Heritage notebook: Clemson alum Martin makes early move into contention

ablondin@thesunnews.comApril 19, 2014 

RBC Heritage Golf

Ben Martin blasts onto No. 9 during the rain delayed conclusion of the second round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Saturday, April 19, 2014, in Hilton Head, S.C. (AP Photo/The Island Packet, Jay Karr)

BY JAY KARR — The Associated Press

— Greenville resident and 2009 Clemson graduate Ben Martin did much of his work at the 46th RBC Heritage presented by Boeing early Saturday.

Martin was 3 under through four holes of his second round when play was suspended Friday, and returned to Harbour Town Golf Links to resume his second round at 8 a.m. Saturday.

By the start of the third round, he was tied for the 36-hole lead with K.J. Choi and Jim Furyk at 5-under 137 after playing the remainder of his second round 2 under.

Following an even-par 71 in the afternoon, Martin is tied for third and three shots behind leader Luke Donald at 5-under 208.

In the third round, Martin made a pair of bogeys and pair of birdies on the front nine and finished with nine consecutive pars.

“I was tired the last two or three holes. I hit a few wayward drives,” Martin said. “… It was nice to close it out with some pars on the last couple of holes.”

The 26-year-old said he prepared for his 32-hole day by “getting a lot of sleep last night. I think that’s the only thing you can do.”

Martin reached the PGA Tour in 2011, but lost his card and played two years on the Web.com Tour before winning twice on the junior circuit in 2013 to earn a return to the PGA Tour this season.

Martin’s only previous appearance at the RBC Heritage came in 2011 on a sponsor exemption and he tied for 56th. No South Carolina native or resident has ever won the Heritage.

“This is one that we circled at the start of the year,” Martin said. “We rented a house months ago. I’ve got the whole family down. So it’s a hometown event, you could say, since it’s in South Carolina. If there was any event that I could pick to be my first win, it would be this one.”

Martin has held at least a share of a lead in a PGA Tour event after any round one previous time in 42 starts. He shot a 68 in the opening round of the 2011 Northern Trust Open and promptly shot 80 in the second round to miss the cut. He has made just five cuts in 14 starts this year.

“This is probably a little bit unfamiliar ground for me on the PGA Tour,” Martin said. “I’ve done it before on the Web.com Tour. But this is where I play and it’s a lot of fun out there to be up on the leaderboard.

“… So I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing all week: having fun, focusing on what I can control and what I’m doing out there, and add them up at the end of the day.”

First-time unfriendly

Only five players have won the Heritage in their tournament debut in its 46 years, and two of those victories came in the event’s first two years as Arnold Palmer won in 1969 and Bob Goalby won in 1970.

Since then, only Stewart Cink in 2000, Jose Coceres in 2001 and Boo Weekley in 2007 have won in their tournament debut.

South African Charl Schwartzel has the best chance Sunday to become the sixth player to be a first-time winner. The 2011 Masters champion shot a 3-under 68 in the third round to move into a tie for third at 208, three shots out of the lead.

“I think if I can continue the ball-striking and giving myself chances, I can make a few [putts] tomorrow and give it a shot,” Schwartzel said.

Back in the hunt

If it seems Matt Kuchar is in contention just about every week on the PGA Tour, it’s because he is.

Kuchar has a realistic chance of winning for the fourth consecutive week.

He entered the final round of the Valero Texas Open tied for second and three shots off the lead and shot 75 to tie for fourth. He held the lead on the final hole of regulation before hitting into the water, making a bogey and losing to Matt Jones in a playoff in the Shell Houston Open, and held a share of the lead early in the final round of the Masters before falling back into a tie for fifth.

Kuchar played 30 holes Saturday and bogeyed the 18th in the third round to sit four shots behind Donald in a tie for seventh at 4-under 209.

“Some good steady playing, just what I’ve tried to build my game for,” Kuchar said. “I’m excited to have another opportunity. It’s been three chances now. I’m looking like I’m a bit behind going into tomorrow but still with a chance, which is a fun position to be in.”

Early exits

Some players packed their bags Friday afternoon, knowing they were going to miss the cut. About half the starting field of 132 had to return Saturday morning to finish their second rounds, and others around the cut line hung around to learn their fate.

A total of 78 players made the cut at 4-over 146. Among those who missed by a stroke at 147 were Mike Weir, Brendon de Jonge, Aaron Baddeley and Kevin Chappell, whose caddie is Galivants Ferry native and former University of South Carolina golfer Michael Maness.

Others missing the cut included Tom Watson, Lucas Glover, Kevin Na, Justin Leonard, Carl Pettersson, Hunter Mahan and Johnson Wagner at 148, Vijay Singh and John Daly at 149, five-time Heritage winner Davis Love III, Hideki Matsuyama and Kyle Stanley at 150, Nick Faldo at 153 and Russell Henley at 154. Bill Haas withdrew following an opening-round 72 citing a wrist injury.

Defending champion Graeme McDowell was 2 under after 36 holes to continue a 21-year streak of the reigning champion making the Heritage cut. Love was the last to miss the cut in 1993. McDowell shot a 1-over 72 in the third round and is tied for 22nd at 1-under 212.

Easter sunrise service

Martin will join fellow competitors Chesson Hadley and Richard H. Lee in a traditional sunrise service at 7:30 a.m. Sunday on the 18th green, and Hadley will provide the testimony.

An Easter egg hunt will occur on the Heritage Lawn between holes 17 and 18 immediately following the service, around 8:30 a.m.

The heavy rain the Hilton Head area has endured has forced a change to general parking Sunday. Spectators without number-specific parking hangtags must park at Honey Horn at 70 Honey Horn Plantation Road and take shuttles that begin running at 6:30 a.m. Some hangtag holders will be directed to other parking lots, as well.

To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page, @alanblondin, visit myrtlebeachonline.com.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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