Maybe it was because par was at such a premium. Or because the two playoff contestants were both past U.S. Open champions.
But Graeme McDowell and Webb Simpson arrived at the RBC Heritage in very different states of mind.
Each missed the cut at the Masters, but McDowell was confident and Simpson wasn’t when they showed up in Hilton Head.
“Normally my best attribute is my mind, and my mind, I feel, is what's been holding me back this year,” Simpson said. “I came in with not too much confidence.
“My wife and I had multiple conversations this week just about my confidence, how I can become more confident as a player. We were trying to dive into why I don't feel like I'm playing free and with confidence.”
McDowell knows that feeling all too well. After his U.S. Open victory in 2010, he admitted the game got too big for him and in turn his results suffered.
Sunday, his game and his confidence were finally back.
“The way you take pressure off yourself, I suppose, is by looking at the bigger picture and realizing that it's not life or death; it's just golf,” he said. “Yes, it hurts and, yes, you're nervous and it's disappointing.
“But I feel like I have learned to understand, to keep an open mind, to kind of accept what this game throws at me and learn from my tough experiences and just try and put that back into the greater improvement that I'm on.”
Simpson, whose last win came at the 2012 U.S. Open, is getting there, too, and his runner-up finish at Harbour Town should be a boost.
He also turned to friend and author Eric Metaxas, who wrote Bonhoeffer, a biography on the German Lutheran pastor, theologian and founding member of the Confessing Church.
“When he wrote (the book), he didn't feel like he was a better writer, but all of a sudden he's world famous,” Simpson said. “I kind of felt that way at the U.S. Open. I won a major, but it didn't change me that much as a player.”
All he has to do is look at McDowell to see as much.
THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Last year, McDowell ranked 174th on the PGA TOUR in scrambling. This year, he’s first. The improvement, in part, comes from knowing what he does best, something McDowell has always excelled at -- even if he did toy with the idea of trying to add 15 to 20 yards to his game. “In the offseason I thought about longer shafts and swinging out of my shoes and getting fitter and realized I was probably going to take away from my strengths,” he said. “My iron play, my wedge play, my short game, my putting. It was a crash course I decided against. I’m accepting my game more and I’m accepting that I can’t move it 300 yards down the fairway.”
2. Luke Donald got his fourth top-three finish in the last five years at Harbour Town. More importantly, he feels like he took another step toward being the type of player he was when he got to No. 1 in the world. “There's a very fine line of contending and just being out of that mix,” said Donald, who has just two top 10s this season. “It's really being just not taking advantage of some of the opportunities I've been given on the greens and around the greens. As positive as I feel about my short game, I know that will turnaround.” Donald is close. Don’t be surprised if he contends at THE PLAYERS Championship in a few weeks.
3. Billy Horschel extended his cuts-made streak to a TOUR-best 22 straight last week. He also finished in the top 10 for the third straight start. One reason he’s playing so well right now: His wedge play, which has helped him rank fourth in birdie average. One area he needs to improve on, however, is his play on the weekend. He ranks third in scoring average before the cut, 34th in third-round scoring and a dismal 108th in final-round scoring, nearly a full three strokes higher than his average before the cut.
4. It was barely after noon ET when Brandt Snedeker finished his round Sunday at Harbour Town, where he was in the first group off. After a disappointing finish at the Masters, a letdown was understandable for Snedeker, who didn’t break par and finished 59th at the RBC Heritage. “I just made nothing this week,” he said. “I putted terrible. It was one of those weeks when everything went wrong. I was definitely worn down this week. You just get tired after majors.” Snedeker will play sparingly in the weeks ahead, he said, with THE PLAYERS Championship in early May the only tournament in his immediate future. In the meantime, he’ll spend time at home and also go up to Merion to get a peek at the U.S. Open venue, which he’s never played before.
5. Anyone else notice Hunter Mahan’s struggles of late? At one point this year, he went seven straight starts without finishing out of the top 25, which included a runner-up at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. His last three starts? Two missed cuts and a missed cut-did not finish at Harbour Town. More alarming are his scores: 74, 71, 76, 82, 68, 76, 78.
6. Give Pat Perez credit. Always known for being high strung and having a short fuse on the golf course, he turned to mental coach Chris Dorris this season in an effort to be more even-keel and turn negatives into positives. "It's hard, especially for me, because I've done it my whole life," Perez admitted. "But to say, 'That's not going to bring me down, let's try to make 5 instead of 6.' And the next hole it's basically done." It’s working. Perez already has more top 10s than he did all of last season and is more than halfway to what he earned in 2012. He’s also missed just one cut. The power of positive.
7. Stat of the Week I: How tough was Harbour Town playing in the final round? More players shot in the 80s on Sunday (four) than in the 60s (three). The scoring average was nearly three strokes over par and for the third straight year no one shot all four rounds in the 60s.
8. Stat of the Week II: Two weeks ago, Australia got its first Green Jacket. Sunday, Northern Ireland got its first plaid one. McDowell is the 10th international winner of the RBC Heritage but the first from Northern Ireland.
9. Stat of the Week III: Charley Hoffman's putting had more ups and downs than a roller coaster at Harbour Town. After putting just 22 times in Round 1, he went 30-21-33. He still managed to finish first in strokes gained-putting at 2.625, picking up more than 10 shots on the field average for the week.