Beaufort News

Golf world's eyes will be on Heritage for final round

One of Heritage tournament director Steve Wilmot's favorite lines over the years has been to lament the two things he can't control -- the weather and the names on the leaderboard.

Wilmot took his familiar refrain a step further on the eve of this year's tournament, saying he was no longer content to simply accept whatever hand he was dealt in those departments. With the tournament wooing potential title sponsors,he was praying, for once, for great weather and a great leaderboard.

After a couple early scrapes with Mother Nature, the former has turned out well enough this week. And the latter leaves very little to be desired going into Sunday.

You have defending champion Jim Furyk, the reigning PGA Tour player of the year and FedExCup champion, playing in the final group. You have young stars Jason Day and Ricky Barnes sitting just three shots back. And you have South Carolina native and fan favorite Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey right there in the mix, as well.

And that's before you even get to the guy at the top.

That, of course, is Englishman Luke Donald, who is 18 holes away from ascending to the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking. With a win today, Donald will jump past Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer and become No. 1 in the world.

Even though it's the center of our universe here on Hilton Head Island, the Heritage rarely commands the kind of worldwide attention it will attract today, especially if Donald is still in the hunt late into the afternoon.

Donald said after Friday's second round that he didn't think the talk about the top spot in the world had affected his play, and after an early stumble Saturday -- a double-bogey at the par-5 second hole -- he rebounded to retain the lead.

Avoiding a similar mistake today will be the key, he said, but with so many accomplished players lurking, he can't afford to be conservative, either.

"With just a one-shot lead, you can't play protective golf," Donald said. "You have to go out there and try to win it, make some birdies and not (just) try to hold onto that lead. ... You have to take your birdie opportunities when you get them."

With the exception of the majors -- and even then, occasionally -- glancing at the first few names on the leaderboard of any golf tournament usually sends one scrambling to the computer to Google this guy or that guy.

This leaderboard has its share of those -- you probably don't know much about Brendon de Jonge or Jason Dufner, for example -- but there are 11 players within four shots of the lead, and the vast majority of them would look awfully good in a tartan jacket, as far as tournament organizers are concerned.

If the wind kicks up again this afternoon, and the sun continues to bake out the greens, things could get awfully wild when the sun starts dipping toward the horizon and the boats begin to gather in Calibogue Sound to greet their new champion.

"There's a bunch of people behind us that have a good chance, too," Donald said. "So I don't count anyone else out. It should be a good battle out there."

If that's what unfolds, Wilmot's prayers will have been answered.