British Open Champions Els Curtis Lead at Memorial

By Associated PressJune 3, 2004, 4:00 pm
Reigning British Open champion Ben Curtis posted a 4-under-par 68 on Thursday to grab a share of the lead after the first round of The Memorial Tournament. Curtis was joined atop the leaderboard by Ernie Els, who captured the British Open in 2002.
 
Tiger Woods' struggles off the tee caught up with him quickly on Thursday as the cicadas made Muirfield Village their home. The top player in the game hit a bad drive at the first on his way to an early bogey.
 
Woods then chipped his third within a foot of the hole for a tap-in birdie at the fifth, but found trouble with a bogey at the sixth.
 
The three-time Memorial winner answered with a birdie at the seventh, but gave another shot back with a bogey at the 12th after his tee ball missed short in a bunker at the par-3 hole.
 
Woods had some good shots left in his opening round, however, and knocked his approach to five feet for a birdie at the 14th. He then two-putted for birdie at the par-5 15th to reach 1-under.
 
The 28-year-old dropped a shot at the 17th, but got up-and-down for a par at the last to finish in a group at even-par 72, that includes defending champion Kenny Perry.
 
'It's just a matter of going out there and being committed to your golf shots,' said Woods. 'Once I got dialed in I was fine.'
 
Curtis, who has yet to post a top-10 finish this season on the PGA Tour, played his first seven holes at even-par before running off three consecutive birdies from the par-3 eighth to move into contention.
 
'I hit a lot of close shots the first seven holes,' said Curtis. 'I was a little disappointed I didn't make any, but I just knew if I stayed positive and kept my head up and kept grinding away that I would make some.'
 
The Ohio native was left with a difficult shot from just off the putting surface at the 15th, but made a steady swing and watched as hit ball rolled 18 feet past the cup.
 
Curtis calmly drained the birdie try coming back and parred his way in to secure a share of first.
 
'Every player wants to be able to play where they grow up,' said Curtis. 'I came down here I think starting around six or seven years old to watch this golf tournament. It's always fun to come and play. That's your dream. When I was growing up this is where I wanted to play, thought it would be fun to play in this event, and now I can do that.'
 
Els, who coincidentally won his claret jug at Muirfield in Scotland, was in control on the front nine with a birdie at the par-4 third and an eagle at the par-5 seventh to reach 3 under around the turn.
 
The South African struggled on the 10th green en route to a bogey, but came right back with a birdie at the par-5 11th. At the par-4 13th, Els hit an 8-iron inside nine feet and ran home the birdie putt.
 
Els faltered with back-to-back bogeys starting at the par-4 14th, but was able to counter again with a birdie at the par-3 16th after his tee shot stopped within 12 feet of the hole.
 
Els then played his approach into a greenside bunker at the 17th, but dropped his third shot from the sand into the hole for another birdie.
 
'It was quite a ride there at the end,' said Els, whose best finish at this event was a tie for second in 2000. 'Where they're tucking the flags, you can really look silly if you miss it. You've got to maybe play a little bit more safe at some holes, and I think I'll remember that for tomorrow's round.'
 
Fred Couples, whose last victory before he titled last season in Houston came at this event in 1998, tallied a birdie at the second and added birdies at the 10th and 12th holes to jump to minus-3.
 
After a bogey at the 14th, Couples sank a long, breaking putt for an eagle at the par-5 15th. Couples then bogeyed the 17th to finish one shot back after a round of 69 along with Stephen Ames, Lee Janzen, Paul Azinger, Todd Hamilton, John Rollins, Zach Johnson and Arron Oberholser.
 
Davis Love III, Retief Goosen and Jay Haas were one shot further back in a logjam at 2-under-par 70.
 
Tournament host Jack Nicklaus, who has suggested that the time has come for him to leave the game, mixed two bogeys and a birdie over his first nine holes. He dropped a shot at the 10th, but recovered with a birdie at the 14th.
 
Nicklaus then bogeyed the last to complete a round of 74.
 
'Physically, I feel good. I'm upbeat, the golf course is great,' said Nicklaus. 'It's going to get a little bit faster as the week goes on. We've had some nice rounds, nobody has torn the golf course apart, pretty darn good first day.'
 
Related links:
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    Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

    By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

    “I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

    Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

    “If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


    Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


    Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

    Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

    “He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

    As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

    "I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

    Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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    McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

    The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

    McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

    And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

    “I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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    Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

    No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

    Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

    With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

    “This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

    Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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    Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

    Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

    Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

    Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

    McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.