DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — The PGA Tour and some of its most prominent players said the rough was too high, the furrowed bunkers too difficult and the greens too fast last year at the Memorial Tournament.
In response, Jack Nicklaus, the tournament founder and host, cut the rough and put standard rakes in the bunkers.
Two out of three isn’t bad.
The greens at Muirfield Village Golf Club bared their fangs Friday, making aggressive players cautious and punishing the reckless. When it was all over, Jim Furyk birdied the final hole to cap a 2-under 70 and catch Jonathan Byrd at 7-under 137 through 36 holes.
Scores didn’t go through the roof – 35 players broke par and another 10 matched it – but Nicklaus’ lightning-fast greens left their mark on everybody.
Tiger Woods, who found little trouble but still couldn’t get anything going in a 74 that left him six shots behind the co-leaders, said there wasn’t much to compare to the putting surfaces.
“They’re probably the best we putt on,” said Woods, who had his worst score in almost two years. “Augusta, obviously, has more slope than this, but as far as consistent speed and trueness, I don’t think there’s any greens better than we play here.”
Nicklaus vowed earlier in the week that one thing that he wouldn’t change – despite entreaties from several pros a year ago – was the marble-floor fast greens at the rolling layout in suburban Columbus. He said that during his incomparable march toward 18 major championships, he liked to play a difficult course two weeks before each major to prepare for the tests ahead.
Now he’s providing the same service to current players.
“This will be my last event before the U.S. Open and I can’t imagine (the greens) being any quicker,” Furyk said. “You get some 5- or 6-footers where you feel like you’re breathing on it” on downhill putts.
Furyk, the 2002 Memorial winner, shot a first-round 67, bogeyed his first hole on Friday but recovered. He hit a middle iron to 8 feet on the final hole and rolled it in for one of the loudest cheers of the day.
“That leaves a smile on your face,” he said. “It puts me in good shape, tied for the lead.”
When Furyk won seven years ago, he trailed by seven shots after 36 holes, then closed fast with rounds of 68 and 65. He likes his position a lot better this time.
“I want to go out there and play one more solid round tomorrow and hopefully sit in the same spot for Sunday’s round,” said Furyk, married to a local girl and considered almost an adopted favorite son by the large galleries which follow his every move.
Byrd, who has missed the cut in five of six previous starts at the Memorial, followed a 69 with a 68 that also included a birdie on the final hole – remarkable considering the 444-yard, par-4 hole was the third toughest hole on the day.
Phil Mickelson, among others, groused about how hard the course was a year ago, prompting the tour to ask Nicklaus to make changes. Even though Byrd has had little success at Muirfield Village, it’s one of his favorites places to play.
“There are some guys that don’t come to this tournament, and they don’t like the golf course,” he said. “They don’t like how it plays or how it suits the eye. I love it.”
Mike Weir mustered his second straight 69 and shared second, a shot back, with Mark Wilson, who had a 70.
Ryuji Imada (69) and Matt Bettencourt (68) were another stroke behind at 139. The 10-man pack at 140 included Chris DiMarco and Matt Kuchar, who shot the lowest rounds of the day at 67, along with Ernie Els, Davis Love III and first-round leader Luke Donald.
Donald’s 76 was 12 shots worse than his first-round tournament-record 64. It was not just a coincidence that he also took 12 more putts than his tournament-record 20 a day earlier.
“Ultimately, I didn’t give myself enough chances, enough makeable chances,” Donald said. “You’ve got to be on the right side of the hole around this golf course; if you’re not, three putts and all that.”
Woods said that when he arrived at the course early for his 8 a.m. tee time, he spoke with course superintendent Paul Latshaw who told him the greens were a 14 on the Stimpmeter.
“Why didn’t I get that information?” Furyk cracked.
Along with the rest of the field, he had to learn how quick they were the hard way.