Memorial serving as cure-all for some struggling golfers

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Memorial serving as cure-all for some struggling golfers

PGA Tour

Memorial serving as cure-all for some struggling golfers

DUBLIN, Ohio – There’s something in the air this week at Muirfield Village. And it’s more than just those white, fluffy cottonwood seeds.

Through 36 holes of the Memorial Tournament, there are some familiar – yet unexpected – names near the top of the leaderboard.

Sure, co-leader Jason Day has won twice in three months. Bryson DeChambeau has finished in the top 4 in three of his last six events. And Hideki Matsuyama, the 2014 winner here, looked good at the AT&T Byron Nelson as he continues to shake off the rust from a six-week absence because of a left-wrist injury.

But what about Wesley Bryan? Or J.B. Holmes? Or Gary Woodland? Players who have enjoyed little success of late.

For some golfers experiencing lengthy absences of form, Jack’s Tournament has served as a cure-all in recent years.

Matsuyama might have been T-10 at Colonial the week before his 2014 triumph, but prior to that he missed two cuts, withdrew from Honda and didn’t crack the top 20 in six straight starts. A year later, David Lingmerth won after missing four of five cuts before the event. Then in 2016, Will McGirt posted finishes insid the top 30 only twice in eight tournaments leading into his Memorial victory.

Even last year’s champ, Jason Dufner, was solid but not spectacular with no top-10s in 13 starts before winning.

“This game can beat you up in a heartbeat,” Bryan said. “You can be really, really close and not see any results.”

But then, suddenly, you can.

Bryan was No. 1 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting at one point during the fall. He’s since dropped to 37th while ranking 206th – or last – in strokes gained: off-the-tee. He also has missed six of his last eight stroke-play cuts and hasn’t cracked the top 10 on Tour since his T-3 at the John Deere Classic last summer.

He’s slipped from 37th in the world rankings after his win at Harbour Town in April 2017, to 116th entering this week.

Yet he finds himself at 8 under through 36 holes at Muirfield Village, having carded consecutive 4-under 68s. He ranks in the top 10 in the field in strokes gained: putting so far, and is just outside that mark in strokes gained: approach-the-green, a byproduct of a swing change he made that allows him to neutralize his ball flight more with irons instead of turning them over so much.

He also has hit more fairways this week – 10 on Thursday and eight on Friday.

“For me, it just boils down to the putter,” Bryan said. “If the putter’s rolling well and I’m getting the ball in the fairway, usually that’s when I’ve had the bulk of my success.”

Wesley Bryan is 8 under through 36 holes of the Memorial Tournament (Getty Images)

Holmes, also 8 under at the Memorial’s midway point, has been in a much greater battle with his flatstick. He entered the week ranking 177th in strokes gained: putting. With how far and well he hits the ball, the putting struggles have hindered Holmes, a Ryder Cup player just two years ago.

Like Bryan, Holmes has fallen out of the top 100 in the world, to 125th, after beginning the year at 84th. Aside from a fourth-place finish at Torrey Pines, Holmes has finished inside the top 40 just once in 16 starts – and that was a T-32 in Houston.

“My season this year hasn’t been the best for me, I haven’t played that great,” Holmes said. “Started out pretty good with the fourth place in San Diego and then I’ve kind of struggled with the putter since then. Just little things. I feel like I’ve been close, but I haven’t put anything together.”

Holmes, also at 8 under, compiled a bogey-free, 6-under 66 Friday, making four birdies and an eagle, at the par-5 15th. He needed just 25 putts in Round 2, and is among the 20 best putters so far this week in strokes gained.

Earlier this week, Holmes had a lesson with putting coach Matt Killen, who also works with World No. 1 Justin Thomas. They focused Holmes’ setup, which was too open. Closing his shoulders allowed Holmes to start the ball on line more consistently.

“I felt like I really kind of found something that clicked,” Holmes said.

Things also have clicked for Gary Woodland, winner in Phoenix in February but who has also failed to make six of his last nine cuts. He had dropped to 76th in strokes gained: putting, but is in the top 50 this week while playing beautifully tee to green. After a second-round 68, he is 7 under.

And Tom Hoge, who since finishing third at the Sony Open has just on top-25 in a stroke-play event to go along with five missed cuts in 14 events.

And Ryan Armour, the Ohio State product who was T-14 last week at Colonial but had missed three cuts and hadn’t finished better than T-40 in 10 prior starts.

The list goes on for players within five shots of the lead.

Golf is a funny game. It can knock a player down and then the next week pick them back up – and sometimes carry them to victory.

Bryan and Holmes would each love such a lift this week at the Memorial. But again, it’s golf, and who knows how it will treat the two over the weekend.

“It’s great to be up in contention, but really you can’t really start thinking about that,” Holmes said. “You’ve got to really just keep doing what you’re doing, that’s what got you here.

“If it ends up great on the weekend, that’s when you celebrate.”

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