RBC Heritage

McCombs: Will this finally be Donald's year at Harbour Town

mmccombs@islandpacket.comApril 19, 2014 

Luke Donald salutes the crowd after holing out on No. 18 during the third round of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on Saturday at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island S.C. His 5-under-par round propelled him to a two-stroke lead over John Huh, at 8-under-par.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr -- The Island Packet Buy Photo

It was a long, difficult day of golf at Harbour Town Golf Links. And like so many long days at Harbour Town in recent memory, it ended with Luke Donald at the top of the leaderboard.

Maybe this is the year he finishes there.

The day started, at least physically, with maintenance crews beginning work on the course around 5:30 a.m., though planning for Saturday's day of golf began on the fly Friday night after rain washed out a large portion of the day's play.

Golfers began to straggle in around 6 a.m., and by 6:30, most were at the course having breakfast, stretching and working out.

PGA Tour officials said Friday night that second-round play would resume at 8 a.m. Saturday, and despite the doubts of some among the media contingent, players were in position at 8:01 a.m.

But not Donald, who finished his second round Friday. And though calm conditions Saturday morning took away any advantage he may have gained by a later start, he enjoyed the respite.

"It was nice to sleep in and not worry about getting up too early and having a relaxed morning," Donald said.

With four top-three finishes in his past five visits to Hilton Head Island, the Englishman should be relaxed here.

"Certain courses are tough these days for me, how long and difficult they are," Donald said. "But this one I feel like I can plot my way around with the low wedges. If you miss greens, you need to be pretty good at the short game. Certainly a course that favors my style of play."

Factor in that he has said in the past he is comfortable playing in windy conditions, and it's no wonder he plays well here. The only wonder is he hasn't won.

It's difficult to come as close as Donald has and not win. In 2011, victory looked all but certain before Brandt Snedeker closed a five-stroke gap and beat him in a three-hole playoff.

But despite the close calls, Donald has history on his side.

Over the past nine complete seasons and through last week's Masters, third-round leaders win on the PGA Tour at roughly a 50 percent clip. But it's a different ball game here where narrow fairways and small greens make taking chances perilous and making up ground difficult.

Third-round leaders at the Heritage have won six of the last nine tournaments, roughly 67 percent. Statistically, that's a big difference.

Who is in front is who has the advantage here. It's that simple.

And Sunday, that man is Luke Donald.

Jim Furyk, tied for third, three shots behind Donald acknowledged Donald's success at Harbour Town.

"I think it's going to be a very windy, tough day (Sunday). I think that also suits him," Furyk said. "He'll be a tough guy to catch."

Saturday's marathon ended at about 7:05 p.m. when second-round co-leader K.J. Choi tapped in his par putt on 18. Donald's day ended with him at 8 under and holding a two-stroke lead over John Huh.

"Well, I'm two shots ahead," Donald said. "I'm where I want to be."

Maybe this is the year he finishes there.

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