By John Strege
The conditions were more conducive to sailing or kiting than golf, unless a golfer hails from Northern Ireland and cut his teeth on the seaside links of Royal Portrush, learning to work its trademark winds.
The RBC Heritage provided Graeme McDowell with a touch of home on Sunday -- winds gusting upwards of 40 miles per hour and consistently blowing in the 20s at Harbour Town Golf Links, hard by Calibogue Sound in Hilton Head, S.C.
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McDowell accordingly equaled the low round of the day, his one of just three 69s, sending him to a playoff with Webb Simpson that he won with a par on the first extra hole for his first official victory in the States since he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010.
Better than any wind gauge was how CBS' David Feherty chose to describe the wind. "One of the traditions here at the Heritage are the gentlemen who wear the kilts," he said. "It's not a great day to wear a kilt. The spectators might need therapy for months."
Provided they weren't blinded by the sight, they saw the kind of golf atypical for the PGA Tour, a winning score that doesn't reach double digits under par. It helped reinforce the benefit of Harbour Town's place on the PGA Tour schedule, a challenging but popular course that attracts a decent field and usually delivers an entertaining show that assists in alleviating the Masters hangover.
It helps as well that RBC stepped in as the title sponsor last year to save a tournament on the brink of folding. RBC, which also is the title sponsor of the Canadian Open, has a strong international field of players on its endorsement team, assuring representative fields in its tournaments.
McDowell is among them, as are Ernie Els, Brandt Snedeker, Luke Donald, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan and Jim Furyk, all of whom played. On Tuesday during an RBC function, McDowell learned from Furyk the key to playing the Heritage: "Just hang around and hang around," he said. "You're never out of this tournament."
McDowell, who had played the Heritage only once before, was especially effective at hanging around on Sunday, notwithstanding the havoc created by the wind. He played without a bogey until missing the green on the final hole and failing to save par, providing an opening for Simpson.
Two former U.S. Open champions in contention made for a good show that was ratcheted up a notch by the windy conditions. "It's a hard game," CBS' Gary McCord said. "This wind just kind of makes it really hard. But these guys are paid well. They get everything for free. They're having a ball playing golf. Let's watch 'em struggle."
Most of them did; McDowell was the only player among the top five to have fewer than three bogeys on his card (and hence, we submit, the pronunciation of the body of water by which the Heritage is played -- cal-a-bogey).
It was a testament to McDowell's ability to play in the wind, even the kind that strongly encourages leaving the kilts at home.