Round 4 - William McGirt wins in a playoff
June 6 2016
William McGirt thought he hit it big when he won the Cabarrus Classic and pocketed $16,000, the second-largest prize on the Tar Heel Tour.
That was in 2007, and it felt like a lifetime ago compared with the perks from winning the Memorial on Sunday.
The victory was worth $1.53 million and a three-year exemption for a guy who once dreamed of simply having a PGA Tour card.
Waiting to congratulate him was tournament host Jack Nicklaus, who raved about the bunker shot on the 18th hole that kept McGirt in the playoff at Muirfield Village, and the flop shot from behind the 18th green that led to a 6-foot putt and his first PGA Tour victory in his 165th try.
U.S. Open qualifying? Take the day off.
McGirt moves up to No. 43 in the world and was assured a spot in his first national championship.
''It will all sink in at some point,'' McGirt said.
This was a long time coming.
McGirt couldn't count all the mini-tours he played and the self-doubts he ignored, including a four-month stretch in which he only saw his wife for four days. But on Sunday against the strongest field of the year for a regular PGA Tour event, McGirt made his first victory one to remember.
He played the final 22 holes at Muirfield Village without a bogey. His final par in regulation was the most important, a two-putt from 65 feet for a 1-under 71 that allowed him to join Jon Curran (70) in a playoff at 15-under 273.
McGirt won the way Nicklaus said he captured so many of his 73 times on the PGA Tour.
''I won half of my golf tournaments watching everyone else self-destruct,'' Nicklaus said. ''And that's the way you win. I saw him coming down the stretch. I saw Jon coming down the stretch. The two of them played great. I felt that either one of them could have won.''
Dustin Johnson dropped three shots in four holes to start the back nine, and a fourth bogey on the 16th ended it for him. Matt Kuchar was tied for the lead when he returned from a 90-minute rain delay and promptly hit the lip of a fairway bunker and made double bogey. He never recovered. Emiliano Grillo had a share of the lead until starting the back nine with four straight bogeys. Gary Woodland couldn't get up-and-down behind the 17th green and made bogey.
Curran, who knows Nicklaus from being a member at his Bear's Club in south Florida, looked like a winner when he hit 7-iron out of a fairway bunker on the 17th hole to 7 feet for birdie to join McGirt at 15 under. McGirt was battling his swing and trying to hang on. He saved par from a bunker on the 17th. He had the long two-putt for par on the 18th hole. And he was in trouble on the 18th in a playoff, facing a deep bunker shot to a back pin.
He expertly used the slope behind the hole and watched his shot roll back to a few feet to stay alive.
''That was a long bunker shot,'' Nicklaus said.
''I don't want to hit it again,'' McGirt replied.
Playing the 18th for the third time, Curran misjudged the strong wind at his back and went into the gallery above the green, and his pitch ran down the slope well past the hole, leading to bogey. McGirt also went long and played a perfect flop shot to 6 feet for the winner.
''Surprisingly, I felt no nerves standing over that putt and poured it right in the middle,'' McGirt said.
Johnson finished alone in third - his fifth finish in the top 5 this season - while Rory McIlroy (68) tied for fourth with Kuchar (73), Woodland (73) and J.B. Holmes (69).
Jason Day, a Muirfield Village member and No. 1 in the world, got to within two shots of the lead until he tumbled to a 74 and tied for 27th, matching his best result at the Memorial. Jordan Spieth shot 73 and finished 12 shots behind in a tie for 57th.
McGirt became the third straight Memorial champion to become a first-time PGA Tour winner, and it was the third straight playoff at Muirfield Village.
In his 12 years as a pro, he has played only one major, the 2012 PGA Championship. That was meaningful, even though he missed the cut, because he was coming off a close call at the Canadian Open in which he didn't look at the leaderboard the final round. He ran into Tiger Woods, told him what he did, and he said Woods told him he was foolish for not looking. McGirt didn't make that mistake twice.
