Perfect weather, soft conditions, and a big name leaderboard gave us a fantastic start to the Memorial. There’s five major winners in the top 11, and Michael Thompson is the only name near the top that golf scribes will be rooting against come Friday. Jack (and the sponsors) had to be thrilled with the developments he saw from the booth.
Rory put on an absolute freak show en route to a 63, and could have tied the course record of 61 if it wasn’t for a pulled wedge on the short par-4 14th that cost him two strokes. He gained 6.3 strokes on the greens (!), and was putting as if he was using Tiger Vision in a video game. I noted on twitter that his dominance was reminiscent of the way Tiger used to dominate this course: hitting the ball in places that no one else seemed to reach, bombing mid-irons into the greens, and rolling in putts like he was playing on those awful 15-inch cups. The lady drama and the knee injury rounded out the Tiger impression almost perfectly (only thing missing was a high five fail).
I watched Rory during his practice round on Tuesday, as I try to do every year. It’s easy to look good in a practice round, but he was hitting it differently than I had seen in the past. He got on the uphill, into the wind 570 yard par-5 7th with ease. Justin Hicks and Russell Knox were on the green and let Rory hit up, and they were just left laughing after he dropped a 3-wood onto the green like he was tossing a cornhole bag on the board. Confidence was oozing out of him, and that carried over into Thursday’s round.
The low scores indicate that Muirfield is playing easy, and in person that rings true. There was enough rain overnight to keep the greens soft and take a little edge off the course. The more I walk the grounds, the more I think it’s not a real long course by tour standards. The par 5’s are gettable, and there aren’t any of the obnoxiously long, awkward par 3’s (although 16 is a really quirky hole). The conditions were really mild in the afternoon, and I’m guessing they won’t be as easy tomorrow, which will give the guys who played this afternoon the overall advantage. I don’t think Tom Lehman’s 268 (-20) scoring record is in danger, but there is a strong chance that Rory runs away and hides this weekend.
Thanks to The Memorial staff for arranging media credentials for our small shop. I spent my morning following the Kyle Stanley-Hunter Hahan-Mark Wilson trio. Mahan striped it all over the yard, and although he was positive strokes gained putting for the day, it seemed as if he couldn’t get a putt to drop. A lot of burned edges and putts that were just slightly off in speed kept him from being in that pack at around -6.
Mark Wilson was even more impressive today. He missed a four foot birdie on 11 (his 2nd) and a six foot birdie on 12, and still went out in 33 on the back nine, which is the more difficult nine. What I love the most was that he went for EVERY par 5, even though he would end up short every time. He physically could not hit it far enough to reach the greens, but he still hit 3-wood as far as he could. No Laying Up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended the week in the top 10.
Stanley hit it well, but lost a stroke and a half on the greens, and had two bizarre penalties with a putter in his hand. On the 18th (his 9th), his ball backspun off the green up against the collar of the rough after a fantastic fairway bunker shot. He was only 13 feet from the hole, but tried to use the toe of his putter like he did successfully last year during the final round, but the result was a double hit, and a bogey. Then on the 5th, he went to tap in his par after a missed seven foot birdie, and either whiffed the tap in, or took an illegal stance to finish the hole. Those two mishaps are the difference between T87 and T45 after day one.