By Dave Shedloski
From the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club to the relaxing milieu of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links. Not a bad segue.
PGA Tour players since 1983 have enjoyed traveling a few hours down the road to Hilton Head, South Carolina, for rest, relaxation and riveting golf on one of the most intriguing and genuinely innovative layouts they see all year.
Opened in 1969, Harbour Town was designed by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye on a piece of a low-lying coastal property. Measuring 7,099 yards, par 71, it is known for its narrow fairways and tiny, undulating greens, as well as its strategic bunkering and sandy pine straw areas that have the feel of Pinehurst. The par-4 18th hole is one of the most scenic and iconic in golf with the red and white lighthouse accentuating the background.
South Africa’s Branden Grace is the defending champion. Former champions such as Matt Kuchar (fourth at the Masters), Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker might well be considered the favorites. Five-time winner Davis Love III, who missed 12 weeks with a broken collarbone from a snowboarding accident, is also in the field. Former world No. 1 Luke Donald, who has six top-three finishes at Harbour Town, has held the 54-hole lead the last three years. Perhaps this time he gets it after 72 holes.
CBS Sports golf analyst Ian Baker-Finch, who has played in the event a number of times, gives his take on what to look for this week at Harbour Town.
What do you like best about Harbour Town Golf Links?
I like so many things about the place. You have to hit all kinds of shots and work your way around. You have to do everything well. Bombers can win there, but it definitely is not a bombers course. The bombers have to navigate those narrow fairways. It’s one of the great fun courses that is all about strategy and positioning.
This event seems to be the perfect way for players to exhale after the Masters. Why do you think that is?
Definitely the Low Country feel and the southern comfort that emanates from Harbour Town and Hilton Head. It’s a great place to go with the family. Easter is coming up. Everything about it is warm and friendly, especially after the rigors of the week before, even though the Masters is such a wonderful week. But it is a major, and majors can wear you out.
Luke Donald loves this place, but it doesn’t seem to love him back. Is this the year he can win the plaid jacket?
Maybe you can say Luke Donald can break through here. Maybe he’ll take some inspiration from Sergio Garcia winning last week that he finds a way to get it done. He’s a former No. 1 in the world who is one of those guys in the discussion of best players without a major, and this would be a great week to get another win and move towards maybe winning a major soon.
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Since the Heritage moved into the post-Masters slot in 1983, just six men have won without playing at Augusta National. Why do you think that is?
The fact that it’s an invitational, and the best players play the Masters and then come to Harbour Town is a factor. I don’t think it’s so much a correlation between the courses, but because players work so hard to get into top form for the Masters and there is a carryover of sorts. I always played the Heritage well for that reason.
Favorites and dark horses?
Matt Kuchar and Russell Henley, who played well last week, are my top picks. Plus Adam Hadwin, who is such a good putter. William McGirt might be a good dark horse pick. Branden Grace, the defending champion, could be hard to beat as well.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.