Major Champs Dominate at Memorial

By Associated PressJune 1, 2005, 4:00 pm
DUBLIN, Ohio -- The framed pictures of past champions that hang on the wall represent an All-Star collection of major champions, a testament to how Muirfield Village brings out the best at the Memorial.
Or maybe there's another reason.
'When you get all the best players in one place, it's more likely that they're going to win,' Davis Love III said Wednesday, aching to join that elite list of winners.
The Memorial doesn't have the strongest field of the year -- only 10 of the top 15 players from the world ranking, although it starts with Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods and defending champion Ernie Els.
Tournament officials don't pamper players with a Mercedes-Benz for a courtesy car and chartered excursions for their wives. Players don't have access to a five-star hotel attached to the golf course. There was no corporate outing on Monday that smacked of appearance money.
All the Memorial offers is a demanding golf course that stretches to 7,300 yards and places a premium on the second shot, and a tournament host -- Jack Nicklaus -- who tries to make this feel like Augusta National.
That's usually enough.
'When you have a golf course that's so pristine, you just want to play well,' Els said. 'Jack Nicklaus has also got something to do with that. Everybody wants to win this golf tournament.'
Most of the big names already have.
Twenty-two of the 29 winners at the Memorial have won major championships, and the only exception in the last 12 years is Kenny Perry, who is No. 11 in the world.
Els won last year by holding off an early charge from Woods and late one from Fred Couples, and by making so many clutch putts along the back nine that even the most renowned clutch putter of them all -- Nicklaus -- was impressed.
The Big Easy has not missed the Memorial since he first started playing on the PGA Tour in 1994, and counts it among his favorite tournaments. Even better, he will play the first two rounds with Nicklaus.
'He just makes this place better every year,' Els said. 'The golf course keeps improving, the quality of the way they present the golf course gets better all the time, and I think this year is no different. It's just great playing on a golf course like this. He runs a great show.'
For Nicklaus, it might be his final show in the United States competing against the best players.
The 65-year-old Nicklaus has said the British Open next month at St. Andrews will be the end of his competitive career, although there is always an asterisk attached. In this case, he reserved the right to play in the Memorial, a tournament he founded in 1976, as long as he feels like playing.
'I've been retiring for years,' he said.
Woods spoke to Nicklaus about his future when he showed up Tuesday morning for the pro-am round and empathized with his position. It's difficult to compete on the PGA Tour without being able to prepare for it.
'We talked about it back in 2000 when we played together in his last PGA,' Woods said. 'He was saying, 'Why am I even here?' I said, 'C'mon, Jack, you're out here competing. I'm trying to beat your brains in, you're trying to beat my brains in, so don't give me any of that.'
'He's a competitor, and being such a great competitor, it must be hard for him not to be prepared,' Woods said. 'I can understand why he's bowing out now.'
Woods has had two weeks and two days to prepare for the Memorial, his final tournament before he goes to Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Open. He is playing for the first time since his record cut streak of 142 tournaments ended at the Byron Nelson Championship, where he missed a 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole to miss the cut by one shot.
Any lingering bitterness?
'Zero, absolutely zero,' Woods said. 'I'm here to try to get ready to win this tournament, and hopefully come out of this week positively so I'll be in good standing going into the U.S. Open.'
A victory would return Woods to No. 1 in the world in what has become a case of musical chairs at the top.
It all starts with navigating Muirfield Village, where every year the fairways seems to get a little tighter and more bunkers come into play. The only significant change Nicklaus made this year was pushing the 10th tee back some 30 yards to keep the big hitters from getting extra roll off a slope in the fairway.
That's something else the past Memorial champions seem to have in common -- power. Els, Perry, Woods, Singh, Couples and Greg Norman seem to back that up.
Still, that would be ignoring winners like Jim Furyk, Paul Azinger and Curtis Strange.
'You look down that list, you can't really say that guy was a chop ball-striker,' Woods said. 'You have to hit every single golf shot. Plus, this golf course, you have to manage your game so well. The majority of the winners who have come through here are major championship winners.'
Odds are, there will be another one by the end of the week.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Memorial Tournament
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  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.