While many of the best players in the world can win just about anywhere on the US PGA Tour, some courses fit their eye better than others. No place is this more prevalent than at Harbour Town Golf Links, where the same names show up on the top of the leaderboard seemingly every year at the RBC Heritage.
One of those you can always count on at Hilton Head is Matt Kuchar, who has now broken 70 in 10 of his last 17 rounds at Harbour Town, including Thursday’s five-under 66 that has him two back of leader Rory Sabbatini.
“I really do enjoy this golf course. Pete Dye and I have had some awfully good success together in the tournaments I seem to play well in,” said Kuchar, whose last win came at this event in 2014. “But this course, every time I come I really enjoy it. You know going in you’re going to have to shape shots, you’re going to have to work the golf ball around.”
The unique challenge Harbour Town provides clearly worked to Kuchar’s strengths on Thursday. The seven-time US PGA Tour winner leads the field in strokes-gained/approach the green and tee-to-green, and he hit 14 of 18 green in regulation, leading to six birdies and just one bogey.
“There’s so much variety here, I think it’s great fun to play,” he said. “It’s a fun week, I always look forward to this. It’s a low key week, the golf course certainly is no pushover, you’ve got to come here to play, but once you get on these greens, I feel like if you put the ball in the centre of these greens you’ve got a makable birdie putt.”
"Somebody's closer. 👀" – @K_Kisner *probably*
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Kuchar will need another strong round on Friday to keep pace with Sabbatini, whose seven-under 64 puts him alone atop the leaderboard. The 42-year-old South African missed three of his first four cuts to open the season, but has seen some success in the new year, having made his last nine consecutive cuts, including a T-5 at the Valspar Championship and top 25s at the Honda Classic and Farmers Insurance Open.
Also at five-under are John Huh, Chesson Hadley and Billy Horschel, who has missed five of his past six cuts, including an early exit at the Masters. Unlike Kuchar, Horschel hasn’t had much success at Harbour Town, with just one top 10 in five appearances, but the University of Florida alum had nothing but praise for the venue after matching his low round of the year on tour.
“I think this is one of the better courses we play all year,” said Horschel. “Architects in today’s game should come here and really understand what this course is and why it’s so challenging. If you look at the scores year after year, 15 (under) really is a great score to get to. Usually it’s right around 11 or 14-under par, so, too much nowadays with playing big, wide open courses that really aren’t great designed golf courses. It’s nice to come to Harbour Town, an old-school course in a sense and play some good golf.”
Australia’s Cameron Smith shot 3-under to be the best placed Aussie.
Harris English, Martin Laird, Jonas Blixt and Patrick Cantlay are tied for sixth at four-under. World No.1 Dustin Johnson fired a two-under 69 and is five off the lead.