HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Chad Campbell used a fast start, and Vaughn Taylor and Colt Knost had strong finishes to share the first-round lead at 4-under 67 in the RBC Heritage on Thursday.
Campbell birdied four of his first seven holes, Knost birdied three of his last five, and Taylor holed out from the fairway for a closing eagle on the par-4 ninth hole at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Jim Furyk, the 2010 winner, was a stroke back along with Harris English, Charlie Wi and Matt Every. Forty-two players, including John Daly in just his second PGA Tour event this year, were at even par or better.
Masters winner Bubba Watson took the week off as did most players ranked in the world’s top 20. No. 1 Luke Donald, who has been second, third and second here the past three years, opened with a 75. He has to finish in the top eight or surrender to the top spot to No. 2 Rory McIlroy next week.
Matt Kuchar was tied for the lead at Augusta National with three holes left before finishing two shots out of the playoff between Watson and Louis Oosthuizen, Kuchar hoped to continue his strong play at Harbour Town, but ended in a large group at 1-over 72.
Campbell held a first-round lead for the first time since the 2009 Masters. His game has faded some since then — he recorded just one top 10 at the British Open last year, his fewest since coming out on tour in 2002 — and has missed five cuts in nine tournaments this year.
“I haven’t felt like I’ve been that far off,” Campbell said. “But the results haven’t been good at all.”
Campbell got it going quickly at Harbour Town with an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 2 and then consecutive birdies on the fourth and fifth holes. He moved to 4 under two holes later, rolling in a 20-footer for birdie.
Campbell added a final birdie on the 15th.
Campbell said the wind reminded him of his days playing golf in West Texas. “Other than the trees and the ocean,” he joked.
Taylor caught Campbell with his stunning shot from 103 yards out on his final hole, the ninth. Taylor, a native of Augusta, Ga., also has struggled and teed off at the RBC Heritage on a sponsor’s exemption. He fell back to even par with a double bogey on the 16th hole before heating up on his last nine. He made birdies on the second, fourth and seventh holes before stunning the gallery — and himself — with his on-target sand wedge.
“I hit a smooth one,” Taylor said. “Came off right, right at it, and fortunate enough to go in.”
Knost joined the leaders with a late charge of his own, collecting birdies on the 14th, 16th and 18th holes. Knost thinks this might be just the thing to jump start a sluggish year — his lone top 20 was a third place at the Mayakoba Classic in February.
“It’s just my kind of course,” Knost said. “You have to hit it fairly straight. Distance isn’t that big a deal. The greens are real small, just give yourself a lot of chances.”
That’s the way Furyk played Harbour Town, too. His problem? Starting in the chily, windy conditions not usually seen during most Aprils in South Carolina.
He played straight and steady throughout, building on a tie for 11th last week at Augusta National. “I’m happy to get in with the score I did,” he said.
Donald has 11 straight rounds under par at Harbour Town before chopping it around Thursday. The Englishman made just one birdie and was well below Friday’s projected cut line.
Still, it was hard not to notice the pleased faces of competitors, organizers and fans with the rechristened tournament. It’s the first year for title-sponsor RBC and presenting-sponsor Boeing after the tournament went without a backer in 2011 and was in danger of disappearing.
Divots: Two-time major winner Daly, a former Arkansas player, was saddened and shocked by the dismissal of friend Bobby Petrino as Razorbacks football coach. Daly thinks the team must hire an NFL-type coach “like a (Jon) Gruden, like a (Bill) Cowher, like a (Barry) Switzer” to keep moving forward. … Bo Van Pelt will appear at a Boys and Girls Club on Friday as a thank you to RBC for sponsoring the tournament. … This the first RBC Heritage without Davis Love III since 1985. Love withdrew this week with a cracked rib. … 2001 RBC Heritage runner-up Billy Mayfair had a hole-in-one, hitting a 5-iron shot on the 195-yard seventh hole. He shot a 72. … Sang-Moon Bae withdrew after an opening 83.