|HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.--It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
Had Charles Dickens been a 21st-century sportswriter instead of a 19th-century novelist, he might have written those lines about the 2011 Heritage, rather than about the French Revolution.
With blue skies and calm winds the order of the day, Brandt Snedeker two-putted from 15 feet on
Luke Donald (left) congratulates Brandt Snedeker, who won The Heritage on Sunday with a par on the third playoff hole, after the golfers tied at 12 under par at the end of regulation play.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
the third playoff hole Sunday to beat Luke Donald for the tournament title in the 43rd playing of the event that has become one of the sports staples of the South Carolina Lowcountry.
In sharp contrast to the Chamber-of-Commerce weather at Harbour Town Golf Links, however, was the shadow of possible extinction that continues to cloud the future of the PGA Tour event, which is without a title sponsor for next year and beyond and will not continue without one.
Snedeker claimed his second Tour victory and his first at Harbour Town in what could well be the last event played here.
Dickens continued the opening passage to A Tale of Two Cities with words that ring true at Harbour Town today: “…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”
Despite the electric atmosphere of a playoff in which Snedeker and Donald pumped their fists and stared each other down after each made birdie on the first extra hole, despite an event that generated palpable suspense as it wound toward an intricate conclusion, and despite overwhelming support for the event among the Tour pros, fourth-place finisher Tim Herron may have smoked his last cigarette at the 6,973-yard course that suits his game perhaps more than any other.
Rumors of potential sponsors surfaced throughout the week, the Royal Bank of Canada being the most recent.
Defending champion Jim Furyk, however, knew nothing of possible talks with RBC, which already sponsors the Canadian Open.
“It would be news to me, but I hope so,” said Furyk, who fell out of contention with a final-round, 5-over-par 76. “It would be interesting for them to pick up two events.”
Third-place finisher Tommy Gainey of Bishopville, S.C., a blue-collar hero on Tour if there ever was one, would be loath to lose the only Tour event in his home state.
“This golf tournament, The Heritage, it’s unbelievable,” said Gainey, who missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to miss the playoff by one shot. “All the players love coming here. They love the golf course because, you know, it doesn’t take 20 under to win…
“And for me, being in South Carolina and the tournament being here in South Carolina, I mean it’s incredible for me. The fans have been unreal—unbelievable. And it’s even better to play well in front of them, in front of the home folks for me.”
Snedeker posted 12 under par early, and Donald was the only other player with the wherewithal to catch him. They ended regulation play tied at 12-under-par 272 and headed for the first playoff hole, the 18th.
Donald rifled his approach to 12 feet, slightly above the hole. Snedeker’s second shot came to rest 10 feet from the flagstick, slightly below the hole. Donald’s stroked his birdie putt into the center of the cup and pumped his fist. Snedeker topped him and gave his adversary a fist pump and a hard stare in answer.
After the players matched par on the par-3 17th, Donald with a sand save, they returned to the 18th, where Donald’s second shot finished in a fried-egg lie in the front bunker. After Donald blasted long to the left fringe, Snedeker two-putted for par and watched as Donald’s chip hit the right side of the cup and spun out.
“I gave the chip a run,” Donald said. “It was just going a little too fast and caught the right edge.”
Halfway through the round, it would have been difficult to predict a two-man playoff at 12 under between Donald and Snedeker. After making four birdies in the first five holes and finishing the front nine with four straight pars, Ricky Barnes, who started the final round at 8 under, held the lead outright—albeit briefly.
Barnes emerged from a logjam that saw four players tied for the top spot in the early going.
In short order, Barnes rolled in his third birdie of the day on the treacherous par-3 fourth, Snedeker missed a short-range birdie try on No. 10, Furyk got up and down from behind and left of the third green, and Donald failed to do so from the sand to the left-front of No. 3.
That left those four players tied for the lead at 11 under par, but that didn’t last long. Barnes converted a birdie putt of 15 feet on the generous par-5 fifth hole to stand alone in first place at 12 under—for about five minutes.
Donald bounced back with a birdie at No. 4 and regained a share of the lead at -12. After Snedeker joined the group at 12 under with a 12-footer for birdie at No. 12, Donald regained the one-stroke margin he had held to start the final round with a birdie at No. 5.
Two holes later, however, Donald squandered his advantage, as both he and Furyk bogeyed the par-3 seventh. That left Donald tied at 12 under with Barnes and Snedeker, who had suffered his first bogey of the day at the par-4 13th only to rally with a deuce at the tricky par-3 14th.
Snedeker made an untidy bogey on 16, leaving his second shot at the par-4 in the gigantic bunker that lines the left side of the hole. But Snedeker, who started his round at 12:10 p.m. ET, 90 minutes before the final pairing of Donald and Furyk teed off, finished of his final-round 64—tying his low round of the year--with a 12-footer for birdie at the 18th and waited to see what would unfold behind him.
About the time Snedeker finished, Barnes was recording his first bogey of the day at No. 12, after saving par from the sand on the previous two holes. Donald lipped out a putt from inside three feet at the 11th to fall to 11 under, tied with Barnes for second.
“As many guys as were out there, I thought 13 or 14 (under) would give a realistic chance of winning,” Snedeker said.
As it turned out, 12 under was good enough—barely.
Herron joined the conversation with birdies at 14 and 16 to reach 11 under, as Furyk fell four shots back and out of contention for a second straight Heritage with bogeys at 10 and 12. Barnes followed suit after hitting his sand-wedge approach to the par-5 15th heavy and leaving the resulting chip short of the green. After making a short putt for bogey, he was two shots back with three holes to play and failed to improve his position the rest of the way.
Donald, on the other hand, made birdie from the trees on the 13th, sinking a 17-footer to reach 12 under and tie Snedeker.
Herron dropped a shot at No. 18 and finished at 10 under after missing the green to the right and chipping 10 feet past the hole. When Gainey missed the 15-foot birdie on the final hole and posted his 68, that left Donald as the only player on the course who could catch Snedeker.
But Donald failed to birdie the 15th and missed from seven feet after a pinpoint approach on No. 16. Nevertheless, the Englishman forced the playoff with an up-and-down for par from behind the 17th green and a deft sand shot to gimmee distance at the final hole of regulation.
Before regulation play had concluded, however, tournament director Steve Wilmot issued a statement that included the following:
“We will not be making any announcement regarding a new title sponsor today, but the sponsorship search continues in earnest. Trust that, as a new or repeating champion is crowned today, the efforts of the (Heritage) Foundation and the PGA Tour will continue with the care that The Heritage name and tradition deserves.”
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