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Kuchar shrugs off Masters fade, ties Heritage lead

Matt Kuchar of the U.S. hits from the sand on the 16th hole during the third round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club
Matt Kuchar of the U.S. hits from the sand on the 16th hole during the third round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club

(Reuters) - Matt Kuchar shrugged off his Masters near-miss last week to share the lead after the opening round of the RBC Heritage in South Carolina on Thursday.

Kuchar, who contended in Sunday's final round at Augusta National before slipping back into a tie for fifth, put that disappointment behind him and shot a five-under-par 66 on a cool, breezy morning at Harbour Town on Hilton Head Island.

"Once I got out there this morning, I was ready to go," the six-times PGA Tour winner told Golf Channel after finishing in style with a 15-foot birdie on his final hole, the par-four ninth.

Kucher ended the round level with fellow Americans William McGirt and Scott Langley, both of whom played in the warmer and less difficult conditions of the afternoon.

Indeed, Kuchar was the only morning starter to break 69.

"I didn't miss many shots. I found the fairways a lot, not only the fairways but the right (correct) side of the fairways to have a good approach," said the 35-year-old said.

"I had very good control off the tee and found a lot of greens (with my irons). This morning was tricky, so to shoot five birdies, no bogey, was really good."

Kuchar has been the hottest golfer on tour the past three weeks, finishing no worse than fifth, though he has conspicuously failed to close the deal, most notably at the Houston Open where he bogeyed the final hole of regulation before losing a playoff.

The world number six said he would guard against mental and physical fatigue in his fourth consecutive tournament by avoiding the practice range for the rest of the week, instead spending his off-course time relaxing with his family.

After the demands of the first major of the year, Hilton Head Island can be a relaxing change of pace for the players, not that Harbour Town itself is easy.

It is one of the tightest layouts on tour, with the smallest greens, and the inevitable winds add another challenge.

The relatively short course has attracted several veterans, including golfing greats Tom Watson and Nick Faldo and five-time Heritage winner Davis Love.

Watson, 64, did not come close to breaking his age, shooting 75, but he enjoyed the chance to play with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth.

Masters runner-up Spieth, the 2013 PGA Tour rookie of the year who carded a 69, is likely to be a member of the Watson-captained United States Ryder Cup team which will take on holders Europe in Scotland in September.

"He didn't hit the ball particularly well for him today but he's got a great short game," Watson said of Spieth.

Love missed a short putt at the last to shoot a 70, while Faldo, back at the scene of his first PGA Tour victory 30 years ago, could not conjure up the old magic as he battled to a 77.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue and Mark Lamport-Stokes)

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