Its time to decompress.
The TOUR heads from the ultra-tense grounds of Augusta National Golf Club to the relaxed and friendly confines of Harbour Town Golf Links for the Verizon Heritage.
It rewards you when you play well; it's not tricked up, doesn't have the windmills and loop to loops on the greens. You can go out there and feel like if you play really well you get rewarded, described Fred Funk.
I think in that regard, it does relax you a lot, and the relaxation disappears when you get in contention this week. When you get down to Saturday and Sunday and you're at the top of the leaderboard, all of a sudden it's a different story again.
A year ago, none of the top-10 players in the world were in attendance. Such is not the case this year. Two of the top 10 are here this week, as are seven of the top 20.
The field features Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Darren Clarke, Chris DiMarco, Jose Maria Olazabal, Davis Love III, Geoff Ogilvy and Chad Campbell.
Peter Lonard is the defending champion, having survived a brutally ugly final round in Hilton Head, S.C.
Lonard led Clarke by a stroke after 54 holes, and the next nearest competitor was five shots removed. Clarke got off to a hot start that Sunday, but wilted to a 76. Lonard, meanwhile, shot 75 and managed a two-stroke triumph over four others.
Though Harbour Town stretches to only 6,973 yards (par 71), 7 under was the winning tally a year ago. Before that, it was only 10 under. The challenge lies not in length, but in twist and turns ' and the smallest greens on TOUR.
It's a golf course where you have to really position the ball, said Jose Maria Olazabal. You have to really hit it straight off the tee, have to be very sharp with your irons into the greens because the greens are really tiny.
There have been 37 Heritage tournaments and only 25 different winners. Six players have twice conquered the shot-makers course. Hale Irwin has won it three times; Love has done so on five occasions.
Love hasnt won on TOUR since 2003, the year in which he also captured his fifth Heritage title. Though his winless streak officially stretches 32 months, he has to be considered among the favorites at this particular venue, where he has six other top-10 finishes in addition to his five victories. Here are five others, outside of Love, who have a good chance at wearing the Tartan jacket come Sunday evening.
Jose Maria Olazabal
Olazabal made his Heritage debut last year, tying for 13th. He has gotten off to a solid start this year, having already procured a pair of runner-up finishes. The Spaniard began the season by losing a playoff to Tiger Woods in the Buick Invitational. He has since tied for seventh in The Players Championship and tied for second in the BellSouth Classic. He tied for third at Augusta, closing in 6-under 66.
Furyk has played this event seven times ' and he now seems to be figuring it out. After missing the cut in 1997 and then tying for 79th in 98, Furyk returned from a three-year absence by tying for 15th. He went on to tie for 10th in 2003 and then, after missing the 04 event due to a wrist injury, tie for second last year. He has three top-10s this year, including a pair of third-place finishes at the Mercedes Championships and The Players Championship.
Els game might not seem well-suited for the snaky Harbour Town layout. But, the numbers dont lie: Els has five top-10s in seven career starts, with no missed cuts. He last played this event in 2004, when he tied for third. The big South African is trying to win on TOUR for the first time since 2004. He was in good shape after three rounds last week, but wilted to a 76 in the final round and settled for a tie for 27th.
As previously mentioned, Cink is one of eight players to have won this tournament on multiple occasions, doing so in 2000 and 2004. He also tied for 10th in both 2001 and 2003. A return to Hilton Head could be just what his game needs, as he has earned only one top-10 since his 06 debut at the Sony Open. That, however, came in a tie for 10th at the Masters.
After missing the cut in his first two trips around Harbour Town, Pampling has three straight top-20s. He tied for 10th in 2003, tied for 16th in 04, and tied for sixth a year ago. The Australian highlighted the early part of this season by winning the Bay Hill Invitational, his second career TOUR victory (2004 International). He also earned a return invite to the Masters by tying for 16th.