HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Brian Davis is tired of being celebrated solely for his sportsmanship at the RBC Heritage. He’s ready to add a championship at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Davis had eight birdies on his final 14 holes for a 6-under 65 and a one-shot lead over Kevin Streelman and Charley Hoffman after the first round Thursday.
Davis lost to Jim Furyk in playoff here three years ago that’s best remembered for the Englishman calling a two-stroke penalty on himself because his club touched a loose reed in a marshy area left of the 18th green.
Davis was praised for his integrity when not noticing the nearly imperceptible movement could make his career path smoother. After all, a victory would’ve meant entry into the Masters — a major he’s played just once in 2004 — and a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. Davis saw the moment as following the rules, no more and no less.
Now, he’s ready for more.
“I’d like to do something else in this tournament so I don’t get remembered just for that,” he said, chuckling.
If Davis keeps playing like he did in the first round, he might earn his first PGA Tour victory come Sunday. He was 1 over on his first four holes when he put his approach on the par-5 fifth about 6 feet away for an eagle try. Davis missed and left disappointed with a birdie, but that began a run of eight birdies on his final 14 holes. He rolled in a 22-foot birdie putt on the tricky 17th hole to reach 6 under and score in the 60s for the 10th time in his last 13 rounds at Harbour Town.
“I wasn’t worried about my score or about my misses, I was just playing,” Davis said.
Davis’s score was his lowest round of the season and the 10th time in his past 13 rounds here he’s shot in the 60s. But Davis understands there are plenty of tests ahead.
Masters contenders Jason Day and Marc Leishman built on their performances last week with 67s and were tied with Johnson Wagner two shots behind.
The large group at 68 includes U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, defending RBC Heritage champion Carl Pettersson and Bill Haas. Luke Donald was in another sizeable group at 69 — all hoping to chase down Davis, who can’t seem to escape his Dudley Do-Right moment.
“People do remember it, but for me, I’m just trying to move on from that,” he says, “and trying to win a golf tournament.”
Day and Leishman excelled despite the fatigue that builds up playing a major — “I felt like I was there for a month,” Day said of Augusta — and both found their stride in a group of three that included Simpson, who’ll defend his major championship in two months at Merion.
None of the three made bogey on the round. Simpson headed up a group three shots behind that included defending RBC Heritage champ Carl Pettersson and Bill Haas. Luke Donald, sixth in the world, was another stroke back at 69.
Leishman didn’t play much since last Sunday. He took an ocean swim Wednesday and felt refreshed and primed for another run to the top before some time away from the course. “I’m planning on being in contention all week and then really enjoying my two weeks off,” he said.
Not all the Masters contenders who chose to play — there were 14 of the world’s top 29 golfers in the field — came back with a strong round. Brandt Snedeker, at No. 5 the highest-ranked player in the field, bogeyed four of his first nine holes and was eight shots back after a 73.
Snedeker came into last Sunday with a share of the Masters lead, but fell off with a final-round 75.
“A few loose shots here and there and maybe a little overconfidence,” Snedeker said. “I was kind of thinking the course was going to be really easy. And it’s never easy. It’s a good little wake up call.”
British Open champion Ernie Els also opened with a 73.
Adam Scott, who became the first Australian to win a Masters, is taking the week off, as are the world’s top two players: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
Day and Leishman are glad for the strong start and eager to bring more golf glory to fans back home. “It’s exciting for the future of Australian golf,” Leishman said. “Hopefully, we can all keep playing well and keep the excitement levels up.”