Daniel Berger pain free and one shot off lead at RBC Heritage

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Daniel Berger pain free and one shot off lead at RBC Heritage

PGA Tour

Daniel Berger pain free and one shot off lead at RBC Heritage

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After taking significant time off late in the year, Daniel Berger has to like what he sees in his game after an opening-round 5-under-par 66 in the RBC Heritage.

A finger injury forced Berger to take more than four months off after withdrawing from the BMW Championship in September. The 26-year-old Floridian was among a group of five tied for second Thursday, one shot behind leader Shane Lowry. Dustin Johnson, No. 1 in the world rankings, shot 3-under 68 in the afternoon.

“It’s just been kind of touch and go here,” Berger told reporters after the round at Harbour Town Golf Links. “And finally got a full week of practice where I actually got to play golf every day. That’s just the biggest difference. When you’re going to a golf tournament and you’ve played one round of golf in two weeks, you don’t feel very good. To be able to put the work in and be rewarded it makes me feel like I’m ready to go when I get out here.”

With six birdies and a lone bogey on the par-3 fourth hole, Berger shot 66, his lowest competitive round on the PGA Tour since February, when he tied for second in the Puerto Rico Open. The tournament in Puerto Rico, played opposite of the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, provided a much needed boost.

“It was really important for me,” Berger said of the Puerto Rico Open in which he finished 12 under, three back of winner Martin Trainer. “I hadn’t played a lot of golf at the end of last year. I hurt my finger and I really wanted to get some reps under my belt, so I went over to Puerto Rico and played well there. It’s just nice to be playing pain free. That’s something you take for granted.”

Daniel Berger hits from the fairway of the 16th hole during the first round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links. (Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports)

The 2015 PGA Tour rookie of the year had an up-and-down season in 2018 before injuries forced him to take time off. At the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, Berger shot a 66 on Saturday to take a share of the lead with Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau. But Berger shot a 73 Sunday to drop back into a tie for sixth. It was his only top-10 finish for the season as he ended the year No. 60 in the world rankings.

Now he’s having fun again and says he’s learned to be patient, especially in the windy conditions at Harbour Town.

Lowry, the leader after a bogey-free round, finds Harbour Town to be a welcome diversion after the pressure he faced during the first major of the year.

“It’s just such a chill atmosphere,” Lowry said of the tournament at Hilton Head, where several players bring their families for the week. “And especially the week after Augusta, probably the most stressful week of the year. To come here, it’s such a chill environment, and it’s a beautiful place, Hilton Head, and RBC does a great job.”

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