DUBLIN, Ohio – The game looked easy for one player in one of Thursday’s marquee groups at the Memorial: find the fairway, hit the green and circle a birdie about half the time.
Fan favorite Phil Mickelson? No, he opened with an even-par 72. So too did Players champion Rickie Fowler.
The player in question was defending champ Hideki Matsuyama, who beat them both by eight shots and continues to show a knack for one of the Tour’s most difficult layouts. After winning in his debut appearance a year ago, Matsuyama opened with a bogey-free 64 that surprised even him.
“Really, to be honest with you, up until yesterday I was not hitting the ball very well,” Matsuyama said through a translator. “I was not chipping very well, I was not putting very well. And I don’t know what happened overnight, but we just caught magic.”
Matsuyama co-leads with Bo Van Pelt at 8 under after a round that included just one missed fairway and one missed green in regulation. While he hasn’t won since triumphing here a year ago, he enters off a streak of seven straight top-25 finishes that dates back to the Northern Trust Open.
The 23-year-old seems to thrive on some of the Tour’s toughest layouts, and Muirfield Village is a shining example of that trend.
“One of the reasons I like this golf course is there is not an easy second shot here,” he said. “You have to hit a real good iron shot to be successful here.”