Jeff Shain

Knock, knock: Again, Luke Donald tries to kick down Harbour Town’s door

Luke Donald signs autographs after finishing play 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.
Luke Donald signs autographs after finishing play 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. Staff photo

Keep knocking on the door long enough, that adage says, and it’s just a matter of time before you finally break through.

At this point, you’d think Luke Donald might be beyond knocking. For the mild-mannered Englishman, a small explosive might be the implement of choice.

Twice in the past five years, Donald has taken the lead into the final round of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. Neither resulted in victory. Nor have the other two opportunities in which he was close enough to make a Sunday run.

And there he was again Saturday, battling gusty Harbour Town winds for a 2-under-par 69, with just one bogey on the back nine. He’ll enter the final round with a one-shot lead over Jason Kokrak and Charley Hoffman. Knock, knock.

Dig a little deeper, too, and you discover the previous two occasions Donald has taken a lead into the final round came at ... Harbour Town. Two years ago, and before that 2011.

KNOCK, KNOCK. Somebody get the guy a sledgehammer.

“I would love to put that tartan jacket on,” Donald said. “And again, I’ve put myself in a great position, and that’s all you can ask. Hopefully the chips will fall my way.”

To be sure, Donald is far from the only guy on the leaderboard who’s had to deal with sore knuckles, at Harbour Town or somewhere else.

Hoffman had his chance in 2013, taking a two-stroke lead into the final round in similarly wind-blown conditions. He had those scraggly curls then, setting up one of the classic Heritage front pages in this publication.

There was Hoffman, locks flowing in the breeze, underneath the headline “Good Hair Day” — right next to a sticky-note coupon for Great Clips.

Hoffman got clipped, all right — a final-day 77 that dropped him into a tie for sixth, four shots out of the playoff that crowned Graeme McDowell over Webb Simpson.

Earlier this month, Hoffman led at the midway point of the Shell Houston Open but shot 74-76 on the weekend. Two weeks earlier, he was third after three rounds of the Valspar Championship outside Tampa, then tumbled out of the top 10 with a closing 75.

Knock, knock.

“Struggling is a nice way to put it,” Hoffman said. “I’ve been getting in my own way.”

Kevin Chappell might have been part of the equation, too, standing just off the lead well into Saturday’s back nine. The California native nearly scored his first PGA Tour victory last month at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, until a poor drive at No.18 led to a bogey and opened the door for Jason Day to win.

This time, the stumble came on Saturday. A poor bunker blast and three-putt gave him a double bogey at No.15, and he took another double at the 18th after hitting into the sea oats left of the green. He finished with a 75, falling five shots back.

Knock... uhh, never mind.

Then again, maybe five shots back isn’t too much to make a run. Each of the past three RBC Heritage winners have stormed from four off the pace, including Jim Furyk’s 63 a year ago that stands as the lowest final round by a winner.

That puts 11 pursuers into the mix behind Donald, who has to be admired for his consistency at Harbour Town if not his success. It isn’t easy to rank No. 3 on the tournament’s all-time money list without a victory.

Both previous times Donald held the 54-hole lead, he was beaten by Sunday 64s. Brandt Snedeker outlasted him in a 2011 playoff, completing a charge from six shots back. Two years ago, it was Matt Kuchar’s bunker hole-out at the 18th.

He also was runner-up in 2009, though Brian Gay’s 10-shot romp simply made Donald the winner of the B-flight. And there were those third-place finishes in 2010 and 2013.

Five top-three finishes in seven years, without a win. If ever a venue owed a competitor, it has to be Harbour Town and Donald. Right?

“It’s probably a little dangerous to say a place owes you,” said Donald, understandably unwilling to tempt the fates.

The best way for Donald to break the spell, honestly, would be to shoot something better than a closing 69. Not since 2009 has he gone lower on a Harbour Town Sunday. Somebody is going to make a charge, and even he admits he needs to be more assertive.

“I’ve got to approach this as a good opportunity and see it as a challenge,” Donald said. “And hopefully I’m up to that challenge.”

Knock, knock.

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