Saturday's golf: Harold Varner III shoots 63 to take RBC Heritage lead

Pete Iacobelli
Associated Press

Hilton Head Island, S.C. — Harold Varner III shot an 8-under 63 to take a one-shot lead in the RBC Heritage on Saturday in pursuit of his first PGA Tour victory.

Varner had eight birdies in a bogey-free round to match Cameron Young's opening score as the lowest at Harbour Town Golf Links this week. Varner had an 11-under 202.

Harold Varner III watches his drive down the 16th fairway during the third round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament, Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Varner will need to be just as crisp Sunday. FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay, 2019 British Open winner Shane Lowry of Ireland and Erik van Rooyen of South Africa were a shot back.

Cantlay, the second-round leader, had a 70. Lowry shot 65, and van Rooyen had a 67.

Former RBC Heritage champ Matt Kuchar, Hudson Swafford, Sepp Straka and Aaron Wise were 9 under. Swafford shot 66, Kuchar and Straka 67 and Wise 68.

Varner has two international victories, winning the Australian PGA Championship in 2016 and the Saudi International in February.

He appeared to shoot himself out of contention with his Friday finish, going 4 over his final four holes for a 72. But it was a ruling on the sixth that angered Varner — and fueled him for Saturday.

Varner's tee shot on the par-4 sixth was called out-of-bounds. Varner told officials that he saw a spectator pick up the ball that was eventually identified as Varner's and he may have put it back beyond the out-of-bounds marker.

The decision stood, Varner made a double bogey and fumed about it. “I would say I'm really good at putting things aside, but I did not put that aside,” he said.

Instead, he used the frustrating finish to fuel his run to the top. Varner birdied four of his first six holes — including that troublesome sixth — and took the lead with a 10-footer on the 16th.

Harbour Town is far from Varner's preferred layout — “It's my favorite because we can drive here,” said Varner, who lives in Gastonia, North Carolina — even though he tied for second here last year and has shot in the 60s in six of his past seven rounds.

Varner said every shot here is “super uncomfortable.”

“I feel like I'm always kind of guiding it out there,” he said. “But if you can guide it out there for 72 holes, you can do some damage.”

Lowry, too, bounced back from a 72 on Friday to get within a shot of the lead. He was choppy at first, following birdies on the second and fifth holes with bogeys on the next one. But he steadied himself after that for a 65, matching his career low at Harbour Town.

Shane Lowry, of Ireland, hits off the second tee during the third round.

Lowry said conditions, particularly the gusts of 20 mph or more Friday, had eased and made the usually tricky course defenseless.

“Yesterday was just kind of one of those days where you have to batten down the hatches,” Lowry said.

“Whereas today, I felt like any time you got a good number,” Lowry said, “you could really go at the flags. And I did and I hit some good shots.”

He'll need more of that Sunday if he hopes for his third career tour win and first since the British Open in 2019.

Cantlay ended Friday with a flourish — four straight birdies from Nos. 15-18, the toughest stretch of the course — for a two-shot lead.

But he couldn't find that form much of this round. He caught Varner with birdies on the sixth, seventh and ninth holes, then dropped back with bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes. He drew within a shot of Varner on the 18th hole, his approach landing inside 5 feet for a closing birdie.

“It had some good, it had some not so good,” Cantlay said. “But I’m in a really good spot for tomorrow. Especially with that closing birdie on 18, get a little momentum, and I’m obviously right there.”

Tommy Fleetwood, teeing off more than 3 1/2 hours before Cantlay's final pairing, posted a 64 to give first hint of the very gettable course.

Maverick McNealy and Peter Malnati, like Lowry, had 65s. Swafford, Wyndham Clark and Graeme McDowell posted 66s. In all, 45 of the 71 competitors came in under 70.

On Friday, no one shot lower than 67 and there were just 19 players out of 130 who had scores in the 60s.

LPGA

Hyo Joo Kim staved off a late charge from Hinako Shibuno to win the LPGA Tour’s LOTTE Championship at Ewa Beach, Hawaii.

Kim closed with a 1-under 71 – following a bogey on the par-4 17th with a tap-in birdie on the par-5 18th – to finish at 11-under 277, two shots clear of Shibuno at breezy Hoakalei Country Club.

Kim earned $300,000 for her fifth LPGA Tour title.

“There were a lot of expectations but also a lot of support coming from friends and family as well,” said Kim, who won a major at age 19 in the 2014 Evian Championship. “There have been ups and downs and I think I am at the up part right now and I feel very proud, a little confident about the future and the outlook looks bright for me and I feel like I can do better moving forward.”

The 26-year old South Korean star had a three-stroke lead after both the second and third rounds and held off a final-round push from Shibuno, the Japanese player who a bogey-free 70.

Kim played the front nine in 1 under. She put her approach on the par-5 fifth hole, which played at 540 yards, inside of 3 feet to to set up a birdie. She birdied No. 8, but bogeyed the par-3 ninth hole that went from a third-round yardage of 146 yards to 184 for the last round.

Kim birdied No. 18 after a bit of drama. She missed the fairway with her tee shot and found the right rough. Her second shot crossed the fairway and nestled into the first cut of the left rough. With her third, however, Kim recovered with a pitch shot that left her with a tap-in,

Kim is one of 10 players who have played in all 10 LOTTE Championships since the tournament debuted in 2012.

“I have been playing in the LOTTE Championship since the inaugural championship and then because LOTTE is my personal sponsor I always wanted to win and do well,” she said.

Shibuno left herself with just over 200 yards to the front of the green with her second shot on 18, but her ball hit the lip of a greenside bunker and fell back in. She went on to par the hole.

“I was having very fun playing with her. My putting was a little, you know, couldn’t go in, so that was the (difference) with her,” Shibuno said.

Hye-Jin Choi was third at 7 under after a 69.

Brianna Do, who played in the final group alongside Kim and Shibuno, started the round three strokes back of the lead, but struggled with a 77 and tied for 12th. Do was seeking to become just the third local qualifier to win an LPGA Tour event and the first since Brooke Henderson in the 2015 Portland Classic.