The RBC Heritage final-round preview: Shane Lowry ready for Sunday shootout

The in-form Irishman is just one off the lead on a packed leaderboard with 18 holes to play at Harbour Town Golf Links.

Conventional wisdom at the RBC Heritage says those who contended in the previous week's Masters are unlikely to show up well here.

Cameron Smith's missed cut would seem to validate that but Shane Lowry, who finished tied third alongside the Aussie at Augusta National, is providing the counter argument.

Harbour Town Golf Links is a quirky track and Lowry has finished third (2019) and ninth (2021) in two of the last three editions.

Yes, the Masters took it out of him but his liking for this week's course appears to be overriding it.

Lowry is just one shot back of leader Harold Varner III going into the last day.

It's a great place to be but we've had a packed leaderboard all week and the top 12 are covered by just two shots.

And the search for the winner could expand beyond that leading dozen.

For six years in a row from 2013 to 2018, the eventual champion started round four between three and six shots back. That suggests anyone at 5-under or better is still in the hunt.

For the record there are 37 players between 5-under and 11-under!

A better guide is looking where past winners have been situated on the leaderboard after 54 holes.

That starts to whittle it down. Of the last 17 winners, eight were leading/co-leading and seven others were in the top seven.

Let's look at the leading contenders:

Harold Varner III -11 (67-72-63)

Varner was outside the top 20 after two rounds but roared into first place after a brilliant Saturday 63.

A couple of months ago he holed a sensational 90-foot eagle putt to beat a world-class field and capture the Saudi International. Varner started the final round there with a one-shot lead so that bodes well.

He's yet to win on the PGA Tour and the only time he had a 54-hole lead (2018 Greenbrier) he shot 72 and finished fifth.

Varner III ranks 6th for Strokes Gained: Putting and 12th for SG: Tee To Green so far.

Quotes: "Every tee shot is super uncomfortable, especially when it's windy, and I've hit it out of bounds everywhere here.

"Last year first hole, I hit it out of bounds. It's just hard off the tee. Sometimes I feel like I'm always kind of guiding it out there, but if you can guide it out there for 72 holes, you can do some damage."

Shane Lowry -10 (66-72-65)

Like Varner III, Lowry made a move on Saturday, jumping 12 spots to tied second after a 6-under 65.

The Irishman still hasn't won since his 2019 Open Championship triumph but he's been knocking on the door this season, finishing runner-up at the Honda Classic and third at The Masters.

Lowry's stats show him ranked 2nd for SG: Tee To Green, 1st for Approach but just 40th for SG: Putting.

Quotes: "I feel like, without complaining too much, 65 is the worst score I could have shot. I hit the ball unbelievable today, and I didn't really hole anything.

"It's funny how this game works. I putted great at the Masters. I didn't putt great today. I'm just hoping it will all click into gear tomorrow, and hopefully I'll have a chance coming down the back nine."

Erik van Rooyen -10 (69-67-67)

One of just seven players to shoot all three rounds in the 60s so far, the South African moved to third with a bogey-free 67 on Saturday.

With a PGA Tour win under his belt (2021 Barracuda Championship) already, that makes his task on Sunday somewhat easier.

Van Rooyen ranks 1st Off The Tee, 11th Tee To Green and 13th for SG: Putting so he's been solid across the board.

Quotes: "I played with a lot of freedom, really, really happy. Really with my overall game from putting, chipping, iron play, driving. I feel like it's all at a really high level, so happy.

"I was disappointed to miss the cut at the Masters, but I still felt like I was playing well coming into that last week, and things are just moving in the right direction here. I think I'm just sort of picking up steam at the right time of the season."

Patrick Cantlay -10 (66-67-70)

Cantlay looked to be taking control of the tournament when he birdied the final four holes in round two to pull two clear but Saturday's back nine was frustrating.

The Californian swallowed three bogeys when coming home in 1-over 36 and that's seen him drop out of the lead.

With two thirds and and seventh in four starts at Hilton Head, he's a big fan of the course so remains a huge threat in round four.

Cantlay is 3rd for Approach, 5th Tee to Green but 33rd for Putting.

Quotes: "It had some good, it had some not so good, but I'm in a really good spot for tomorrow. Especially with that closing birdie on 18, get a little momentum, and I'm obviously right there.

"I'm only one back going into tomorrow on a golf course I really like. So I'm going to draw on a lot of good experience I had around this place."

The chasing pack

It's a large one with Hudson Swafford, Matt Kuchar, Sepp Straka and Aaron Wise all at -9 and just two back.

That group should include Jordan Spieth but the three-time Major winner missed a tiddler on 18 to slip to three off the pace.

Also at -8 is Tommy Fleetwood thanks to an 8-under 64. The Englishman will be aiming to score his first PGA Tour win on Sunday.

However, with 15 of the last 17 winners here having started round four in the top seven, that goes against Fleetwood and the 8-unders.


Strokes Gained: Tee To Green has been the best predictor of success at the RBC Heritage so it makes sense to look at who is doing best in that department so far.

Lowry ranks 2nd to this point which puts him firmly in the crosshairs and he shares favouritism with some bookies.

But how about the man who pipped him to victory at the Honda Classic - Sepp Straka.

Sepp Straka swings

The Austrian, currently two off the lead, is 5th for SG: Tee To Green so far and will have a spring in his step after finishing Saturday with three birdies in the last four holes.

Straka is around 20/1 so looks a value play to bag his second win of the season.

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