DUBLIN, Ohio – The last time they needed extra holes to decide things at Jack’s place, the legendary host was still playing golf on the PGA Tour. To put it in more meaningful context, it also may have been the last time the Memorial Tournament enjoyed four days of chamber of commerce weather.
“Let me tell you something,” Ernie Els said with a smile earlier this week, “I’ve been coming here for 20 years, and we’ve never had four days like this.”
Or maybe a better measure of historical significance is to point out that your 2014 champion, 22-year-old Hideki Matsuyama, was 3 months old the last time the Memorial Tournament was decided in a playoff. But then that all seems to dovetail with what can only be considered a surreal week in central Ohio.
Consider that first-round leader Rory McIlroy scorched the course to the tune of 63 strokes on Thursday just two days after a transatlantic flight, a timely victory at the PGA BMW Championship on the European Tour and a very public split with his fiancée, Caroline Wozniacki.
It’s also worth pointing out that McIlroy scored that round on a bum wheel after straining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee Thursday.
But then no one could have been prepared for what Friday had on the agenda.
Following his second-round 70, Phil Mickelson – mired in the worst start to a PGA Tour season in his career just a fortnight removed from the U.S. Open – paused for a brief Q&A with reporters before heading for the exit.
The gathered scribes were given more answers than federal agents, who approached Mickelson moments later to ask about an ongoing investigation of the five-time major champion.
Mickelson referred the agents to his attorney, who also advised the left-hander not to answer any questions from the media regarding the investigation, which was made public late Friday when the Wall Street Journal and New York Times published separate reports.
The reports revealed that Mickelson was a subject of an investigation by the FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission involving possible insider trading.
“I can’t really go into much right now, but as I said in my statement, I have done absolutely nothing wrong. And that's why I've been fully cooperating with the FBI agents, and I'm happy to do so in the future, too, until this gets resolved,” Mickelson said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be soon, but for right now I can't really talk much about it.”
Mickelson finished the week tied for 49th place, but his play on the course was well down the list of concerns for Lefty heading into the U.S. Open, where he will be vying to complete the career Grand Slam.
Another left-hander, Bubba Watson, had no such concerns, either on or off the golf course even after a sloppy back nine on Sunday dropped him out of the lead and into third place.
Watson, who led by a stroke to begin the final lap, was 3 under par and cruising through 13 holes before he bogeyed No. 14 after his drive sailed left, and followed that with a blast that appeared headed for Indiana at the 15th hole.
The Masters champion made a double-bogey 7 after hitting his tee shot out of bounds on the par 5, a stunning miscue considering that he’d played the par 5s in 11 under heading into the final round, but he struggled on Sunday to a 1-over total.
“I made one bad decision,” said Watson, who closed with an even-par 72. “If I hit the 4-wood off the tee instead of the driver (on the 15th), we make 5 and we win by one. But I made a double, so we lost by one.”
The solace for Watson was that his third-place finish beat his previous best at Muirfield Village by 20 places, and it was an indication he has no plans to suffer through another post-Masters slump like he did after winning his first green jacket in 2012.
Similarly, there were plenty of consolation prizes for Kevin Na following his runner-up finish.
Na had to wait more than two hours to learn his fate on Sunday. There’s a slow play joke in there somewhere, but considering Na’s gritty performance it’s best to focus on his flawless golf.
Na, who teed off two hours and nine minutes before and seven strokes behind Watson, raced ... um, make that carded a bogey-free 64 to move to 13 under par and seemed poised for the most compelling clubhouse rally since Jean Van de Velde found the burn at Carnoustie in 1999.
“I was at 4 under and I'm think at (No.) 9, I said I have to birdie this hole, make 5 under and I've got a chance to shoot 65 or better,” said Na, who moved inside the top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking to secure a spot at the U.S. Open. “I almost felt like I could have got one more.”
He watched as first Watson fell away, followed in order by Matsuyama, who failed to make a par over his last six holes after climbing into the lead with a birdie at the 13th hole.
It seemed as if Matsuyama’s title chances were doomed on the 72nd tee when the 22-year-old flared his drive to the right and, in reaction to his miscue, broke his driver on the ground.
He scrambled for birdie to finish tied with Na at 13 under. His driver was not as fortunate.
The Rules of Golf allow for a player to replace a club for a playoff, but Matsuyama went with a 3-wood on the first playoff hole (No. 18) and found a fairway bunker. Na followed with a tee shot that found a creek left of the fairway and the up-and-coming Japanese star rolled in a 10-footer for par for his first Tour victory.
“To win my first Tour event is enough, but to win it here at Mr. Nicklaus’ course it really gives me a lot of confidence now,” said Matsuyama, who became the first player from Japan to win on Tour since 2008. “Hopefully I’ll be able to use this week as a stepping stone to further my career.”
For Matsuyama, his eventful final round provided a measure of poetic justice. Less than a year ago he spent the week playing the role as affable sidekick to Adam Scott – with whom he was paired again on Sunday – at a particularly soggy Presidents Cup.
Matsuyama and the International side lost that Presidents Cup in anticlimactic fashion, which makes this week’s memorable Memorial a victory to savor.