• Brian Rietveld

Harbour Town yields low numbers, leaderboard tightens for 2022 RBC Heritage finale

The winds moved out for Saturday's third round of the 2022 RBC Heritage presented by Boeing, and the golfers took advantage of the near-perfect scoring conditions, creating a crowded and star-studded leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round.


While a few raindrops fell from the Lowcountry sky in the early afternoon at Harbour Town Golf Links during Day 3 of the RBC Heritage, the predicted thunderstorms stayed northwest of Hilton Head Island. It led to incredible scoring in both the morning and afternoon sessions. Collectively, there were eight rounds that were 5-under or better on Saturday — spurring another bunched-up leaderboard.


The leader in the clubhouse is the colorful Harold Varner III, who fired a flawless 8-under 63 to take the lead at 11-under par. The RBC Ambassador and North Carolina resident rode a hot putter on Saturday, draining four putts over 10 feet in length. In fact, Varner led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting, gaining 3.30 shots against the impressive Heritage field.


But when you shoot 63, you do virtually everything right. The very proud East Carolina alumnus was fourth in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach and, of course, led the field in Total Strokes Gained with his bogey-free round.


Varner will surely be donning his ECU purple for Sunday’s round and walk with more confidence than in previous tournaments where he has found himself atop the leaderboard. The 31-year-old won the lucrative Saudi International back in February for his biggest victory to date in his still blossoming career.


While the win put a million bucks in his bank account, the Saudi International was a taste-tester for the newly developed LIV Tour and was an Asian Tour-sanctioned event with a relatively weak international field. Varner is still searching for his first PGA Tour victory and is in the driver’s seat going into Sunday at Harbour Town.


The jolly Irishman Shane Lowry also made noise in the afternoon session on Saturday, carding a silky 6-under 65. The 35-year-old’s eight-birdie performance places him one back of Varner and in a three-way tie with Patrick Cantlay and Erik van Rooyen. Lowry, the 30th-ranked player in the world, put on a ball-striking show during the third round of the Heritage. The thick-bodied Ryder Cup star did his damage with his irons on Saturday.


The longest birdie putt the 2019 Open champion made on the tree-lined back nine was from eight feet. His other three birdies coming in were all from inside of three feet. Lowry gained a staggering 4.7 strokes versus the field in Strokes Gained: Approach to get within a shot of the third-round lead. While he shot an impressive 65 around Harbour Town, Lowry’s round could have been even better with several missed chances on the greens. In fact, Lowry lost 1.81 shots in Strokes Gained: Putting, ranking him 66th out of 71 golfers who made the cut.


Meanwhile, meandering through the pines and waste bunkers were two of the biggest stars in contention this weekend in 36-hole leader Cantlay and former world No. 1 Jordan Spieth. After a sloppy approach shot on the par-4 third hole led to a bogey, Cantlay seemed to find his rhythm, converting three birdies coming in for a solid two-under 34 on Harbour Town’s front nine.


The overnight leader began leaking oil with his driver on the back nine, hitting a tree with his drive on the 11th and landing in the pine straw at the 12th, cascading into back-to-back bogeys. Cantlay, like Lowry, skirted the lips of several holes with his putts throughout the day, leading to him losing 1.52 strokes to the field in putting. The even-keeled Californian stayed the course and birdied the difficult 18th hole after failing to save par from the bunker on 17. Though he is one shot off Varner’s lead, both the oddsmakers and Datagolf.com have Cantlay as the favorite to win the tartan jacket.


Then there is everyone’s favorite golfer, Spieth, who once again took his fans for one of his trademark roller coaster rides of a round. The former No. 1 golfer in the world carded three birdies, one eagle, and two bogeys for a solid 3-under 68, but the Texan left several shots out on the golf course. The most glaring shot he donated to the field was a head-scratching three-putt on the final hole of his day, as he managed to drop a shot after lining up a flat 12-footer for birdie.


But the ever vocal and often self-deprecating Spieth highlighted his round with a trademark 21-foot eagle putt from off the green that found the center of the hole. If Spieth can clean up his putting, where he was last in the entire field in round 3, then he has to be one to watch heading into Sunday.


In all, there are 11 golfers within three shots of Varner’s lead heading into Sunday. The final round tee times have been bumped up 10 minutes to aid in finishing the tournament before the forecasted heavy rains roll into the Lowcountry.


Will the weather be the x-factor for another wild Heritage finish? Will a player three or four shots back post an early number around 14- or 15-under par and put the pressure on the leaders? South Carolina’s only PGA event delivers every year and a worthy champion will surely rise to the occasion this Easter Sunday.


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