And when it was over, his name was at the top.
The U.S. Open is now on his schedule. So is the PGA Championship at the end of July, and the Masters next April.
''I wondered for years if I would ever get to the PGA Tour,'' McGirt said. ''And then once you get out here, OK, you've played 160 events. Are you ever going to win? But I think you have to get your nose bloodied some to learn how to handle it, and I definitely had my nose bloodied a few times.''
Round 3 - Trio top crowded leaderboard
June 5 2016
A storm system that rolled through Muirfield Village late Saturday only further muddled the outlook at the Memorial.
Emiliano Grillo had the lead, came back from a 2 1/2-hour delay and promptly made double bogey. Matt Kuchar was rolling along after recovering from a freak bounce early in his round only to chop his way to bogey on the final hole.
Kuchar, who shared the 54-hole lead with Gary Woodland and William McGirt, sized up the final round when someone asked what it would take to win.
''You're guess is as good as mine,'' he said.
Kuchar rallied from a rough start and wound up with a 2-under 70 to join Woodland (69) and McGirt (64) at 14-under 202. The starting times were moved up for Sunday with players going off both tees in an effort to beat more bad weather in the forecast, which is easier to predict than the winner.
Twenty players were separated by four shots. Eight of them have never won on the PGA Tour. Three of them can avoid U.S. Open qualifying if they were to win.
And all of them would like nothing more than to relish a winner's handshake with tournament host Jack Nicklaus.
That includes the No. 1 player in the world.
Jason Day, a Muirfield Village member who has never finished in the top 25 at the Memorial, ran off two quick birdies to get within one of the lead, only to watch a chip roll back past him into the fairway on the 18th hole for a double bogey and a 68. He was three shots behind.
Rory McIlroy was making headway until he dropped a shot at the last for a 70 that put him five back.
The other member of the modern Big Three never recovered from his mistakes. Jordan Spieth, after two quick birdies, went through a stretch of poor swings and missed putts, dropped four shots in a six-hole stretch. He had a 74 and was 10 behind.
So many others were still in the game, although Grillo appeared the least happy. He was at 15 under and on the 17th tee when he says an official told him to wait because the horn was getting ready to sound. It did a minute later, and Grillo said he would have rather hit.
When he returned, his tee shot went deep in the rough, he hacked out to the fairway, just missed the green to the left and took double bogey.
''I had to go home with 10 shots instead of eight, or maybe seven, the way I was playing,'' he said. ''But it is what it is, and tomorrow will be another day.''
He was at 13-under 203, along with Adam Hadwin (67), Jon Curran (68) and Dustin Johnson, who returned from the delay to tap in a short birdie putt for a 68.
Woodland and McGirt are among dozens of players who face 36 holes of U.S. Open qualifying Monday, but they can take care of that with a victory, which would put both well inside the top 60 when the cutoff falls a week later. A victory for Scott Brown, three shots back after a 69, likely would do the same.
''I'm feeling pretty confident about where my game is,'' said Woodland, who has made only one bogey in 54 holes at Muirfield Village. ''I've been playing well for a while, and it's starting to come together.''
McGirt cares only about winning. He has gone 164 starts on the PGA Tour, and he figures it's about time. He played like it Saturday, going 5 under through his opening five holes with an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole. McGirt dropped a shot on the tough par-3 16th, answered with a birdie and signed for a 64.
''This game owes you nothing,'' McGirt said. ''I feel like I've put myself in position a few times, and it's one of those things where you kind of have to screw it up a couple of times before you learn. I feel like every time I've been in this position I've learned something. So hopefully, tomorrow, if I can make it work out, it would be good.''
Kuchar won the Memorial three years ago. Johnson is a powerful presence at any tournament.
And then there's Day.
He was determined to show he can play the Memorial better than he has, though little mistakes have held him back. Just short of the 18th, he had a pitch mark behind his ball on a delicate shot, caught it fat and watched it roll off the false front (the pin was in front), past his feet and back to the fairway.
