RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links

Fortunately, for golfers who appreciate the art of shotmaking, the good governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, was true to her word last year. With longtime sponsor, Verizon choosing not to renew its sponsorship of the Heritage, the PGA Tour tournament held at the Harbour Town Golf Links, on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, they were in a pickle.

To keep the tournament alive in 2011, they did it without a sponsor on the promise of the governor. A spokesman for Haley said, “The Governor understands the importance of the Heritage and what it means not only to this area and to this region but the entire state. We will find a sponsor. We will make that happen. We cannot fail—it is not an option.” Especially when it’s estimated that the tournament brings some $81 million into the state.

They managed to land RBC (the Royal Bank of Canada) and so now the tournament is the RBC Heritage and all is right with the world. And it doesn’t hurt that one of the players they sponsor is World No. 1, Luke Donald and, whoops, guess who’s in the field this week. Donald will be joined by the rest of the RBC Tour staff, Mike Weir, Stephan Ames, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar. It’s like a ready made tournament just with those guys.

Built in 1969 by a young Pete Dye and his apprentice, an even younger Jack Nicklaus, Harbour Town has always demanded precision shotmaking. You have to be in the right half of the fairway to gain access around trees to its postage-stamp greens. Past Champions are the epitome of that “old school” skill set: Brandt Snedeker, Brian Gay, Boo Weekley, Aaron Baddeley, Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink and Davis Love. And the alumni have all come back to school us again this year.

Here are the marquee pairings for Thursday:

10th Tee

8:20 – Luke Donald, Kyle Stanley (who went to Clemson and lives locally) and Brandt Snedeker (last year’s winner)

8:30 – Bill Haas (the 2011 Tour and FedExCup Champion), Ernie Els (who could put himself into next year’s Masters early), and Padraig Harrington (whose putting seems to be the last thing holding him back and he says it’s coming around)

8:40 – Camilo Villegas  (Spider Man), Henrik Stenson (had some good stretches in Augusta) and Justin Leonard (former champion)

1st Tee

1:00 – Webb Simpson (just lost out to Luke Donald for leading money winner last year), Zach Johnson (2007 Masters winner) and Bud Cauley (only sixth player to leave college and play his way on Tour through sponsors’ exemptions, thus avoiding Q-School)

1:10 – Lucas Glover (U.S. Open champion making his way back after surfing accident in Hawaii that turned his knee), Matt Kuchar (had the lead late on Sunday at the Masters) and Geoff Ogilvy (the affable, straightforward Aussie who plays by feel)

1:20 – John Daly (mostly trying to play in Europe now), Rickie Fowler (could this be his long-awaited first win?) and Ricky Barnes (a great talent who has yet to live up to his promise, but fun to watch)

So those would be the guys to watch, but what to watch is how they wend their way around the tree-lined course.

Have fun. The Golf Channel, 3:00 to 6:00 PM (Eastern)

Bonus Fun Fact: Arnold Palmer won the first Heritage back in 1969. He took home $20,000 of the $100,000 purse.

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