Golf

Dufner soars to Heritage lead with birdies, eagles

Graham DeLaet walks off No. 9 after putting out during the third round of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on Saturday, April 15, 2017 at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island.
Graham DeLaet walks off No. 9 after putting out during the third round of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on Saturday, April 15, 2017 at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island. jkarr@islandpacket.com

Jason Dufner often appears a man without a pulse, and this week he’s aimed for more low-key than normal.

Perhaps that’s why he barely blinked during a whirlwind third round at Harbour Town Golf Links on Saturday. Dufner is 13-under entering the final round of the RBC Heritage and leads Graham DeLaet by a shot and Aiken’s Kevin Kisner by two strokes.

Dufner’s 6-under 65 Saturday included five birdies – including three in a row starting on 14 – and a pair of front-nine eagles.

Dufner said he brought confidence from Augusta after the Masters last week but came to Hilton Head Island with low expectations.

“You start thinking about how you should play or how you could play or how you want to play, that really gets in the way of playing well, to be honest with you,” Dufner said. “So I think I maybe learned a little bit from (Masters champion Sergio Garcia) last week, where he kind of lowered his expectations and got out of his way, so to speak, and let his talent and his game plan take it from there.”

Dufner will try to become the first 54-hole leader to win since Carl Pettersson in 2012. The winner has come from at least three shots behind on the final day the past four years.

Chasing is DeLaet, searching for his first PGA Tour victory, and Kisner, who carded a 5-under 66. Kisner has played 37 holes without a bogey and is trying to become the first player with South Carolina ties to win at Harbour Town.

He came closest in 2015, losing a playoff to Jim Furyk. If not Kisner, former University of South Carolina golfer Wesley Bryan and former Wofford golfer William McGirt are within range at 9-under.

DeLaet’s first win would come in his 160th start.

“Obviously this is the one thing that’s kind of missing,” he said. “So there’s going to be some battles that I’m going to have to – inside, that I’m going to have to deal with.”

Luke Donald led with DeLaet to start the third round, but shot 1-over 72 Saturday on a prime day for scoring and is four shots back.

Webb Simpson and playing partner Ian Poulter shared the lead for a while Saturday. But Poulter drove it in the water on No. 10, faced off with a gator and made double bogey followed by a bogey on 11. He’s 10-under and three shots back.

Simpson played his final 12 holes in 1-over after a fast start and is two shots behind Dufner. Simpson, who lost in a playoff to Graeme McDowell here in 2013, said the tartan jacket is still within reach.

Conditions have been ripe for low scores, but Simpson noted the wind has still played a roll on the tight, tree-lined layout.

“It’s going to take a day of being patient,” he said.

Dufner’s day was a test of patience early. He followed bogeys with eagles on each of the front-nine par-5s, including a chip-in on No. 5.

He is working for his fifth tour victory. He won last year at the CareerBuilder Challenge and won the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club.

He called becoming a major champion a learning experience, but high expectations are something players already face each week.

“I think (I need) to be more realistic about where I’m at with the game of golf and just play as good as I can play,” Dufner said. “If that’s winning this week, it’s winning. If not, I’m going to go home tomorrow and tee it up in New Orleans in a couple of weeks.”

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