David Lauderdale

Why hasn’t Tiger Woods played at RBC Heritage in 20 years? Here’s what we found out

Tiger Woods set the world on fire on Sunday when he won the Masters, but what has he ever done on Hilton Head Island?

It’s now been 20 years since Tiger Woods played in the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing tournament taking place this weekend at the Harbour Town Golf links.

Today, his win at the Masters is called “one of the biggest moments in the history of golf,” fellow PGA Tour player Webb Simpson said this week on Hilton Head Island.

Former Hilton Head property owner and basketball superstar Michael Jordan called it, “Greatest comeback I’ve ever seen.”

But it was almost that big to Hilton Head when the 23-year-old phenom just three years into his professional career announced he would play in the Heritage.

The tournament had to beef up security, and prepare for a larger crowd.

Cary Corbitt, director of sports and operations at Sea Pines Resort, said Tiger’s presence meant an overall 20 percent increase in Heritage earnings that year.

And Harbour Town head pro John Farrell recalls Tiger being pleasant with fans and players.

They recall him hitting it out of bounds once on hole No. 6.

Tiger finished tied for 18th place in 1999, shooting a 4-under-par 280 in rounds of 70, 70, 69, 71.

You can say that Tiger Woods pocketed $28,333.30 of his official winnings of $118,309,570 on the PGA Tour.

He’s No. 1 on that list.

If $28,000 sounds like tip money, remember that the total purse was $2.5 million in 1999 compared to $6.9 million today.

Farrell disagrees with a common theory on why Tiger has not returned to Hilton Head: that Harbour Town is so narrow and full of trees that the big bombers won’t play it.

Farrell points to Dustin Johnson, high on the leader board this week, and five-time Heritage winner Davis Love III as proof that long-hitters can master Harbour Town. The devilish layout was designed 50 years ago by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus, who also was a bomber in his heyday, and is a past Heritage champion.

In 2000, published reports speculated that Tiger would not play in South Carolina due to the Confederate flag that then flew at the Statehouse in Columbia.

In 2002, Woods, still trying to steer clear of the flag issue, said he did not play in the Heritage because it conflicted with his schedule.

But the predominant theory is that Tiger takes this week to rest after the Masters, which he has now won five times. But his 1999 appearance here in what was then called the MCI Classic — The Heritage of Golf came the week after the Masters.

Tiger played Hilton Head twice in his two years at Stanford University, both times in the Golf World/Palmetto Dunes Collegiate Invitational over the Arthur Hills Golf Course in Leamington at Palmetto Dunes.

In November of his freshman year, 1995, Tiger carded a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 380-yard par-4 17th hole (a sharp dogleg left where collegian Phil Mickelson had previously driven the green). Tiger finished tied for 13th in that 54-hole event, but placed second in it the next year.