PGA Tour players, as they have each year, spoke warmly this week about Harbour Town Golf Links and its tournament.
In return, the professionals received the course's cold shoulder Thursday, battling windy, chilly conditions early and firm greens throughout the first round of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. Chad Campbell, Vaughn Taylor and Colt Knost each shot 4-under-par 67 -- and each enjoyed the benefit of afternoon tee times.
"It's good to take advantage of," said Knost, a Dallas resident and former Southern Methodist golfer. "It's normally a tough tee time to finish so late, and the greens aren't quite as good as they normally are. I'm excited to go out there and have a little better conditions in the morning and get after it."
The scoring average Thursday was 72.955, the second-toughest on tour this year. The morning wave averaged almost 3-over par. The afternoon groups averaged nearly two strokes better.
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Taylor holed out for eagle from the ninth fairway, his final hole, to grab a share of the lead. Knost made birdie on the difficult 18th to join the leaders.
Past champion Jim Furyk, with a new outlook following a tough year, is one shot back after a 3-under 68. Charlie Wi, Harris English and Matt Every also finished at 3 under.
When asked about his tumble in the World Golf Ranking in recent years, Furyk joked that he has actually moved up of late, now at No. 46 in the world. He has finished in the top 15 four times this year, including an 11th-place finish at the Masters.
Furyk was unhappy with his equipment in 2011. In an effort to add distance, he said he sacrificed spin and was unable to hit the variety of shots he desired. So he spent two days late this past year with the folks at Callaway, finding the right fit. He replaced every club in his bag before competing in the Chevron World Challenge and liked the way the new clubs felt.
The 2010 Heritage champion didn't hold much back Thursday when asked about Harbour Town, deeming the extra length at holes No. 3 and 16 unnecessary and saying the greens during Wednesday's pro-am appeared thin and not as healthy as years past.
PGA Tour competitions agronomist Bland Cooper said he would keep an eye on the firmness this week, with cool, windy conditions potentially creating an issue. He knew early Wednesday afternoon the greens could not be allowed to become firmer. Harbour Town superintendent Jonathan Wright said his crew hand-watered areas that needed them Thursday, citing a lack of humidity, and that he planned to monitor the moisture Thursday night and this morning before play.
Cooper said the greens played fair Thursday and were about the speed he would like them the remainder of the week.
The tougher conditions might seem to favor Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion. With new equipment and a world ranking allowing him access to more events, he plans for a better season than the last.
And despite the added length, Harbour Town fits his style of play.
"Mine has always been more trying to put the ball in certain spots on the golf course and take advantage of my strengths," Furyk said. "I think I got away from that a little bit last year."
Taylor played his way into the conversation after tumbling to 1 over with a bogey on No. 1, his 10th hole. He played the final eight holes 5 under, capped by a 100-yard sand wedge on No. 9 that tracked the pin.
Taylor said he has fought a hook and worked to eliminate the left side of the golf course. He slipped Thursday with a hook off the tee on No. 16 and gave two shots back.
But the Augusta, Ga., resident, who has twice finished in the top 5 here, made birdies at Nos. 2, 4 and 7 on the way in. He reached 2 under his opening nine before turning even par.
"You've just got to kind of grind it out," Taylor said. "... I fortunately did a good job of that today."