Trio Lead at Memorial Tiger Five Back


DUBLIN, Ohio -- Tiger Woods was waiting on the edge of the 10th green Thursday when an approach shot from Charley Hoffman whizzed by his head and missed him by about a yard. Woods was about the only one who dodged illness or injury at the Memorial.
Phil Mickelson withdrew after 11 holes because of an injury to his left wrist, which he suspects happened at Oakmont earlier this week as he practiced chipping out of the deep rough while preparing for the U.S. Open.
'I couldn't grab the club and I couldn't swing,' Mickelson said.
Masters champion Zach Johnson had to stop after 15 holes with strep throat so severe he turned down his first interview.
'Sorry guys, I can't talk,' he hoarsely whispered.
The scoring at Muirfield Village couldn't have been better with pure greens, stifling heat and calm conditions. Leading the way was Sean O'Hair, who played great golf for the second straight tournament except for a blemish on the 17th, of all holes. He still managed a 7-under 65 and was tied with the Australian duo of Rod Pampling and Nick O'Hern.
Ernie Els was among those at 66, a guy who felt so sick about his putting that he went to the cross-handed style and had few complaints, other than it felt weird to ditch the conventional style that carried him to three majors.
Even so, the theme of the first round seemed to be about survival -- especially those who didn't.
For those who anticipated a duel between Mickelson and Woods, that ended before the world's No. 1 player even got to the practice range. Mickelson felt the first sting after a wedge on the second hole, and he had a message therapist holding and rubbing his hand on the back nine until he hit another wedge out of divot on the 11th.
'I'll take a couple days off, see if I can ice it and get it ready for the Open,' he said. 'I'll go have somebody take a look at it.'
Woods' biggest rival turned out to be par on a day in which nearly half the field broke par. He was headed in that direction after a beautiful shot from a fairway bunker and over the pond to 10 feet for birdie on the sixth hole, his third in four holes, to reach 3 under.
But he made bogey with a wedge in his hand on the next hole, added a few other sloppy mistakes and needed a late birdie for 70.
'Today was the day to really shoot some good numbers,' Woods said. 'Look at the field -- they pretty much did. If you didn't shoot under par, you're going to get run over out there today.'
He also got knocked down by Hoffman, whose hit a tee shot on No. 10 hit a cart path and bounced out-of-bounds. He went back to the tee as Woods and Bart Bryant played on, and Woods was seemingly out of the way on the front right corner of the green when a small Titleist missile missed him by 3 feet.
'If you can't beat him, take him out,' Hoffman joked after a remarkable round. He made double bogey at No. 10 to go to 6 over par, then ran off five straight birdies and closed with a six to finish at 72.
O'Hair had a great birdie streak of his own, with four straight on the front nine. The difference was he didn't have any hiccups along the way until a good bogey on the 17th.
He played with Charles Howell III (69) and Ted Purdy (68), and there was only one bogey from that group all day.
'I apologized to those guys for making that bogey, because that would have been pretty cool -- no bogeys,' O'Hair said. 'I've never heard of that in my life.
That is lone bogey came on the 17th was only fitting.
This is the first tournament for O'Hair since The Players Championship, when he was two shots behind Mickelson and was his only challenger at Sawgrass until putting two balls into the water on the island-green 17th and taking a quadruple-bogey 7.
'They expect the 17th to be a negative,' he said, speaking of Sawgrass. 'It was two weeks ago. I'm playing today. I'm playing in the Memorial this week. So I'm going to try and win the Memorial.'
His immediate competition was Pampling, who birdied his half his holes, and O'Hern, who had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine and could have taken the outright lead until missing a 12-foot birdie on the final hole.
That put a lefty among the leaders, even if it wasn't the guy anyone was expecting.
'I heard Phil had to pull out,' O'Hern said. 'It's a big loss for the tournament. Hopefully, he'll be fit for Oakmont.'
Els ran off five straight birdies for his 66, a score he shared with Tim Herron, Ryan Moore, Bubba Watson and Aaron Baddeley. It was another small step for Els, who has not won on U.S. soil since the Memorial in 2004. He injured his left knee a year later, and has quite been the same since then, first physically, and then with his confidence.
'I'd like to get back to where I'm playing consistently, and I haven't quite done that,' Els said.
It wasn't a perfect round of golf, and Els did hole a bunker shot on the 13th and chip in for par on the 17th. The toughest part of his day was deciding to go cross-handed with the putter.
He used that style the final nine holes at Wentworth last week on the European tour, tinkered with it again in the pro-am but called it a 'big challenge' to go 18 holes of the first round with it.
'I've been conventional my whole life,' Els said. 'But I made some big ones today.'
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