April 19, 2013

McCombs: Defending champ Pettersson looks in control

It was impossible to miss on the pairings sheet.

It was impossible to miss on the pairings sheet.

Teeing off at 7:50 a.m. on Thursday at hole No. 10: Brandt Snedeker, Carl Pettersson and Jim Furyk. The last three champions of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing were set to play the first two rounds together at Harbour Town.

Thursday's round wasn't a showdown between three golfers. It doesn't work that way. There are obviously three more rounds of golf to play, and golfers play the course, not the field.

But there's no doubt when the dust settled, Pettersson was in the best shape.

"Any time you shoot under par around here, it's a good score," said Pettersson, who shot a 3-under-par 68. "It's a tricky golf course. It's not that long, but you've got to hit it well off the tee and shape some shots. If you keep it in the fairway, it's good, with a draw or a fade. I like that. It fits my game."

Furyk, the 2010 champion, didn't make any serious mistakes. His round consisted of two birdies (Nos. 11 and 5), a bogey at No. 7 and 15 pars. A solid 1-under-par 70. What you'd expect from Furyk.

Snedeker, on the other hand, bogeyed four holes -- Nos. 14, 15, 17 and 18 -- in a five-hole stretch, making for an unpleasant 2-over 73 that matched his worst opening-round in eight Heritage starts. His last 73 preceded a missed cut in 2010.

After his round, Snedeker spent nearly an hour on the practice green working on putting.

For Pettersson, though, par was a relative rarity. The defending champion made four bogeys, including finding the water on 18, and seven birdies. After reaching a low point of 2 over after 10 holes, Pettersson found his game, playing his last eight holes at 5 under.

The N.C. State product said patience was a factor.

"It's important every week, but especially in a golf course like this, where it's so narrow," Pettersson said. "You're going to hit a few good tee shots where you're pinned, so you've just got to stay patient and know that's the kind of golf course that it is"

Pettersson's ability to bounce back after mistakes at Harbour Town makes him dangerous because he proved last year that if he finds a rhythm, he can put it on cruise control.

His 3-under score has him tied for seventh, three shots off the lead. That's two strokes and four places better than last year's first-round 70. And this year, Pettersson has the added confidence that winning at a course brings.

"It's huge," Pettersson said. "You remember all the good shots and what you've done here before."

Snedeker and Furyk will join Pettersson again Friday for a 12:30 p.m. tee time at No. 1, but he said he isn't really concerned about the pairing. He said Snedeker and Furyk are nice guys to play with, but "once the tournament starts, it's tournament mode."

Given the way Pettersson has played his last five rounds at Harbour Town, that could be fun to watch.

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