HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Harold Varner III counts many courses among his favorites on the PGA Tour.
Harbour Town Golf Links is not one of them.
“Every tee shot is super uncomfortable, especially when it’s windy, and I’ve hit it out of bounds everywhere here,” he said. “Last year, first hole, I hit it out of bounds. It’s just hard off the tee.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m always kind of guiding it out there, but if you can guide it out there for 72 holes, you can do some damage.”
Well, his inner GPS was working just fine as Varner did some serious damage Saturday in the third round of the RBC Heritage. With not a single blemish on his card, Varner shot 8-under 63 to take a one-shot lead; it’s his first outright 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour.
With rounds of 67-72-63, Varner sits at 11 under as he tries to win his first PGA Tour title; he won the Saudi International earlier this year and won the 2016 Australian PGA Championship. While he may be “super uncomfortable” at Harbour Town, his past two starts are not indicative of that. He tied for second last year and six of his last seven rounds around Harbour Town have been in the 60s.
It speaks to Varner’s growing skill on the golf course.
“That’s what the best players do, I think,” he said. “They play well everywhere, whether they like it or not.”
Varner is one clear of Shane Lowry (65), Erik van Rooyen (67), and overnight leader Patrick Cantlay (70). Hudson Swafford (66), Matt Kuchar (67), Sepp Straka (67), and Aaron Wise (68) are two back at 9 under.
The fear ahead of the round was that Cantlay, the reigning FedEx champion and winner of four events last year, would run away and hide. But his momentum was stalled with four bogeys. He regained some momentum with a final-hole birdie.
“It had some good, it had some not so good, but I’m in a really good spot for tomorrow,” Cantlay said. “I’m obviously right there. I think always finishing under par for the day is a little bit of a momentum builder. Glad not to stall out or go backwards.”
Lowry went forward – just not as much as he thought he should have.
“Without complaining too much, 65 is the worst score I could have shot,” Lowry said. “I hit the ball unbelievable today, and I didn’t really hole anything. That putt on the last (9 feet) is probably as long as I’ve holed all day.
“It was getting quite frustrating for a while, but I hit it in pretty close a couple of times and made a couple of nice birdies. It was really nice to birdie the last and get myself into double digits for the tournament.
“I would have taken 65 before I went out. Another Sunday in the position I want to be in, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Everyone looked forward to play Saturday as light winds and softer conditions were on tap after the slugfest that was Friday’s second round when winds whipping off the nearby sea battered players and their scorecards.
With the course yielding and players in attack mode, the field average was 3.5 strokes better in the third round than in round two.
While Varner has won twice around the world, he remains driven and is still working as hard as he can to gain his first PGA Tour title. He’s proven he can win on other tours, now he wants to prove he can win on the best tour.
“The best thing that I can do is just run my course, like this is my journey,” said Varner, who is 31. “It’s just weird I’m getting old. When people say, oh, you’ve been out here this long and you haven’t won, I’m like, oh, really. So it surprises me sometimes, but I just think I’m getting closer every time.”