Donald, frequent Harbour Town contender, positioned for 1st Heritage title

sfastenau@islandpacket.comApril 19, 2014 

Luke Donald blew into his hands entering the tunnel off of No. 17 green after another birdie Saturday, a little warmth to help finish off a chilly, overcast day at Harbour Town Golf Links.

Donald preyed on a soft golf course Saturday to shoot 5-under-par 66. He leads the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at 8-under 205 entering today’s final round.

John Huh is two shots back after a second consecutive 68. Four players with some major pedigree are another shot back at 208 — Nicholas Thompson, 2010 Heritage champion Jim Furyk and past Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.

“You could fire at the pins a little bit more,” Donald said. “The fairways played a little bit wider, because they were soft. But it’s not the usual weather we have here. It’s usually 75 and sunny and pretty nice conditions.”

Sixty-five players had yet to finish their second round when play resumed at 8 a.m. on Saturday after the course received 2.7 inches of rain overnight.

PGA Tour official Slugger White told the Golf Channel the third round would finish by dark Saturday “in a perfect world.” The golf maintenance crew began at 5:30 a.m. Players began arriving about 6 a.m. for the long day.

The third round began at 12:30 p.m., with everyone able to finish.

Donald is among those who finished his second round before Friday’s downpour.

The position is familiar for Donald, who has finished third or better here in four of the past five years. He led after the third round in 2011 but lost to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff.

Donald entrusted his swing last year to Chuck Cook after working with Pat Goss, his coach at Northwestern. Cook also works with Jason Dufner.

Donald’s changes in the past year have been geared to better performance in the majors. He thinks some of the proof is here this week on a tough setup.

Soft conditions, yes, but Donald said he is also playing with some confidence. He hit 10 of 14 fairways Saturday and 14 of 18 greens.

He is second in the field in greens in regulation.

“And that’s always a good recipe for success around a place like this,” Donald said. “And obviously if you can do that in the majors, that’s a recipe for success there, too.”

He will try to hold off a leaderbord that, for the most part, also took advantage of soft conditions. Huh reached 7 under before a bogey on the difficult 18th.

“Probably one of the toughest holes I think I’ve ever played this year,” Huh said.

Furyk was 2 under for the tournament and through seven holes of his second round when play resumed. He finished at 5-under 66, and an even-par third round kept him there.

Savannah’s Brian Harman had a chance to get in the final group, but his 8-iron on the par-3 17th hung up in the wind and dropped into the marsh grass. The double bogey left him 4 under.

Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion who beat Brian Davis in a playoff to win the Heritage four years ago, tagged Donald the favorite.

“He’s had a lot of success here and likes it here, and I can see why,” Furyk said. “It really suits his game.”

A breakthrough at Harbour Town would be a welcome development for Donald, whose most recent victory was the 2012 Transitions Championship.

His playoff loss to Snedeker in 2011 kept him from moving to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, a distinction he achieved a little later in the year. Donald has since slipped to 29th in the world.

The 36-year-old Englishman is still a threat here. He made six birdies Saturday and an eagle, after a 3-iron to 25 feet.

His best shot was probably a hybrid from more than 200 yards into the 18th green. The approach scared the hole before settling on the back fringe, where Donald two-putted for par.

Furyk expects windy conditions Sunday to keep the lead within reach.

“So even par is probably a good score,” Furyk said. “Anything under par might have a chance and put some heat on the leaders.”

Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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