Hilton Head Island, S.C. — For Luke Donald, it’s another chance to end his hard-luck history at Harbour Town Golf Links. For Jason Day, it’s a rare round to forget for the world’s No. 1 player.
While Donald took the lead Saturday at the RBC Heritage with a 2-under 69, Day — tied atop the leaderboard entering the round — had a season-worst 79 to fall nine shots behind.
“It’s obviously not the way I wanted to play,” said Day, the winner of two of his past three PGA Tour events.
It was exactly what Donald wanted at one of his most successful courses. He has mastered the swirling wind, tight fairways and really small greens better than just about anyone since 2009 with five top-three finishes over that span. The only thing he hasn’t accomplished? Victory.
He has learned from those close calls that he can’t sit back Sunday and allow others to zoom past him — like winners Brandt Snedeker did in 2011 or Matt Kuchar did in 2014 — as he pars his way home.
“I can’t sit back on my heels,” the Englishman said.
Donald was at 7-under 206 through 54 holes, a stroke in front of Jason Kokrak and Charley Hoffman. Kokrak shot 68 while Hoffman had a 71. Patton Kizzire shot a 71 and was another shot behind in fourth. British Open champion Zach Johnson, after a 70, was among three at 4 under.
Donald was a stroke behind when the round started and quickly moved up with three birdies on his first eight holes to reach 8 under. He bogeyed the 13th and trailed Hoffman by a shot. But Donald steadied his game with five straight pars over the windy back nine to get himself on top once more.
Donald has won more than $2.5 million at the RBC Heritage, the third-highest total. But he’s known as much for his disheartening defeats on Pete Dye’s tricky layout. Snedeker rallied from six shots behind Donald to force a playoff and win in 2011.
Three years later, Kuchar’s chip in from a bunker in front of the 72nd hole capped a four-shot comeback and left Donald, whose last of five PGA Tour wins came in 2012, in second once more.
“I think it’s a bit dangerous to say a place owes you,” Donald said. “Certainly, I’ve knocked on the door many times. I’d love to put that tartan jacket on tomorrow.”
One who figured to join the battle was Day, but his round went bad right from the start.
Tied for the top and playing in the final group, Day came up short of the first green and made bogey. Two holes later he drove into water after hitting some trees way right of the third fairway for a double-bogey 6. The wheels came off for good during an awful stretch around the turn — Day made five bogeys in a six-hole span.
His 79 was his highest round of the year and his worst showing in 63 rounds since an 81 last year in the second round of The Players Championship.
“I felt like there was a good score out there today if you hit it in the right spots,” Day said. “And unfortunately, I just kept missing it in the wrong spots.”
Day attempted to take his poor play in stride, signing autographs for fans behind the 18th green. After winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The WCG-Dell Match Play, finishing 10th at the Masters, Day said several times this week he was ready for a break — which the PGA Championship winner will get next week.
Hoffman also has a score to settle with Harbour Town. He was the 54-hole leader here in 2013, yet ballooned to a 77 in the final round. He looked like he would hold the lead after moving to 8 under, one up on Donald, with a birdie on the 16th hole. Yes, he missed a 6-footer for par on No. 17 and a 17-foot putt from the back fringe on No. 18.
“Hopefully, I can reach down deep,” Hoffman said. “I know I’ve done it before.”
At Kapolei, Hawaii, Minjee Lee won the Lotte Championship for her second LPGA Tour title, closing with an 8-under 64 for a one-stroke victory.
The 19-year-old Australian played a seven-hole stretch in 6 under with a chip-in eagle on the par-5 13th and four birdies. She rebounded from a third-round 74 to finish at 16-under 272 at Ko Olina.
Third-round leader Katie Burnett and U.S. Women’s Open champion In Gee Chun tied for second.
Lee made an 11-foot birdie putt on the par-4 17th and got up-and-down for par from short of the green on the par-4 18th, holing a 6-foot putt. She won the Kingsmill Championship last year.
Burnett shot a 70. She lost the lead with a three-putt bogey on the par-3 16th.
Chun finished with a 67.
At Duluth, Georgia, Wes Short Jr. shot a 5-under 67 in the PGA Tour Champions’ Mitsubishi Electric Classic to take a lead into the final round for the first time in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event.
Short had a 7-under 137 total at TPC Sugarloaf for a one-shot advantage over Colin Montgomerie, Todd Hamilton and Mark O’Meara. Montgomerie shot 66, Hamilton 69, and O’Meara 70.
Tom Watson, tied for the first-round lead at 68, fell back with two early double bogeys and finished with a 76. The 66-year-old Watson was seven shots behind Short.
Short won his lone PGA Tour title in Las Vegas in 2005. He took the 2014 Quebec Championship for his only PGA Tour Champions victory.
At Sotogrande, Spain, France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera shot an even-par 71 in high wind to take the third-round lead in the European Tour’s Spanish Open.
Lorenzo-Vera had a 1-over 214 total at Valderrama. Germany’s Martin Kaymer (71), Dutchman Joost Luiten (70) and England’s Andrew Johnston (74) were a stroke back.