Defending champion Graeme McDowell finishes strongly in RBC Heritage

Northern Irishman on level par, five shots behind the clubhouse leaders

 Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland hits a tee shot on the 13th hole during the first round of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links at  Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Photograph:  Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland hits a tee shot on the 13th hole during the first round of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Photograph: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 18:26

Matt Kuchar shrugged off his Masters near-miss last week to surge into the clubhouse lead during the opening round of the RBC Heritage in South Carolina yesterday.

Kuchar, who contended in Sunday‘s final round at Augusta National before slipping back into a tie for fifth, put that disappointment behind him and shot a five-under-par 66 on a cool, breezy morning at Harbour Town on Hilton Head Island.

“Once I got out there this morning, I was ready to go,“ said the six-times PGA Tour winner after finishing in style with a 15-foot birdie.

He was joined on that score later in the day by Scott Langley and William McGirt who also shot five-under par 66s around the tight Harbour Town Links.

Five birdies
“I didn‘t miss many shots. I found the fairways a lot, not only the fairways but the right side of the fairways to have a good approach,“ said Kuchar.

“I had very good control off the tee and found a lot of greens with my irons. This morning was tricky, so to shoot five birdies, no bogey, was really good.“

Graeme McDowell birdied three of his last six holes to stay in touch with a level par 71.

The defending champion was heading for a very disappointing score having started on the 10th before bogeys at 16, 18 and the third.

However, he turned things around at the two par threes on the way in, picking shots up at four and seven before a three at the par-four ninth.

Kuchar has been the hottest golfer on tour the past three weeks, finishing no worse than fifth, though he has failed to close the deal, most notably at the Houston Open where he bogeyed the final hole of regulation before losing a play-off to Matt Jones.

He said he would guard against mental and physical fatigue in his fourth consecutive tournament by avoiding the practice range for the rest of the week, instead spending his off-course time relaxing with his family.

Harbour Town itself is far from easy. It is one of the tightest layouts on tour, with the smallest greens, and the inevitable winds add another challenge.

The solid field this week includes Masters runner-up Jordan Spieth, as well as golfing greats Nick Faldo and Tom Watson. Six-times Major champion Faldo, back at the scene of his first PGA Tour victory 30 years ago, could not conjure up the old magic as he struggled to a 77.

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