Brian Davis gained notoriety and respect at the 2010 RBC Heritage when he called a penalty on himself in a playoff with Jim Furyk.
He’d like to become known for something more triumphant at Harbour Town Golf Links, or anywhere else on the golf map, for that matter.
“I’d like to do something else in this tournament so I don’t get remembered just for that,” Davis said.
He’s off to a good start to something else.
Davis made eight birdies Thursday to shoot an opening-round 6-under 65 and take a one-stroke lead over Kevin Streelman and Charley Hoffman in the 45th Heritage.
Johnson Wagner and Australians Jason Day and Marc Leishman, who were both in contention for a Masters title late Sunday, are two shots back.
Davis lost the playoff to Furyk when he called a penalty on himself in the tidal marsh to the left of the 18th green because he clipped a reed in his backswing while inside the hazard line. He essentially needed to get up and down from the marsh to continue the playoff, and the penalty eliminated his chances.
It’s one of five PGA Tour runner-up finishes for Davis without a win in 260 starts.
His nobility in calling the penalty has endured.
“I still have people stop me in the street or at the golf club or at airports,” Davis said. “People do remember it, but for me I’m just trying to move on from that and trying to win a golf tournament.”
The 65 is the best round among several good rounds at Harbour Town for Davis. He opened with a 67 in 2008, has posted six 68s in the past three years, and is one of the last two players – along with Furyk – to shoot four Heritage rounds in the 60s. One of those rounds in 2010 was a 66. Davis has five top-25 finishes in seven trips to Hilton Head.
“I’ve got good memories here,” Davis said. “I always like coming back here, as a lot of guys do. It’s a very different golf course than we normally play, very old school. And it’s a neat week as well, just being on the island.”
Davis, who earned $1.3 million last year with three fourth-place finishes, is off to a slow start to the year with five missed cuts and a withdrawal in his first eight events, though he tied for sixth and 29th in his last two events in Texas.
“It has been a slow start, which it has been about the last six or seven years,” Davis said. “I start really slow on the West Coast and start picking up around Florida. And the same thing is happening this year, so I’ll try to figure that out.”
Davis bogeyed the fourth hole to fall to 1 over and would also bogey the 12th. He missed a 6-foot eagle putt to settle for birdie on the par-5 fifth, chipped in for birdie on the sixth and made it three in a row on the seventh, then birdied 9, 10, 11, 13 and 17.
“I got off to a slow start but then caught fire and kept it going,” Davis said. “. . . I was just playing golf. I wasn’t worried about my score or about my misses, I was just playing. Whenever you get that feeling, it’s a great feeling to have because it’s enjoyable.”
Day’s game held up under the pressure of the Masters until he bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes to fall out of the lead and finish two strokes out of the playoff between Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera.
It thrived Thursday under the relaxed atmosphere of an opening round in Hilton Head.
“Focus with pressure, you’re pretty much crapping yourself, but you’re trying to hit a good shot,” Day said. “Focus without pressure, you’re focused but you know that you’re going to hit the good shot.
“ Last week it felt like there was pressure the whole week, and coming into this week it’s pretty laid back. But it is a tour event and I want to do well.”
Brandt Snedeker, the No. 5 player in the world who took a lead into the final round Sunday at Augusta National before tying for sixth, was unable to carry his good play to Harbour Town and shot a 73 Thursday.
But Day and Leishman, who finished third and tied for fourth in the Masters, respectively, were able to transport their games with their drive to Hilton Head. Both players played bogey-free with four birdies.
“Looking back at last week, I played well,” Day said. “I swung the club well and the short game was really tight. I just had to come into this week and make sure that I got enough rest and just try to keep that momentum rolling, that confidence rolling. Normally when you see guys playing well it goes in bunches. You’ll see them play well for awhile.”