5 Things: Despite knee injury, McIlroy tames Muirfield
It was a scoring fest at Muirfield Village on Thursday for the first round of the Memorial Tournament, with Rory McIlroy leading the way at 9-under 63, buoyed by two eagles on his back nine.
McIlroy will carry a three-shot lead over Paul Casey, Chris Kirk and Bubba Watson into Friday's second round.
On the day, 44 players shot under par, making Muirfield less of a bear and more of a lamb.
And while some found it comparatively easy, Phil Mickelson found it extremely hard, giving five shots back in the last three holes.
Here are 5 Things you to need to know about Day 1 of the Memorial:
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1. THREES ARE WILD: Rory McIlroy is on a bit of a run, winning last week at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth – a place he had little success – and now comes to Muirfield Village to take control after 18 holes.
McIlroy's perch isn't an unfamiliar one for him, as he led after one round in 2011 at the Memorial.
On Thursday, McIlroy had seven 3s and two 2s on a scorecard that translated to two eagles, seven birdies and a double-bogey – all with a knee the Ulsterman tweaked on his second shot on the seventh hole.
“The inside of it is sore, it's a little swollen,” McIlroy said of his injury. “(I'll) go see the physio and get some treatment and get ice on it, and hopefully it will be OK for tomorrow.”
Since announcing his break-up with his fiancé Caroline Wozniacki last week, McIlroy has played his best in quite some time, but still says the recent results are just a consequence and not due to the breakup.
“This has been coming,” McIlroy said. “My performances have been really good, been shooting really good scores. There's just been runs of holes in tournaments where I haven't played so well and this has been coming.”
McIlroy may be right.
In the 2014 PGA Tour season, McIlroy has had six top 10s, four in his last four tournaments and has not finished worse than 25th.
In the last four events McIlroy has recorded 12 under-par rounds and six in the 60s, including a closing weekend at the Players Championship of 69-66.
“I was hitting a lot of quality shots,” McIlroy said. “I was hitting like a lot of iron shots close, I was making a lot of birdies. And I know my game is close when I'm making ‑‑ maybe making six or seven birdies in a row but shooting 1‑ or 2‑under. I know my game is close then because it's much easier to limit the mistakes than it is to go out and have to find birdies somehow.”
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2. LOOKING FOR A GRAY JACKET: Muirfield Village is a big ballpark, which would seem to suit Bubba Watson’s game just fine, but it’s been just the opposite for the left-hander.
In eight appearances, the two-time Masters champion has recorded only one 66 – his opening round in 2007, where he went on to a T-23 finish, which he repeated in 2009.
With the T-23 his best finish at the Memorial, the prospects of a win or at least his first top 10 has to be the goal after his opening-round, 6-under 66 on Thursday.
“Thursday morning is always a pretty good tee time for scoring,” Watson said after making four birdies in his last five holes. “Today there was really no wind for the whole round. A little bit of rain yesterday softened it up.”
The 66 on Thursday was Watson’s best round on the PGA Tour since his closing 64 at Riviera when he won the Northern Trust Open earlier this year.
Memorial is only his second tournament since his triumph at Augusta, so Watson is using this week as his preparation for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
Winning would be a big momentum boost going into the U.S. Open where Watson has only one top 10, a T-5 in 2007.
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3. JUST TRYING TO MAKE THE CUT: Matt Kuchar doesn’t miss too many weekends, but if he doesn’t turn it around in Friday’s second round he will miss consecutive cuts for the first time since the Open Championship and Canadian Open in 2011.
“I'm happy with the way I'm hitting it, and I'm really happy with the way I'm hitting it,” Kuchar said after a first-round, 2-over 74. “I walked off the course at Colonial going, I hit it good, putted good, I just missed the cut. This is just strange.”
For a player that is averaging only one missed cut a year for the last three seasons, Kuchar’s struggles are unusual, but despite sitting in a tie for 89th, Kuchar says he is unfazed.
“I'm pleased, and I know the score is not there, but I really feel like the direction I'm going is good,” Kuchar said. “I feel like I like what I'm doing with my golf swing, I like what the golf ball is doing, so it's just a matter of eliminating a couple of those silly, silly mistakes I've made.”
Those mistakes included double bogeys at the par-5 11th and par-4 18th.
“I told (caddie) Lance (Bennett), it was just a lay up on 11, that's as good as I've hit it, I just hit a lay‑up shot, but it was exactly the way I wanted to hit it,” Kuchar said of the second shot that found the creek on the right side of the fairway. “Couldn't have been a better shot. I feel so good hitting the ball. It's strange that I am struggling to score.”
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4. CAN WE STOP AT 15? Phil Mickelson was at 5 under through 15 holes and only needed a little magic out of the greenside bunker on the 13th hole to keep it that way, where he holed out to save par.
After a birdie on No. 15, Mickelson found himself one shot off the lead. But, then came the par-3 16th, where he'd make a bogey that seemed to derail his round.
“It's just not a good hole for me,” Mickelson said. “I go in the water there a lot. And I thought making a 4 was pretty good. I'll take a 4 all four days on that hole. “
It was pretty good, especially after what would happen next.
Mickelson was one club short on his second shot to the 17th hole and from 42 feet it took Mickelson four more shots to record a double-bogey six.
“I came up way short, and just a bit of a wind change through there,” Mickelson said of his second shot into the 17th. “But still I didn't have that hard of an up‑and‑down. Uphill lie. Should have been able to flip one up on the green, have a good run at par. But instead I fluff it, make 6.”
The 18th started with a drive far right and ended with a missed 3-footer for bogey and Mickelson finished with consecutive double-bogeys for an even-par 72.
“The course is in great shape and had a good round going there for a while, just the last three holes were sick,” Mickelson said. “But it was a good day. I was playing well, but the last three holes just threw away a good round.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Pre-tournament, Rory McIlroy was the 8/1 favorite in Las Vegas … Aaron Baddeley started his round on the back nine with a 4-over 40 and then made five consecutive birdies to record a 29 and a 3-under 69 … The first round scoring average was 72.158, the course average since 1976 is 73.103.