HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — William McGirt is accustomed to getting a week off prior to the start of the RBC Heritage.
The Fairmont native’s debut at The Masters changed that routine this season, but it didn’t affect his preparation.
“I’ve always had last week off. … I always felt like I was more prepared,” said McGirt, who posted a 3-under 68 for the second consecutive round to enter the weekend at 6 under, four shots back of leaders Graham DeLaet and Luke Donald.
“But honestly, after playing last week (in Augusta), I think I’m more prepared this week. I just kind of fall back into what I was doing last week. The biggest difference is I’m not as rested as I normally am.”
After a dormant start to Friday’s round, McGirt came alive at the turn with four birdies over the final nine holes at Harbour Town Golf Links to carry some momentum into the weekend and keep himself in contention.
Paired with Sam Saunders, grandson of the late Arnold Palmer, McGirt will tee off at 1:15 p.m. Saturday.
After rolling in a birdie on the par-3 fourth hole, McGirt finished the front nine with bogeys on two of his final three holes to make the turn at 2 under.
Back-to-back birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 got him back on track, as he proceeded to roll in two more birdies down the stretch on both par 3s to finish at 3 under for the round.
“I finally halfway figured out the speed (on the greens),” McGirt said of the difference once he made the turn. “The whole front nine it was wanting to be fast, wanting to be slow, leaving it 6 feet short and knocking it 8 feet by (the hole). It was still that way a little bit on the back, I just hit it a little bit closer and gave myself a couple more chances.”
McGirt’s biggest stretch, perhaps, came on Nos. 16 and 17. After hitting his tee shot in the extended bunker along the left side of the fairway that led to the green on the par-4 16th hole, his approach shot came up just short of the fringe and rolled back in the bunker, but he was able to save par after nearly holing out for birdie.
He followed with dart into the par-3 17th green for a kick-in birdie, moving to 6 under for the tournament.
“Looking back at it, I should have just hit an iron off the (16th) tee,” McGirt said. “I hit a pretty darn good shot out of that bunker and if it flies two more feet it’s a kick-in. … It was a great save and I had a great iron shot into (No.) 17. It was almost like stealing one with that combo.”
While he was happy with the strong finish, McGirt said he’ll need to go lower if he wants to have a chance to win the tartan jacket.
“It’s kind of similar to last week where you’re just trying to give yourself a chance come Sunday,” he said. “I know two 68s aren’t going to finish top 10 on the weekend. We probably need to go with at least a pair of 67s, if not a pair of 66s.
“And it may take a pair of 65s to win. (I’ll) just try to get a little better grip on my golf swing. …. and hopefully figure out the speed of the greens.”
And as he battles for the tartan jacket, McGirt remains focused on trying to get back to Augusta National for a chance to compete again for the green jacket.
“Last week makes me hungrier to get back there again,” he said. “That’s the big thing.”
He also received a motivational message earlier this week from Rob Chapman, a friend from Spartanburg and longtime member at Augusta National.
“Rob Chapman texted me the other night and said, ‘It’d be a good week to go ahead and re-qualify,’” McGirt said with a smile.
“We’re trying our best and we’ll see what we can do. I feel like I still have some stuff to tighten up.”