DUBLIN, Ohio – Collin Morikawa played the last five holes Sunday at Muirfield Village in 2 under on his way to a playoff victory at the Workday Charity Open. Four days later he played that same stretch in 5 over par to start his week at the Memorial.
Technically, Morikawa won his second PGA Tour event last week at Muirfield Village but the course that awaited the field Thursday looked nothing like that layout.
“We stepped on the course, even though it was morning you could start seeing a little shine, so you know the first bounces were skipping a little more, getting a little firmer,” Morikawa said. “The rough has obviously just kept growing. They've put some water on them. You miss in some spots, sometimes you've got to chip out and you never know what kind of lie you're going to get, but for the most part it's not going to be good.”
Players had been informed in a memo shortly after the Tour announced the Ohio double-header that the setup for the two events would be vastly different with officials using different tees for the Workday event, slower greens, less rough and new hole locations.
Since Morikawa outlasted Justin Thomas last Sunday the rough has remained uncut and the greens have received precious little water as officials walked Muirfield Village right to the edge.
“It's not even remotely close to the same [course],” said Thomas, who struggled to a 2-over 74 after posting four consecutive rounds in the 60s last week. “I mean, you've still got to hit the shots, and I don't want to say it was a disadvantage, but it was a totally, totally different golf course. The course is in fantastic shape right now. It's very tough.”
The 89 players who teed it up in both events at Muirfield Village knew this was coming. As a rule, Jack’s Place has never been considered a pushover, and when Morikawa and Thomas finished tied at 19 under after 72 holes last week officials were always going to put the bite back in for the Memorial. That plan, however, was magnified by Mother Nature.
After a storm Sunday pushed up tee times, the weather has been dry and hot in central Ohio and winds that gusted to 25 mph for Round 1 only made things more challenging.
“It swirls a lot,” Bryson DeChambeau explained. “For example, on 5 today, I had 230 [yards] in and I felt like at the moment when I was standing over it, it was 20 mph downwind, and when I hit it, it dead stopped. Can't do anything about it.”
Players complaining about demanding courses is nothing new on Tour, but comparing the two Muirfield Villages is simply a question of math.
On Day 1 last week the course average was 72.12 compared to Thursday’s average of 73.92. For the week the course played to a 71.85 average at the Workday Charity Open. For last year’s Memorial the average was 72.08.
“Mainly the course has dried out significantly without any rain the last few days, and the greens are a foot to 2 feet faster on the Stimpmeter,” said Jordan Spieth, who missed the cut last week but opened with a 2-under 70 on Day 1. “I left everything short last week. These are back to the speed you're used to seeing at the Memorial.”
Perhaps the most glaring difference between the set-ups was at the par-4 14th hole. For the final three rounds last week the Tour played the hole around 310 yards with about half the field attempting to drive the green. On Sunday, the scoring average was an entertaining 3.73. Dragged back to its traditional tee, the hole played 366 yards on Day 1 of the Memorial and ranked as the round’s second-hardest hole (4.27 average).
And then there’s the layout’s fate. By all accounts, Jack Nicklaus plans to blow the course up Monday for what is being billed as a significant facelift, which means officials have no reason to protect the greens or the field.
“I talked to a couple rules officials and they're going to be cautious with it, but yeah, they're going to push it to the brink, which most places would normally when that's going to happen,” said Ryan Palmer, who missed the cut last week but is alone in second place after an opening 5-under 67. “It's going to get tougher and tougher, there's no doubt.”
Muirfield Village annually ranks among the Tour’s toughest layouts so Thursday’s pummeling was no surprise. What was surprising was how quickly the layout went from welcoming last week to wearisome for the Memorial.