It might not take place during the week after The Masters anymore that does not take away the relevance and feel that Hilton Head Island and the The Heritage offers as a host to the PGA Tour.
In sharp contrast the to the TPC San Antonio where the PGA Tour wandered somewhat aimlessly last week, the Harbour Town Golf Links is a cherished design that provides an exhaustive examination of golf skills in a package under 7,000 yards. The excellence of the course, the tenure of the tournament, and the graceful pace of life on Hilton Head Island make this a much anticipated tournament for many players.
In 2010 Jim Furyk secured the 15th victory of his PGA Tour career at Hilton Head in a remarkable play-off finish. Furyk took the lead after the second round and held it all the way to the end of regulation as he posted a 13-under par total of 271. Englishman Brian Davis matched that tally after a 66, 68 weekend to force extra play.
With Furyk on the 18th hole, the first playoff hole, in regulation Davis found the hazard to the left of the green with his approach. In playing his third shot Davis touched a loose impediment during his backswing, a violation of rule 13-4 that resulted in a two-stroke penalty. With Davis struggling all Furyk needed was a two-putt par for his second PGA Tour win of 2010 – the third time in his 17-year PGA Tour career that he had achieved a multiple-win season. It paved the way for his 2010 FedEx Cup title that he finished off at The Tour Championship.
The winner in 2010 was of little surprise as Furyk has a fine record at The Heritage. In his twelve tournament starts he has made the cut nine times and has top-15 finishes in six of the last eight years. That includes his win and second place finishes in 2005 and 2006.
Furyk will likely be a threat again this week but I have faith in another player who has demonstrated the ball-striking ability necessary to tame Harbour Town, a 1969 Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus design. Already a winner on the PGA Tour in 2011, Luke Donald has momentum as he heads for the South Carolina Low Country. He also has the concise swing to hit some of tightest fairways and smallest greens that the tour will see on its’ schedule. In his last two starts here Donald finished second in 2009 and tied for third with Bo Van Pelt in 2010. My chips are all-in on Donald to bring home a tartan jacket in the 43rd playing of the Heritage.
The last time a defending champion missed the cut at The Heritage was in 1993 when Davis Love III did so. However, that is not indicative of his success on Hilton Head as the winner of five Heritage Tournaments. That comprises a full quarter of the 20 PGA Tour victories by the 2012 Ryder Cup Captain. He prevailed in 1978, 1991, 1992, 1998, and 2003.
Filling out the 132-player field this week are more than a few notable players. They include FedEx Cup Leader Mark Wilson, who won the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Young talent will also be on display with brash young stars such as Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Bill Haas, Sean O’Hair and Camillo Villegas in the field. They will be joined by 2011 tournament winners Aaron Baddeley, Michael Bradley, Jonathan Byrd, Rory Sabbatini, Johnson Wagner, and the aforementioned Mark Wilson and Luke Donald.
Other notables from the top-20 in the Official World Golf Rankings include Graeme McDowell, Matt Kuchar, Ernie Els, Ian Poulter, and Francesco Molinari.
Canadian content includes Stephen Ames, David Hearn and Mike Weir.
-The Heritage, regarded as one of the TOUR’s most popular stops. One of Pete Dye’s signature designs is annually ranked among the country’s top courses and has produced a winner’s roster including inaugural winner Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin, Fuzzy Zoeller, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Davis Love III, Greg Norman and Nick Price.
-David Frost set the PGA TOUR’s all-time 72-hole putting record with 92 total putts at Harbour Town in 2005. The old mark was also set at Harbour Town when Kenny Knox had just 93 putts in 1989 (matched by Mark Calcavecchia at the 2002 Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic).
•-Nine players (11 times) have won The Heritage with four rounds in the 60s, including Nick Faldo (1984), Payne Stewart 1989), Hale Irwin (1994), Loren Roberts (1996), Nick Price (1997), Davis Love III (1992, 1998, 2003), Boo Weekley (2007), Brian Gay (2009) and Jim Furyk (2010).
Dates: April 18-24, 2011
Where: Harbour Town Golf Links; Hilton Head Island, SC
Format: 72-hole stroke play; Field: 132
FedExCup: 500 points to winner
Defending Champion: Jim Furyk