''At the start of the day, if they said you're going to shoot a 68, I would have taken it,'' he said. ''I think I played pretty good. I hit a lot better than I did yesterday, and there's a lot of positives going into tomorrow.''
Round 2 - Brendan Steele & Matt Kuchar share lead
June 4, 2016
Two matches at home against Phil Mickelson made Brendan Steele feel inadequate. Two rounds at the Memorial gave him a share of the lead.
Steele put in a little more work and it paid off over two days in soft conditions at Muirfield Village. He had a 5-under 67 on Friday and was tied for the lead with past Memorial champion Matt Kuchar (66) going into a wide-open weekend.
Steele, whose only PGA Tour victory was in his rookie season five years ago, took the last two weeks off to attend a wedding, go fishing with his father and venture over to San Diego to play a few games with Mickelson at The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe.
''He just drummed around for a couple days, so I knew that I needed to really work hard on my game when I got here,'' Steele said.
The mathematical definition of getting drummed turned out to be 2 and 1 on the first day, 5 and 4 on the second day.
''But the second day, he shot 10 under, I just felt like my game was very inferior to his,'' Steele said.
He made a quick fix with swing coach Rick Smith, had time for a few more tweaks, and he took that straight to the course for solid play over the last two days. And while there was nothing at stake, he has Mickelson by five shots at the moment.
Mickelson gets credit for a tip.
''I think it's hard in an off week to find out where your game is at unless you play against some good competition,'' Mickelson said. ''It identified the area that he needed to work on. He called up Rick, he came out and worked on it, and now here's the result. That was kind of the benefit.''
As for the description of Mickelson ''drumming'' Steele?
''I use a little more flamboyant term, but that's fine. You can use that,'' he said.
Steele and Kuchar were at 12-under 132, the same score that led a year ago.
The scoring was so good, however, that the cut was at 2-under 142, the lowest since Jack Nicklaus started this tournament in 1976.
Jordan Spieth for a brief moment looked as though he might be on the wrong side of it when he opened with two bogeys in four holes. He made six birdies over his last 12 holes for a 68 to at least stay in range, six shots behind at the halfway point.
''The more you think about the cut line, the easier it is to hang around the cut line,'' Spieth said. ''I looked up at the board when I was at even and I thought, 'You know, I'm 12 back. That's a lot. How can we do our best just to do a little dent in it and maybe make some magic happen after that?'''
Rory McIlroy was mildly disappointed with his 66, but only because he played the last seven holes in even par.
''I thought it had the potential to be something quite special after 11 holes,'' McIlroy said. ''I don't think you can ever be too disappointed with a 66, but at the same time, it had the potential to be a little bit better.''
Jason Day was thrilled with a 71 because he lost his swing and figured it should have been something in the upper 70s.
All of them are still in the chase, and they have plenty of company.
Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, who won his first PGA Tour event as a member at the Frys.com Open, feasted on the fast greens for a 66 and was one shot behind with Gary Woodland, who has quietly gone about rounds of 68-65. That included a shot into 3 feet for eagle on the par-5 15th.
Dustin Johnson, who opened with a 64, never caught the morning leaders. He had a pair of bogeys on the back nine that slowed him, and he took a double bogey on the par-4 sixth hole. It led to a 71, though he was only three shots behind.
Kuchar also got a tip from Mickelson - a tip of the cap, anyway - when he got up-and-down with a flop shot on his final hole at No. 9 for a share of the lead. Dating to his 68 in the final round of The Players Championship, Kuchar has shot in the 60s in 10 of his last 11 rounds.
''I feel like I've put it all together,'' Kuchar said. ''The tough thing and the great thing about golf is there's so many facets of the game, so many pieces, that need to come together for you to play well. It seems like some weeks the putter is hot but the driver's not. If you get them all clicking, it's great. And it feels like everything's coming along on good form now.''
