DUBLIN, Ohio — On Thursday, Bryson DeChambeau hit 10 fairways, including two drives more than 400 yards, and failed to break par. The two featured groupings in the morning wave, comprised of six players with an average world ranking of 8.0, shot a combined 19 over par. There were more triple bogeys or worse (11) than eagles (six).
Finally, a PGA Tour golf course fought back.
After a rather toothless showing at last week’s Workday Charity Open, Muirfield Village looked to be a different, crankier animal during the opening round of the Memorial Tournament.
It wasn’t a secret that the course setup would be much more exacting for Jack Nicklaus’ annual PGA Tour stop a week after Muirfield Village played guest host to a one-time replacement event on the tour calendar. Superintendent Chad Mark said the plan all along was to make the greens faster for the Memorial (13 on the Stimpmeter compared to 11.5 for the Workday). They’re using the back tees on virtually every hole, and the rough is longer. What wasn’t accounted for, however, was a steady 15 mile per hour wind that gusted up to 30.
A harder course plus brutal weather equaled U.S. Open-like conditions. The low score of the day was six-under 66 from Tony Finau, the scoring average was 73.9 and the very best players in the world would have gladly signed for even par.
“I came here Tuesday, and you already saw the greens get about a foot, foot and a half, faster,” said Collin Morikawa, winner of the Workday event with a 19-under 279 total, who shot four-over 76 on Thursday. “Today when 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.
“The rough has obviously just kept growing,” Morikawa added. “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.”
The man he beat in a playoff, Justin Thomas, was a bit more succinct in his assessment.
“It’s not even remotely close to the same,” Thomas said after he grinded out a two-over 74. “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.”
To wit: consider the 14th hole. Last Sunday for the Workday final round, the tees were moved up some 60 yards to make the par 4 driveable. (Morikawa saw his tee shot stop 11 feet from the hole, although he missed the eagle opportunity). The scoring average that day was 3.73. On Thursday of the Memorial, players went off the back tee, some 363 yards into a stiff wind, and all but nine laid up short of a creek that runs about 50 yards short of the green. The scoring average on 14 on Thursday was 4.269.
Tiger Woods, who has won here five-times, was making his first official start in five-plus months on Thursday. It was not exactly a cozy welcome back to tour life.
“I would like to have started with easier conditions,” Woods said after birding 18 for a one-under 71. “Wind pumping and swirling all over the place, and it was different. It was hot, the ball was running, it’s getting down there. When I watched last week it wasn’t doing that, and certainly the practice round it wasn’t doing that. But the golf course has changed. It’s gotten faster, and it’s only going to continue to get faster.
Thursday’s carnage proved a stark contrast from the first five events since the PGA Tour restart, which produced countless birdies and very red numbers. The five winning scores: 15 under, 22 under, 19 under, 23 under and 19 under.
Last year, similar scoring on the European Tour prompted Rory McIlroy to say he’s “sick of coming back over to the European Tour, shooting 15 under par and finishing 30th.” What, then, did the World No. 1 make of the last couple of weeks on the PGA Tour?
“It’s been very similar,” McIlroy said Tuesday, referencing his European Tour comments. “I feel like the setups the last few weeks, and some of it isn’t in their control, there’s no real penalty for a short-side, if you short-side yourself and you miss an approach. So that’s why everything is so bunched, right.”
McIlroy, who shot two-under 70 on Thursday, offered a foreboding prediction for this week: “I think you’re probably going to find the scoring is going to be a little different this week. They’re going to let the rough grow up weather depending. The greens are going to be a little firmer, and I would anticipate the scores not being quite as low.”