Verizon Heritage 2006 Preview

golf course at Harbour TownThe year before he won the 2005 Verizon Heritage, Australian Peter Lonard had the opportunity to treat the week after Augusta the same way most golfers headed to Hilton Head Island do, a chance to decompress, enjoy some sunshine and warm April breeze, play a great golf course at Harbour Town and take in the quaint island nightlife that’s made the Island a great golf getaway for nearly five decades.

“I had the pleasure of missing the cut last year (2004) and having a weekend with the hospitality around here and got up to all sorts of mischief,” he recalled after equaling the opening round tournament record of 62 last April.

Peter Lonard“Hopefully this year, I won’t have the weekend off and will get to see it from inside the ropes.” Little did he realize the history he’d witness, and make himself over the three days on his way to his first PGA TOUR win in yet another unpredictable Heritage.

Offbeat, captivating, charming little Harbour Town ended up being the toughest test of a PGA TOUR-setup all year. Statistically, it ranked the fourth toughest course played on the Tour, and the toughest non-par-70, but the three ahead of it were Pinehurst #2 (set up by the USGA), Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club (set up by the Royal Canadian Golf Association), and Baltusrol (set up by the PGA of America). Nobody else, not Augusta, not Firestone, not Sawgrass or Congressional, produced higher scores than Pete Dye’s venerable classic.

Though one of the TOUR’s shortest courses, Harbour Town boasted the toughest par-5 on the PGA TOUR in 2005, the 571-yard 15th, one of only a few par-5’s the pros played over par all season. And the 192-yard 14th proved to be the toughest par-3 the pros played all year (averaging nearly 3-1/2 strokes per player) and second only to St. Andrews’ famed Road Hole among ALL holes the pros saw all year. The 470-yard par-4 eighth also made the list of the TOUR’s 15 toughest holes.

Verizon Heritage 2006The unique challenges of Harbour Town’s narrow, tree-lined fairways and the smallest greens on TOUR make the Heritage is an acquired taste, which is why the more the pros play here, the better they play. Lonard “learned” it in 2004. Darren Clarke, who led last year’s tourney by six shots at the midway point, by four early in the final round and by two with six holes to play before finishing tied for 2nd, was 11th the year before and 35th in his first trip to Harbour Town.

As for who’ll triumph in 2006? You always have to start with Davis Love III, who owns 5 tartan jackets (equaling Mark O’Meara’s dominance at Pebble Beach among current players) and finished just two shots out of a playoff last year despite an inconsistent week. Stewart Cink’s won twice and major champions like Justin Leonard, Nick Price, Bernhard Langer and Bob Tway have also won here before.

Straight-hitters Jim Furyk and Billy Andrade tied Love and Clarke for 2nd last year. And with the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in nearby Savannah the next week, expect a contingent of Champions Tour players like former Verizon winners Loren Roberts, Hale Irwin, Fuzzy Zoeller and Tom Watson to contend if they feel the need to recapture their youth.

Verizon Heritage 2006But if the weather turns cool and breezy, as it did last year, little old enchanting and picturesque Harbour Town will win again. Judging by the finishes the last three years, you’ll want to stay around to the very end.

For tickets and other information on the Heritage, call (843) 671-2448 or visit their Web site at www.verizonheritage.com.

 

 

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