Round 1 - Dustin Johnson sets first round pace
June 3, 2016
Dustin Johnson set the pace early with 10 birdies on his way to an 8-under 64 at the Memorial.
Jason Day avoided his aggressive nature to try to catch him Thursday.
One day after Jordan Spieth referred to Johnson as the most talented player on the PGA Tour, Johnson opened with three straight birdies, made three straight birdies to close out the back nine, added four in a row on the back and wound up with his best score in his nine years at Muirfield Village. He had a one-shot lead over Brendan Steele, who holed out for eagle on the 18th for a 65.
For a short time, the big hitter took some of the attention away from the Big Three.
But not all of them.
Day, the No. 1 player in the world and a member at Muirfield Village, played in the afternoon as the clouds began to gather. He rallied on the back nine with three birdies and an eagle, and he wound up two shots behind. That was fine with him. His 66 was his best score in competition on the course Jack Nicklaus built.
''Mr. Nicklaus told me early, 'Just play within yourself.' Being patient is key out here,'' Day said. ''When you see an 8 under, it's hard to be patient. But pleased.''
Spieth's putter saved him in a scrappy round of 70.
Rory McIlroy, playing with Spieth, changed back to a conventional putting grip. That helped only so much in his round of 71.
So much attention was on the top three players in the world because of their ranking, having won five of the last seven majors, and because all three arrived at the Memorial coming off victories.
Johnson, with his power and on Thursday his putting, showed why Nicklaus and others think this ''Big Three'' will only get larger.
''I just played well right out of the gates,'' Johnson said. ''This year, I've felt like I'm playing well. I just haven't quite played up to my potential. With me, it has everything to do with the putter. I rolled it well today. I've been working pretty hard on the putter, and I felt like it's finally starting to pay off.''
Matt Kuchar holed a 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole to join the group at 66 that included Hudson Swafford, who did all his damage on the front nine when he tied the course record with a 29.
Luke Donald was among those at 67, while Phil Mickelson survived a few wild shots for a 68. Mickelson caught a flier out of the rough on the 14th, and it hit off the grandstand and went so far over the green that his best option was to take a penalty and return back to the original spot. He made a 20-foot putt for bogey. Then, he beaned a marshal in the head on the 15th, and it kicked back across the fairway and led to birdie on the par-5 15th.
''I've hit a lot of people - a lot of people,'' Mickelson said. ''Nobody's taken it as well as that marshal did on 15.''
Day, a 28-year-old Aussie who lives in Columbus after meeting his wife in Ohio, has never finished better than a tie for 27th. He took a big step toward changing that with a patient approach and converting enough opportunities to get his name prominently on the leaderboard.
Johnson's round was similar to Spieth's in terms of putting. The difference is Johnson had more putts for birdie. Four of his 10 birdies were from at least 10 feet, including a 30-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole. He also failed to birdie two of the par 5s in his round of 64.
He hasn't won since Doral in 2015, though he has had 14 top-10 finishes since and only one missed cut.
''Every week, I feel like I'm up there and I've got a chance to win,'' Johnson said. ''With this game, you've got to make putts. I mean, it's just what you've got to do.''
Spieth hit only two fairways and three greens on the back nine, but he didn't pay for it. He holed a 12-foot par putt to start his round on No. 10, and his short game was superb as ever. Dating to his victory at Colonial on Sunday, he had 16 consecutive one-putt greens. The streak ended when he missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th.
''Just didn't get off to a good start on the first few holes striking, and from there it got me thinking about stuff,'' he said. ''But my putter made up for it for the most part. To shoot 1 under on my front nine was by far the best that I could have possibly shot.''
The biggest change for McIlroy was going back to a conventional putting grip, even though he won two weeks ago at the Irish Open. He said he took 127 putts at The K Club - his ball-striking was superb - and felt he needed a better pace that the convention grip allows.