5 Things: Casey in control; Mickelson's 'baby steps'
The second round of the Memorial started with Rory McIlroy at 9 under, three shots in front of Paul Casey.
The second round ended with Casey at 12 under and McIlroy 9 shots back after a second-round 78, 15 shots higher than the 63 he recorded on Thursday.
But Casey is not running away, with Masters Champion Bubba Watson on his heels at 11 under before back-to-back bogeys to finish his round dropped him to 9 under and three shots back.
Here are 5 Things you need to know from Friday's round:
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1. TAKING ADVANTAGE: Paul Casey had hoped to get into the Players Championship, but came up just short when he finished T-11 at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. The Players no longer has sponsor exemptions, but the Memorial does – and Casey received one of the 14 slots, obviously putting it to good use.
Shooting consecutive 6-under 66s, Casey has broken down a lot of barriers at Muirfield Village over the last two days. In his past four appearances here, Casey had only recorded one round in the 60s – a 69 in the 2007's second round.
In fact, Casey has only recorded one round in the 60s in the 16 rounds he has played in the Memorial until this week.
Casey has also never finished higher than T-18, which came in his first appearance in 2006. Casey's lack of success coming into the week is not just confined to Muirfield, as the Englishman has only won once on the PGA Tour, the 2009 Shell Houston Open.
So now Casey is half way to changing many of those personal bests this weekend.
“It's a bit like riding a bicycle,” Casey said of leading at the halfway mark. “I've done it ‑‑ I'm excited for tomorrow. And my goals, I've got big ones; I've got small ones. There's a whole bunch I can focus on to deflect the pressure. “
For Casey it must seem like everything is brand new. In 2009 when he won in Houston, the Englishman went on to win the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour and moved to third in the world, his highest position ever in the rankings.
By the fall of the 2012 season, Casey had dropped to 133rd in those same rankings and has had to claw his way back from there.
“Standing in the middle of the fairway and you can't hit the green or you're standing on the tee and you can't hit the fairway, yes,” Casey said if he wondered if he get back to playing the golf he use to play. “And I did it out here, that was the thing. It's not like I kind of just disappeared and just went off the grid for a while. I was battling through ‑‑ I was doing it out here. And that was quite tough, trying to play tournament‑level golf and I wasn't able to.”
Casey came into this week ranked 97th after missing the cut at Colonial, yet he his confidence is high.
“All I focused on was just trying to hit fairways and give myself great birdie opportunities,” Casey said of playing Muirfield Village. “Be aggressive where I could be, on holes like 18, you get the ball around the back there, you can go at that flag if you're in the middle of fairway. And just take my chances where I could and pay respect to the golf course where I had to and see what happened.”
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2. BEGINNER'S LUCK? Thorbjorn Olesen is making his first appearance at the Memorial, and after a 5-under 67 on Friday, he's making a good impression.
Olesen, currently tied for sixth, is playing in only his 18th event in the United States with only two top 10s to show for his trouble.
That could all change with 36 holes to go.
“I felt great on the greens and holed a lot of great putts, especially inside 10 feet,” Olesen said. "So it was a great round of golf. And especially on the greens, it was nice to get that going because that's been my big issue the whole year. So it was nice all of a sudden to just see them roll in.”
Olesen said he found something on the practice green yesterday, applying more forward pressure on the putter, which produced 13 one-putt greens and a total of 24 putts on Friday.
“I've struggled over here in America,” Olesen said. “Putting has a been key issue to my game. Too many three‑putts and missed putts inside of 10 feet. And that was really good for me to see them roll in today and just feel I got that confidence on the green. “
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3. WELCOME BACK: Nick Watney’s name has not seen a leaderboard for a long time and a finish in the top 10 has been even longer, all the way back to the BMW Championship in 2013.
So where has Watney gone?
“I guess it's just been adjusting to a lot of new things,” Watney said of changing instructors from the Harmon family to Todd Anderson mid-2013, getting hurt in Miami and his daughter's arrival in March. “It definitely hasn't been enjoyable, not playing as well as I would like. But at the same time I think a career kind of has ebbs and flows, and hopefully the valleys are a lot shorter than the high times, but yeah, I think it's just a whole big mix of different things.”
For Watney the swing has been different, but not dramatically. Yet it has been an adjustment.
“I feel like I'm swinging a bit different so I have maybe a little different miss,” Watney said of the predominant fade versus the push fade he use to have. “I don't think it's as deconstruction.”
But even with a different swing, a new baby and a tweaked back, Watney’s problems in tournament play is simple – the flat stick.
“Every day I was searching for something, kind of the golden nugget,” Watney said of his balky putter. “There really isn't one. You've just got to kind of trust what you've got, and some days, I think obviously you do a lot of work, but once you do that, then you've got to go play. I'd be out there switching ‑‑ standing like this, putting my weight over here, switching the ball here. It was not very productive.”
Watney changed putters, changed grips, moved his eyes around to try to find that golden nugget that didn’t exist.
Then Watney decided that he’s an athlete and if he wanted to putt it to a spot he could, similar to shooting in basketball, don’t think through the mechanics.
So this week on the putting green Watney started putting with his eyes closed and noticed he could feel the ball better with his eyes closed and he was hitting a lot of putts where he wanted to hit them.
Surely not a golden nugget, but it created confidence for the week.
“I putted as good as I have for these two days all year, and that's really been what's holding me back,” Watney said. “(In) Charlotte I hit it great and ended up missing the cut because I didn't make a thing.”
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4. BABY STEPS: Phil Mickelson will play the weekend at the Memorial for the first time since 2011, when he finished T-13.
After shooting 72-70 to start the tournament, the left-hander is only 2 under and 10 shots off the pace, but for Mickelson it’s a start after a missed cut at the Players and Masters.
“Baby steps here,” Mickelson said of his mindset going into the weekend. “I've had a little rough go. Although my game feels good, I still have some challenges mentally and finishing the round yesterday, that's a great example there. If I finish that round off, I'm up there top two or three. So it's little things like that are making the big difference between where I'm at, 30th, and top 5.”
In Thursday’s first round Mickelson finished bogey, double bogey, double bogey and turned a respectable 5-under round into an even-par round.
On Friday Mickelson had three bogeys and five birdies in a round that he needed to make the cut that fell at even par.
“There's two things that I'm doing really well this week so far: I'm shaping my iron shots, I'm getting a lot of iron shots close,” Mickelson said. “And the second thing is I'm putting much more aggressively. I've had some three‑putts, and that's going to happen, but I'm trying to run every putt by and putt aggressively. I've ended up making more putts too.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Rickie Fowler missed his second consecutive cut … Stuart Appleby withdrew with a back injury before the second round … The threesome of Kevin Na, Brendon Todd and Gary Woodland were a combined 11 under on Friday … 76 players made the cut at even-par 144.