HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – You wouldn’t expect anything else from such tight and cozy quarters like Harbour Town Golf Links but to have a logjam at the top after three rounds of The Heritage.
Certainly, the fact that Luke Donald calmed himself after a double bogey at the second hole to shoot 70 and maintain the lead is no surprise. Nor is the fact that Jim Furyk, despite a bogey at the 18th hole, is just one back, or that nine others are within four of the lead.
But given the venue, the weather and the festive atmosphere of one of the East Coast’s premier resort areas, there were more storylines than that. Here are five to digest:
1.) He’s a local hero: While many are already fitting Donald for a plaid jacket, or possibly putting Furyk into a second consecutive one, a proud South Carolinian is giving the home crowd something else to cheer about.
How does a guy wearing two golf gloves and a plaid jacket sound?
“Well, I’m in pretty good shape,” Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey said. “But I’m going to play my game. I’m aggressive, but I back off when I have to back off.”
At one point in Saturday’s third round, Gainey didn’t back off when he should have, but chalk that up to a voice in his head. Having birdied Nos. 9, 10 and 12, Gainey was charging when he hit an approach from a bad angle to 55 feet at the 13th.
“As we walked up there, one of my buddies yelled out, ‘That putt’s kind of slow,’ ” Gainey said.
The South Carolina native didn’t put any blame on that, but he ran it 8 feet by, then missed the comebacker. Though he holed out from a greenside bunker at 18 to shoot 67, Gainey concedes the three-putt sidetracked his momentum.
But he wasn’t about to blame one of the many friends who are out cheering for him. “He wasn’t the one hitting the putt; I was,” Gainey said.
2.) On the Avenue, Fifth Avenue: There they were, as if headed for the Easter parade, the 1:25 pairing of Ben Crane and Ian Poulter.
Crane, with pink plaid pants, a soft pink shirt and a pink hat, was Easter splendor. So, too, was Poulter, with red plaid pants, red shirt and red visor.
All right, even if Sunday were Groundhog Day, Crane probably would have been in pink and Poulter in red. To them, it’s the norm, not the holiday.
But with another sun-splashed day bringing out the bright colors and summer clothing, Crane and Poulter were big hits. Unfortunately for them, their golf didn’t attract equal attention (Crane shot 71, Poulter 75).
3,) Speaking of fashion: Quietly, Scott Verplank posted a 4-under 67 and moved to 9 under, tied for third, just two off the lead. Certainly, that qualifies for being in contention at a course that is one of his favorites, proven by the fact that he’s here for the 19th time.
He has never won at Harbour Town, so Verplank was asked if what he wore Sunday would go with the traditional plaid jacket.
“I’m just going to go with my Easter colors,” he joked. “I’m going to dress like an Easter egg.”
Turning serious, Verplank said he was just thankful to be playing competitively, because it’s been a rough 2011 season, thanks to a wrist injury. He’s been limited to just five tournaments, one of which he withdrew from, and he takes it one day at a time.
“Yesterday, I felt like an old man. Today, I felt like a young man. That’s the way it goes,” Verplank said.
No surprise that Verplank is in contention at Harbour Town, a layout that favors no particular style of play, other than someone who can hit a lot of greens. Stunning is that he contended a few weeks ago at TPC Redstone at the Shell Houston Open, billed as a bomber’s course.
“(But) it didn’t rain (in Houston), which was huge. The weather was good and the ball was running out,” said Verplank, who finished second to Phil Mickelson.
4.) Oh, how quickly things can turn: When he holed a lob wedge from 116 yards at the delightful, par-4 ninth, Webb Simpson was 8 under and within two of the lead.
He didn’t need to look at the leaderboard. He knew he was in contention.
“That’s why it hurts so much, what happened on the back,” Simpson said.
What happened was, the putter stopped working. He three-putted for bogey at the 10th. He missed from 7 feet for a birdie at the 12th. He three-putted for bogey at 13. Then, after hitting what he thought was a perfect wedge at the par-5 15th, Simpson was slightly over the green and pitched up to 4 feet – only to require three putts. When he missed the green wide left at the par 3-17th and made bogey, Simpson had come home in 40 to tumble well down the leaderboard, a whopping eight back.
“That’s golf,” Simpson said. “Some days it’s so easy. Some days you can’t figure it out.”
5.) It just doesn’t figure: In six previous appearances at Harbour Town, Pat Perez had missed three cuts, withdrawn twice, finished T-13 and his scoring average was 73.27. So what the heck is he doing hanging around near the top of the leaderboard, tied for eighth at 7 under? “I have no idea. I can’t explain it,” Perez said, laughing. Then he shrugged and offered this: “Obviously, I’ve played better this year than in the past.”
But if you wanted to get any deeper than that, Perez wasn’t your guy.