McCabe: Muirfield plays starring role at Memorial
DUBLIN, Ohio – It was vintage proof that there is indeed a natural law of the PGA Tour. The lads from the earliest part of the morning wave who had signed for 3-under 69s? No disrespect, but Blake Adams and Andres Romero didn’t rate.
But one of those who shot 70? Well, Tiger Woods was ushered left to waiting cameras, then right to waiting microphones, then past a throng of screaming fans and into the media center to discuss the details of his first round of the Memorial Tournament.
So how come his round of 70 earned Mark Wilson only a quiet corner of the scoring area where he could talk quietly with his wife, Amy?
“It’s been this way, just because I was only runner-up in 1992,” Wilson said.
For the record, Wilson wore a wide smile, though you’d have to have been a trivia buff of the highest order to know the inside joke at work. Back 20 years ago, Wilson was on the cusp of winning the U.S Junior Championship when the phenom-who-would-become-a-legend, Woods, rallied to tie, then won at the 18th hole.
If that match outside of Boston was a merging point of their journeys, the roads have led Woods and Wilson in totally different directions. Quiet and dedicated to being of strong faith, Wilson has patiently developed a successful PGA Tour career. Dynamic and devoted to a singular mindset, Woods has established benchmarks of athletic achievements that may never be matched.
So though you could say their scores of 2 under were equal, the players in no way would be treated the same. A phenomenon, yes, but it’s one that doesn’t faze Wilson in the least.
“He’s a rock star, right? Everyone wants to see him, to follow him around and to watch him. It doesn’t surprise me,” Wilson said.
What’s more, Wilson knows he’s in the majority.
“Ninety-nine percent of the guys out here are used to that (and don’t resent it).”
That’s a true assessment of the way the PGA Tour landscape has been for more than 10 years, but no worries because it afforded Wilson the opportunity to provide some perspective to this first day of the Memorial. Though Woods ignited the screams and attracted the spotlight, the true star, said Wilson, was Jack Nicklaus’ pampered pride and joy, Muirfield Village, where never has a blade of grass been spotted out of position.
Slapped by bogeys at the par 3s, Nos. 4 and 12, Wilson avoided the many dangers of this brilliant design to make three birdies on the homeward nine and break par for the 10th time in 19 trips around here. And with each round, he appreciates the place even more, knowing that there’s a fine line between good and bad.
“That’s what’s neat about this course,” Wilson said. “If you’re a little off, you can shoot 3 or 4 over really quick. But if you’re on, you can shoot 6 or 7 under. Not today, though. The wind and the firmness (of the greens) made it more difficult.”
Yet that didn’t mean that it wasn’t a classic Muirfield Village challenge, because it was.
Woods, for example, was a solid 2 under when he got sloppy at the par-4 18th, made double, and turned in level par. Romero also doubled the 18th, at a time when he was 2 under, and Robert Garrigus fell in line, too. He was 3 under when he drove into one of the nine bunkers down the right side, barely got it back onto the fairway, then flew the green from 100 yards.
He knew right away that he was cooked, because pitching onto the 18th green from behind is sort of like trying to make a living by playing the lottery. A recipe for failure.
“Hit it in the fairway and stay below the hole,” Garrigus said, when asked how one must play Muirfield Village, after that closing double bogey cost him dearly. “I mean, some of these shots and some of these putts . . . you just can’t hold the greens.”
Garrigus didn’t have to be told of the crashes that befell some of his colleagues – Rory McIlroy’s quad at the par-3 12th when he hit from back bunker and into water at the front of the green, or Steve Marino’s four bogeys in his first five holes, or Aaron Baddeley’s double at the 351-yard 14th when he slammed his drive toward Columbus, or Bud Cauley’s bogey-par-bogey finish that spoiled what had the makings of a sterling round, or Lucas Glover going from 2 under through five to shooting 74.
Still, to counter all the scorecard squares and double- and triple-squares, there were blocks of red at various points – from 4 over after three holes, McIlroy played 4 under the rest of the way to finish at 71; Charl Schwartzel was 4 over through five, but came back to shoot 73; Luke Donald shook off a double at 18 to play the front nine in 34 and also sign for 71; and by late afternoon, first the top of the board had 10 tied at 3 under, then Spencer Levin blitzed the back nine in 32 to shoot 67, a score that was matched by Erik Compton and Scott Stallings, who made one of six birdies to take the lead at 66.
In other words, there were times when the top of the leaderboard looked like rush hour in Manhattan, a testament of the highest order to Muirfield Village. A rarity on this weekly circus called the PGA Tour, but you could shoot 70, as Wilson did, and not have to worry about being six or seven behind.
And closing with a double bogey to shoot 71? It stung, but Garrigus knew it didn’t mean he had to give up.
“If you hit good shots, you get rewarded,” Garrigus said. “If you don’t, you’re not going to. That’s the way it should be.”
And the fact that something in the vicinity of 137 golfers shot 70 or better but only one of them – Woods – seemed to generate much of a buzz with the fans and the media? Well, that may not be the way it should be, but it’s the way things are out here.
Doesn’t bother Wilson in the least, either.
“Even Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, can kind of go under the radar, can’t he?”