DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — The furrows are back in the bunkers at Muirfield Village, although Jack Nicklaus doesn’t expect quite as many furrowed brows from the players.
The bunkers were all the rage – outrage in some cases – when Nicklaus had an extra tine removed from the Amish-made rakes to create deep ridges in the sand last year at the Memorial. His intent was to restore the penalty of hitting into a bunker, although some players said the size of the furrows took skill out of the sand shot.
“This year, we’re consistent with the size, and we really don’t think the players are going to find it to be a big hazard,” Nicklaus said. “It puts a little ripple in the sand. Can you get a bad lie? Yeah. You’ll be pretty hard-pressed, though.”
Nicklaus gave them a test over the weekend, hitting six bunker shots.
“One was a long bunker shot, and other five I hit within a foot,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, if I can do that, I think it’s going to be pretty easy for those guys.’ I don’t think that will be an issue this year, frankly.”
The buzz word for the bunkers is called “rough raking,” perhaps to get the word “furrow” out of the vocabulary this week. But if the penalty won’t be severe, why use any special rake at all?
“I just want them to say, ‘I’m really not sure I want to be in there,”’ Nicklaus said.
He used the 18th hole as an example, a 444-yard hole with a water hazard down the left side and bunkers to the right. Most players want to avoid the water, so they will hug the right side of the fairway, and if it finds the sand, they can knock it onto the green.
“If they put the ball in the bunker this week on the right side, they could get a decent lie,” Nicklaus said. “Or they might not get a good lie. So they’re going to say, ‘I’m not sure I want to be in there. Maybe I ought to play this hole the way it’s designed. Maybe I ought to take a 3-wood or a 5-wood or a 2-iron and put it down there in play.”
Nicklaus rattled off some sand statistics from last year, but one really got his attention. Carl Pettersson, the winner, hit into only one bunker all week.
KING FOR A DAY: Masters champion Zach Johnson took last week off after winning the AT&T Classic in Atlanta, although it could hardly be called a week of rest. He went home to Iowa for the first time, and it must have felt as though he owned the state.
Johnson went to Des Moines on Thursday to meet with the governor on what became “Zach Johnson Day.” Then it was off to Drake, where the president and athletic director showed him off around campus.
“I saw so many past teammates of mine, friends of mine, coaches,” Johnson said. “Getting back on campus was pretty awesome. It’s been years since I had been back.”
Friday was set aside for his charity, “All For Kids.” And on Saturday, he spent three hours at his golf club – there’s now a Zach Johnson Drive that’s about 200 feet long – signing memorabilia for club members. Johnson estimates he signed closed to 800 items.
“Sunday,” he said, “was a relaxing day.”
BACK ON TRACK: It took two days for Sean O’Hair to get over The Players Championship, and for good reason. He was two shots behind Phil Mickelson when he put two balls in the water on the island-green 17th, took quadruple-bogey and wound up tied for 12th.
“There was just one goal, and that was to make birdie,” O’Hair said.
He returns to competition this week at the Memorial, and he feels fresh from two weeks off except for a little practice and recreational play. One round was with his wife, Jackie, who last year finished 3-3-3-3 from the members’ tees at Cypress Point to shoot 75.
“We weren’t playing against each other. We were playing a team deal,” O’Hair said when asked who won. “It was just nice, leisurely golf. It was just nice to have fun, just go on the golf course and not feel like you have to beat 1,000 balls. It was a refreshing break.”
O’Hair could use one.
After the Memorial, he faces a 36-hole qualifier for the U.S. Open.
SOUTH OF THE BORDER: The Champions Tour will be going to the Dominican Republican next year, meaning all three tours under the PGA Tour umbrella will play a regular tournament south of the U.S. border.
The PGA Tour added Mexico to the schedule this year and will add Puerto Rico for 2008, while the Nationwide Tour has been played in New Zealand and Australia the past couple of years.
The Champions Tour event will be held April 4-6 – one week before the Masters – at Punta Espada Golf Club in Cap Cana.
JOHNNY’S CLUBS: For those who can’t make it to the U.S. Open, they can see a slice of Oakmont history at the World Golf Hall of Fame. On display in the weeks leading to the U.S. Open are the clubs and bag used by Johnny Miller in 1973 when he shot 63 in the final round, which many regard as the best round ever in the U.S. Open.
The display is in the museum’s Locker Room Exhibit. It features his MacGregor Tourney Custom irons (2-10), along with a sand wedge, a Bulls-Eye Putter and MacGregor woods (1-3-4).
Miller was the first player to shoot 63 in the U.S. Open, and he remains the only player to shoot 63 in the final round of a major to win.
DIVOTS: NCAA champion Stacy Lewis of Arkansas has been awarded the Dinah Shore Trophy, which recognizes a female college player who excels in golf and academics. Lewis has won three times this year while maintaining a 3.72 GPA. … This from Kevin Kowalski, the vice president of brand management for Crowne Plaza, title sponsor of the Colonial: “You look at that Wall of Champions, it is the Hall of Fame. It has every legend but one, and he should be embarrassed that he’s not up there.” He presumably was talking about Tiger Woods, although it could have been Gary Player, who played the Colonial only six times during his career. … Peter Lonard has played 17 out of 21 weeks on the PGA Tour. Pebble Beach was the only tournament he missed when he was eligible to play.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Hale Irwin has not missed the cut in the 50 Champions Tour events he has played that have one.
FINAL WORD: “I’ll have to play real quick, won’t I?” – Tiger Woods, when asked what he would do if he had a one-shot lead on the 18th hole and learned his wife was about to have their baby.