and some 20 others were within four strokes of the lead.
“It’s still really hard for me to believe,” said Pan. “I’m so happy I finally got it done.”
Pan opened with a grudging two-birdie, two-bogey 71 and trailed Shane Lowry by six. He stayed in the chase with a bogey-free 65 in the second round. The third was the formative round, if in a wild way. Johnson had just come through a tough Masters the week before, tying for second, a shot behind the rejuvenated Tiger Woods. And he wasn’t letting up in the Heritage. In brisk winds in the third round, he hit just five fairways but needed only 25 putts, and shot 68. “I didn’t have my best stuff,” he said, “but I made some really nice putts.” He led by one over Lowry, Ian Poulter and Rory Sabbatini.
Pan was two behind after a wild 69 that was more rodeo than golf. He was only one over par through No. 10. But his card in that stretch: birdie-eagle-bogey-double bogey-birdie-birdie-bogey-bogey-par-bogey. He saved the round with birdies at 11, 13 and 17. The adventure drew an observation from Pan’s wife. Said Pan: “It was too colorful for her.”
There was another key to Pan’s win: Johnson’s astounding collapse on the final nine. He led by one starting the final round, and had a birdie-bogey par 36 on the front. Then he bogeyed 11, 12 and 13 and double-bogeyed 14 and 15 and birdied the 18th. He hit only seven of the 14 fairways, hit only half of the greens, and he had penalty drops on two holes. He shot 77 and plunged to a tie for 28th. Perhaps it was a let-down after his hard-fought tie for second in the Masters the previous week. At any rate, there went his chance for a 21st PGA Tour victory.
Pan shook off the rodeo ride of the third round and was solid in the fourth. He bogeyed just once and made five birdies on putts ranging from 18 inches at No. 5 to 10 feet at the 10th, and closed with a nine-footer at the 16th, wrapping up a card of 71-65-69-67–272, 12 under, edging Matt Kuchar by one. Patrick Cantlay (69), Scott Piercy (69) and Lowry (70) tied for third, two back.
Pan’s wife was his inspiration. Just the week before, she’d told him, “Hey, I’m not patient, so you’d better get me [to Augusta].”