DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — There’s a lefty atop the leaderboard at the Memorial Tournament.
No, it’s not the one you might think.
Nick O’Hern – the guy who knocked Tiger Woods out of the Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year – shot a 7-under 65 to join Sean O’Hair and Rod Pampling for the opening-day lead.
It was a day most notable for its departures than some sterling rounds.
The ballyhooed duel between Woods and another lefty, Phil Mickelson, was put on hold when Mickelson withdrew with an injured left wrist after playing 11 holes. Masters champ Zach Johnson, battling strep throat, dropped out after hitting his approach on the 16th hole. Lucas Glover also left the course early, with back spasms.
O’Hern, a soft-spoken Aussie who is happy to play in the shadows, had eight birdies and a bogey in his 65. His claim to fame is ending Woods’ seven-tournament PGA Tour winning streak, beating him on the 20th hole in the third round in February. O’Hern had upset Woods two years earlier at the same event.
“I get a lot of ‘Tiger-Slayer’ and all that sort of stuff,” O’Hern said with a laugh. “They just say, ‘There’s the guy that beat Tiger.’ They may not actually know my name, but they know I beat Tiger. That’s fine. I’ve never been big into self-promotion, so I let the golf do the talking and go from there.”
Woods had an erratic round, birdieing three of the first six holes but then bogeying three of the next seven in a 2-under 70 that left him five shots back and tied for 30th.
“I had it going through six and made just a terrible bogey at 7, and then from there I made a few more mistakes after that,” said Woods, a three-time winner of the Memorial.
Woods, also battling strep throat, was asked what the impact might be of the withdrawals of Mickelson and Johnson.
“You’ve got two marquee players, the Masters champion and, obviously, Phil being the second-best player in the world,” Woods said. “It’s too bad for the tournament.”
However, it’s also an opportunity for the 104 remaining players.
Pampling has won Arnold Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill and would like nothing better than to add the Memorial, founded by Jack Nicklaus.
“It would be a couple of nice names on your mantelpiece, wouldn’t it?” said Pampling, who hit a 24-foot putt for birdie on the final hole for his 65.
O’Hair, playing early in the day, had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the front side and was 7-under through 13 holes before coasting in with five pars. He’s playing in his first event since dunking two costly tee shots at the island 17th during the final round of The Players Championship and taking a quadruple-bogey 7.
On this day, he just had a bogey at the 17th – the only bogey that anybody in his threesome had during the round.
“I apologized to those guys (playing partners Charles Howell III and Ted Purdy) for making that bogey because that would have been pretty cool – no bogeys in the group,” O’Hair said. “I’ve never heard of that before in my life.”
Despite the absent players, the leaderboard was still well stocked with household names.
A shot back at 66 were Ernie Els, Aaron Baddeley, Tim Herron, Bubba Watson and Ryan Moore. Will MacKenzie was at 67, with defending champion Carl Pettersson in the group at 68 and Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia among those at 69.
The most harrowing moment for Woods might have been when he was standing on the fringe at the par-4 10th and playing partner Charley Hoffman, who had to return to the tee after hitting his first drive out of bounds, blasted his fourth shot out of the rough and nearly clipped Woods and his caddie, Stevie Williams.
“Stevie saw it,” Woods said. “I kind of caught it a little bit and I just kept forward. I was about 3 feet and Stevie was about 2 feet” from getting hit.
Great. About the last thing the Memorial needs is for another top player to get knocked out early.