Kuchar, McGirt, Langley are Heritage leaders after windy Round 1

sfastenau@islandpacket.comApril 17, 2014 

Matt Kuchar stood near the big oak outside the clubhouse at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday, answering questions with pursed lips absent his usual smile.

He had finished in the top five at the Masters, his third top-five finish in as many weeks, and wasn't sure how many more chances he would receive in Augusta. But he feels his golf is still in a good place and counts his final-round blips the past three weeks -- he has averaged 73.7 on Sunday at the Texas Open, Houston Open and Masters -- as decent rounds in tough conditions.

Kuchar returned to work Thursday at the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing, shooting a 5-under-par 66 at Harbour Town Golf Links to share the first-round lead with Scott Langley and William McGirt.

The round was Kuchar's lowest at the Heritage. If in a similar position Sunday, he expects his game to be there.

"I don't see any issue there," he said. "... I'd just like a few more chances at it."

All the familiar laments surfaced to start the 46th Heritage -- the wind swirled, the closing holes played difficult, the greens were tough to hit. Rain is expected Friday and threatens to re-arrange the weekend schedule.

The leaders are two shots ahead of Harris English and three ahead of 15 players at 2 under.

McGirt reached 5 under by holing a bunker shot on the par-3 17th after a par save from the grandstand on 16. He needed only 24 putts Thursday.

The former Wofford golfer dragged his clubs into the garage after the Texas Open and didn't play 18 holes again until his Monday pro-am this week. He said he watched a couple holes of the Masters but otherwise tried to ignore his profession for a few weeks.

"I played five times on the West Coast and then five in a row in Florida," McGirt said. "Yeah, I was past my limit."

His adventure Thursday included blasting a bunker shot on 16 long, where it nestled next to the grandstand. He took a drop and managed to save par.

McGirt's 66 was his first sub-70 round at Heritage in four appearances. He admitted a rocky relationship with the course, saying it fits his game but could be tighter in places than he is comfortable.

"Like the 10th hole, I've hit that tree that hangs over the green a couple times, and you're like, 'here we go again,' " McGirt said.

Langley finished tied for 24th on Hilton Head Island last year as a PGA Tour rookie. He walked nine holes Tuesday before the rain and walked another nine holes Wednesday.

The 2010 NCAA individual champion while at Illinois, Langley made bogey on the 18th to lose sole possession of the lead. He buried the front nine with six birdies, including four straight from No. 4 through the par-3 seventh.

Unlike McGirt, Langley watched all of the Masters, including the par-3 tournament. The 24-year-old, friends with Masters runner-up Jordan Spieth, wanted to be out there.

"So I guess part of it was homework, hopefully, for the future -- watching how guys play certain holes," said Langley, who is trying to become the first left-handed winner at Harbour Town. "But I'm a fan of golf."

Langley had the chance to watch some good golf up close Thursday, when McGirt ran off four consecutive birdies starting on No. 2.

Kuchar's best round at Harbour Town did not include a bogey, even starting on the second nine and facing tough conditions on the finishing holes. He bashed a hybrid from more than 200 yards into the front bunker on the par-4 18th. Langley hit 7-iron into the same green later in the day.

"I couldn't imagine trying to hit a 3-wood in there, but it nearly was a 3-wood in for me," said Kuchar, who twirled in a 15-foot birdie from the fringe on No. 9 to close his round.

Kuchar, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 6 in the world, has made nine consecutive cuts here. The 66 was his lowest score in 39 rounds on Harbour Town.

"I've been playing some good golf for a little stretch now," he said. "And it was nice to keep it going."

Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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