Davis Love III turned 50 Sunday. But he’s not resigning himself to the Champions Tour just yet.
The winner of 20 PGA Tour events, including the 1997 PGA Championship, said he has the goals this year of qualifying for both the U.S. Open and British Open. He has played in 12 previous events this year and has made nine cuts, though he has yet to record a top-25 finish.
“I’m going to focus on this tour for right now and know that there’s a lot of [Champions] events out there that are asking me to play and that I’d like to play,” Love said. “I’ve got that in my back pocket, so that’s nice.”
If he can compete anywhere on the PGA Tour it will be at Harbour Town Golf Links, where he has won five tartan jackets in 1987, ’91, ’92, ’98 and 2003. Love is tied for 20th in the 46th Heritage after a 1-under 70 in the opening round. He was 2 under through the entire back nine before a bogey on the 18th.
“I missed a couple putts but I made a couple putts,” said Love, who was pleased with his ball-striking Thursday. “All in all it was a decent day, but not what I was looking for.”
Love has missed the Heritage the past two years because of injuries, and became acquainted this week with added yardage and a few new tee boxes since his last visit.
“It’s nice to be back,” said Love, whose wife made the trip to the Heritage in each of the past two years despite his absence. “It’s always great to come here. It’s a tradition in my family. It’s a great golf course, classic, you know, original Pete Dye, and it’s fun to play and a great event.”
Love takes stock in the top-10 Masters performances of 50 and older players Miguel Angel Jimenez and Bernhard Langer, and what has become the annual contention at Augusta National of 54-year-old Fred Couples.
“I know if I play hard and play well like those guys I can still have a chance [to win a PGA Tour event],” Love said. “Not as many chances, but I’ve still got a chance.”
The 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup Team Captain played in the first round with 2014 U.S. captain Tom Watson, 64, and 20-year-old Ryder Cup hopeful and all-but-lock Jordan Spieth.
“Obviously Tom is watching Jordan, and I’m watching them watch each other, so it was a lot of fun,” said Love, who himself was excited to play with the eight-time major champion and his 1993 Ryder Cup captain.
Round of therapy
Spieth found it cathartic to play another competitive round of golf, and he’s right back where he’s accustomed to being: in contention. Coming off his runner-up finish in the Masters on Sunday, Spieth shot a 2-under 69 and is tied for fifth.
The young Texan had three birdies and two bogeys on the front nine and played bogey-free on the back nine despite considerable wind with a birdie on the par-3 17th. His motivation was heightened by his pairing with Watson and Love.
“I was anxious to get back out and play another competitive round of golf, so today was going to be kind of therapy, in a sense, from last week, to get back out and try to make some birdies,” Spieth said. “And for the most part it was a very solid round and I had an awesome time playing with those two.”
One of Spieth’s friends on tour, 24-year-old Scott Langley, said he garnered some inspiration from watching Spieth nearly win a green jacket, and he played like it Thursday with a 5-under 66 that has him in a three-way tie for the lead with Matt Kuchar and William McGirt.
“Seeing Jordan do so well, almost win the Masters, inspired me a little bit,” said Langley, a second-year PGA Tour member who tied for 24th in his Heritage debut last year. “But I was already very motivated to come here this week. I love this place. I know it suits my game pretty well, and I have a decent understanding of how to play it for only being my second year here.”
The 2011 Illinois graduate had the week off and worked on his game extensively after missing a pair of cuts in the two events leading up to the Masters. Langley has made just seven of 14 cuts this year but finished third in the Valspar Championship five weeks ago.
Langley played with McGirt and they both made the turn at 5 under. Langley had birdies on holes 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 following a bogey on the eighth.
“Willie and I definitely fed off each other a little bit today,” Langley said. “We got off to some great starts. We just seemed to keep hitting quality shots and having really close looks at it.”
Langley birdied the par-3 14th with 5-iron from 197 yards to 20 feet to be first and only player to reach 6 under Thursday, and he hit from inside the hazard to the left of the 18th green to 15 feet and two-putted for a closing bogey. “I made a couple of mistakes but on a tough day like this that’s kind of to be expected sometimes,” Langley said. “I’m pretty pleased with 5 under.”
Langley has had at least a share of a lead after 18 holes once. As a rookie, his opening round of last season was a 62 at the Sony Open in Hawaii and he went on to tie for third to take a huge step toward keeping his PGA Tour card for this season.
He’s hoping to be the first lefthanded player to win the Heritage’s tartan jacket.
Blue man group
The RBC Heritage is partnering with Ernie Els’ foundation Els for Autism to recognize Autism Awareness Month this week, and Friday has been designated “Blue Out Day” at Harbour Town.
The tournament’s players, caddies, spectators and media are being asked to wear blue Friday to show support for those affected by autism. Blue and white autism awareness ribbon pins will be available to players and caddies on the first and 10th tees. Els’ son, Ben, is autistic.