Schwartzel leads Memorial; Woods lurks after Day 1

By Doug FergusonMay 31, 2013, 12:14 am

DUBLIN, Ohio – Charl Schwartzel made sure one hole didn't ruin an entire round on Thursday at The Memorial Tournament.

Schwartzel hit the ball so consistently well at Muirfield Village that the former Masters champion twice had stretches of four straight birdies. And when he made a double bogey with an 8-iron in hand and his ball on a tee toward the end of the round, he got rid of that bad taste with one last birdie for a 7-under 65.

Schwartzel had a one-shot lead over Scott Piercy, who went from smashing it to playing it safe, and he was six shots clear of five-time winner Tiger Woods.

Woods hit the ball well enough to be much closer, though he missed too many birdie chances and didn't make up any ground on the par 5s.

''That's probably the highest score I could have shot,'' Woods said after his 1-under 71.

Woods was one shot worse than 53-year-old Fred Couples, the Presidents Cup captain at Muirfield Village this fall, and one shot better than 14-year-old Guan Tianlang, who has played more PGA Tour events than Woods over the last two months.

Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, might be headed for another short week at the tournament Jack Nicklaus built. After opening with a birdie, McIlroy didn't putt nearly well enough to atone for some loose shots.

McIlroy four-putted the par-3 12th for a double bogey, had a three-putt bogey on No. 7 and ended his round by missing a 4-foot birdie putt. That gave him a 78.

''I don't really have many explanations for this,'' McIlroy said.

Schwartzel played in the morning, when the slick greens were still smooth, and he made 10 birdies in his round. Most of them were in the 10-foot range, though he picked up a bonus with a 25-foot putt down a slight ridge on the 16th. As well as he played, he thought a great round might turn into just a good one with one swing.

His 8-iron on the par-3 eighth hole drifted right and caught the downward slope of a bunker. The South African tried to put a little more spin on the difficult shot and wound up sending it over the green. He chipped past the hole to about 8 feet and missed that to take double bogey.

What saved him was a 12-foot birdie putt down the hill on his final hole, allowing him to leave the course with a smile. That's not to suggest that if he had made par on the last hole, he would have been ready to retire from the game.

''It would still be OK,'' Schwartzel said. ''It's really when you've played that well, and you're thinking, you get these few rounds a year where you really strike it well and you're making lots of birdies and you walk off with your 8, 9 under. And today was one of those where I really did flush it. And you're think maybe another birdie and then get knocked back with a little 8-iron making double.''

Woods, trying to win five times before the U.S. Open for the first time in his PGA Tour career, looked as though he might get much closer to the lead, despite having to lay up on both par 5s on the front nine and failing to make birdie.

He hit 5-wood into about 25 feet for a two-putt birdie on the par-5 11th and then spent the last few hours giving away shots. He made bogey from the back bunker on the par-3 12th, missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 13th and chopped up the par-5 15th, despite getting a break off the tee when his ball hit a tree and went back into the fairway. He still had to lay up, but a simple wedge went some 40 feet long to the back collar and Woods had to make a 5-foot putt just to save bogey.

''Didn't capitalize on a few opportunities I had,'' Woods said. ''Short irons, I didn't hit them close enough. All in all, it was a pretty high score.''

It wasn't nearly as high as what Nick Watney (82) and Nicolas Colsaerts (80) had on their cards. Woods plays in the morning for the second round and should be able to at least get closer to the top going into the weekend.

Bill Haas and Matt Kuchar each had a 68, the best score of the afternoon.

Piercy is one of the longer hitters on Tour, so it would seem his game would be a good fit for the Memorial. He hasn't had much luck, so he decided to scale back off the tee and used 3-wood where he typically would hit driver to take it over the bunkers. Piercy had a 66, his best score in 10 rounds at Muirfield Village.

Josh Teater, Russell Henley and Kyle Stanley were at 67, while Charlie Wi, Matt Jones and Michael Thompson shot 69.

Piercy hit one of the longest drives on the 18th hole last year, leaving him a flip wedge to the green. Muirfield Village is a big golf course, with some of the widest fairways on Tour and thick rough – it should be thick for fairways that generous. But hitting driver never really worked for Piercy, so he decided to go with 3-wood and he stuck with his plan. He still had relatively short irons into the green, and he knew he was onto something when he ran off five straight birdies on the front nine.

''I thought I'd hit a lot of 3-woods today and open up the fairways and allow me to get at some pins and knock them on the greens and make some putts,'' he said. ''Maybe I'm getting older.''

His 3-wood still goes plenty far. Piercy cut off a quarter-inch from the shaft and found he was hitting it about 290 yards.

Couples, meanwhile, was pleasantly surprised by his round of 70, mainly because he had a great round on the greens, taking 25 putts and making a couple of 8- to 10-foot par putts look easy. Then again, Couples plays with such a silky rhythm that he rarely looks stressed.

He enjoys playing with Woods, and the bonus was having former PGA champion Keegan Bradley in the group. He had never played with Bradley and had no idea he hit the ball with such power. Bradley hit consecutive tee shots on the 10th and 11th holes close to 350 yards, leaving him a 6-iron into the par-5 11th.

''Most guys lay up with a 6-iron,'' Couples said.

Even so, Bradley could do no better than 71, not a bad start for an afternoon round.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.