Rory Sabbatini didn’t have a good warm-up before Thursday’s first round of the RSM Classic.
The weather was also not a source of delirium, as a biting cold was in the air and winds were blowing over the Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Georgia. And Sabbatini would play the Seaside Course, historically the more difficult and exposed of the two tracks used for the tournament hosted by Davis Love III.
So Sabbatini, playing in the first group, naturally got his first four holes and finished with a 5-under-par 65 without a bogey to carve out a place on the first page of the standings.
“I was sort of going, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I like it,” said Sabbatini, who has overcome issues with his neck and is looking for his first win since the 2011 Honda Classic. didn’t feel like I was hitting the ball particularly well on the course and I didn’t feel like I was playing very well and all of a sudden it clicked on the golf course.
“It’s a golf course, when you get opportunities you have to try to maximize them. Yet even with the conditions that exist, if you are trying to maximize them, you have to be careful not to spoil what you are trying to maximize.
CLASSIC RSM: Ranking
Sabbatini wasn’t the only one to master the tough – or as Zach Johnson has put it – brutal conditions. About 40% of the 155 players broke the parity despite high winds that hit the tee shots, approaches and putts hard.
Matt Wallace, who uses a local caddy after his regular caddy tested positive for COVID-19, finished with a par on his last hole despite a lower penalty and took a share of the lead with a 6 under 64 on Seaside.
Matt Wallace chats with Caddy Dave McNeilly on the 18th hole during the first round of the 2020 RSM Classic at the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club on November 19, 2020 in St Simons Island, Georgia. Photo by Sam Greenwood / Getty Images
“Windy day,” said Wallace, who plays the majority of his golf on the European Tour. “The wind picked up throughout the day. It was really windy and gusty around the 13the, 14e where we go out to sea a bit. Hitting a 5 iron 150 yards isn’t normal, but I’m a bit used to that being back home, playing normally on links courses rather than these guys of course.
“Very well. I had a good start and put in a good third hole putt for bogey. Good momentum there. I continued it until the end.
Joining Wallace at the top of the rankings was Camilo Villegas, whose 22-month-old daughter Mia died in July after battling cancerous brain and spine tumors. Villegas tied his career at Seaside with a 64 without a bogey.
“It was tough here, but I love this place,” Villegas said. “I’ve been coming here since 2000 and it’s one of those stops that I don’t like to miss. I feel good, to be honest.
Camilo Villegas watches his second shot on the seventh hole during the first round of the 2020 RSM Classic at the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club on November 19, 2020 in St Simons Island, Georgia. Photo by Sam Greenwood / Getty Images
“It was pretty cool this morning. I walked up to the beach and saw a little rainbow there. I start to think about Mia and say ok, let’s get a good one. She loved colors and rainbows. It was a great way to start the day. It was a good hitting round, it was a great putting round. I was pretty free all day. Like you said, it’s hard to be free under these conditions, but I found a way to do it.
Seven players joined Sabbatini at 5 under par, including Cameron Tringale, Adam Long, Keegan Bradley and Doug Ghim, all of whom posted 5 under par 67 on the indoor plantation course.
Ten players, including local favorites Johnson, Harris English and 2015 RSM Classic winner Kevin Kisner, were down 4 cents.
“Today has been brutal. I mean, I don’t know what the other guys are saying, but I really, really, really played well, ”said Johnson, who lives less than 10 miles from the Sea Island Golf Club and has played at Seaside.
“I had opportunities that I didn’t even capitalize on, but I did. I did two bogeys from the middle of the fairway straight into the wind, which you are going to do. It was just very difficult, difficult to judge the distance, the trajectory. It was a test of survival.