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Rakegate Dominates Memorial Talk

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Day One of Rakegate left dozens of the world's top players at the Memorial Tournament frustrated and angry.
In case you've missed the tempest in a tee box, course designer and tournament founder Jack Nicklaus decided late last week to snap off every other tine on the bunker rakes at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
That might not sound as if it would lead to golf's Armageddon, but the change transformed the perfectly manicured and smooth traps into furrowed demons, to hear most of the players tell it Thursday.
Jeff Maggert suggested that if Nicklaus wanted to make the course harder, he should have narrowed the fairways. As it was, Maggert said, 'to try to kind of manufacture something is Mickey Mouse.'
Nicklaus said he made the change to help players such as Maggert -- shorter hitters who are able to shape shots and spin the ball.
'I was trying to equalize the game,' Nicklaus said during the ESPN telecast. 'I think the game was about 80 percent shotmaking and 20 percent power when I played. Power has always been an advantage and always will be. But I don't like to see it 80 percent power and 20 percent shotmaking.'
He said the rake and bunker changes 'give guys who don't hit the ball nine miles a better opportunity to play a golf tournament and be on a par with guys like Tiger Woods.'
Woods, a three-time winner of the Memorial, isn't playing this year because of the death of his father. Nicklaus isn't playing either, for the first time in the tournament's 31 years.
Yet plenty of long and short hitters alike complained about the rakes.
After finishing a 74, Ernie Els said the bunkers were extremely penal.
'You're either lucky or unlucky. If you're unlucky, you have no shot, basically,' he said. 'I don't care how good of a bunker player you are, you have no shot. But I guess that's what they want.'
The new rakes create deeper, wider lines in the traps. In addition, most of the traps are raked perpendicular to line of flight to the green. So any time a ball enters the sand, it invariably nestles to the bottom of a rake line, with a ridge of sand resting tightly against the ball both in front and back.
'This is the best-groomed golf course, and I can't believe they would do the bunkers like this,' Robert Allenby said after a 71. 'It already was hard to get the ball tight. I don't think anyone likes it who is playing this tournament.'
The PGA Tour does not have specific requirements for sand, rakes and bunkers. The rakes and the style of raking won't change for the remainder of the Memorial, then will be evaluated later after listening to the players and studying statistics.
'This is a test, not a policy,' said Slugger White, a tour rules official. 'Maybe in hindsight, we should have prepped the players a little earlier. If that's a mistake, we can live with it.'
'We'll see how this plays out. We've taken some criticism. We'll just go forward. It's change. Everyone's a little bit stubborn when it comes to change.'
Nicklaus said that the new rakes and method of raking was a trial run for other stops on the PGA TOUR.
'I don't believe that,' said Brad Faxon, who had a 73. 'I just don't think these bunkers were that easy to begin with, you know? I don't mind, because I'm a good bunker player. So it wouldn't bother me, but I don't think this place is broken, either.'
Nick Price shot a 69 and then ripped the bunkers.
'It's kind of a waste, because he (Nicklaus) has such beautiful sand in the bunkers,' Price said. 'Why put beautiful sand in the bunkers if you're going to rake them with these rakes? You might as well put crappy sand in there.'
As might be expected, Sean O'Hair, who shot a 5-under 65, didn't see anything wrong anywhere on the course. Then again, he didn't hit many shots off line.
'The thing is, they're bunkers -- they're hazards,' he said. 'A lot of guys are complaining about it and saying they're too difficult. But bunkers are supposed to be difficult, or at least that's the attitude I have. Now, if I hit in about 20 of them tomorrow, I'm probably going to have a different outlook on it.'
Without question all the talk this week has many players dwelling far too much on bunkers and sand and rakes instead of more important matters with greater impact on a round.
'If you want to keep your job out here, you've got to get past it,' Joey Sindelar said after a 73. 'The traps are not easy, so stay out of them.'
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