DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Jack Nicklaus is always looking for ways to improve Muirfield Village, and this year brings the biggest alterations in the last five years.
The par-3 16th now features a large pond located short and left of the green. The green has been repositioned, too, tilting at an angle to allow more shots to hold the green.
If nothing else, it’s a more intimidating hole with the water.
“With the prevailing wind, you have the ability to feed the ball back into the green so you don’t have to worry about having to stop the ball as easily if you play a smart shot,” Nicklaus said. “And if the wind turns the other way, then stopping the ball on the green is not an issue. I think that works out very well.”
As for the water?
“I think there’s going to be a lot more 2s, there’s going to be a lot more excitement,” Nicklaus said. “I think you’ll find a lot of fairly conservative 3s. And I think you’ll also find a few double bogeys that will come in there. An errant will not be rewarded and a good shot will be rewarded, which is what a good hole should be, anyway.”
Justin Rose made his final birdie on the 16th last year on his way to winning. Now he’s a bit more leery.
“I think 5 is more of an optional now than it ever has been,” Rose said.
SHORTER FIELD: Two changes in criteria have wound up costing Justin Leonard a spot in two big tournaments this year.
The U.S. Open used to take the top 15 players and ties from the previous year. That was reduced to the top 10 for this year, which was bad news for Leonard, who tied for 14th at Pebble Beach.
Then there’s the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
The World Golf Championship began in 1999 for only members of the most recent Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. It was expanded to include the top 50 in the world, along with winners of top-rated golf tournaments around the world.
A change to reduce that field takes effect this year – only members of the previous year’s team (Ryder or Presidents Cup) are exempt into Firestone. For this year, only the Ryder Cup team members are exempt. Leonard was part of the last Presidents Cup team in 2009.
OVERLOOKED: PGA Tour officials hosted a midseason dinner last week at the Byron Nelson Championship for the 2011 rookie class. They asked the players to R.S.V.P., for the night included a video montage that featured only the rookies who were playing in the tournament, plus a pair of rookie winners in Jhonattan Vegas and Brendan Steele.
Alas, one of the rookies forgot to R.S.V.P., so he wasn’t included in the video. He wound up watching a video that included highlights of everyone at the dinner except him.
The rookie didn’t feel slighted. Besides, he wound up making his own highlight reel by the end of the week.
It was Keegan Bradley.
COUPLES’ SCARE: Fred Couples does not wear a glove, making it impossible to miss 13 scabs on the top of his hands.
Couples was treated three weeks ago for skin cancer.
At the request of his girlfriend, Couples went to a dermatologist for a checkup. A few spots on his back turned out to be nothing. But right when Couples thought he was in the clear, he said the dermatologist glanced at his hands and looked concerned.
Moments later, she froze them off, leaving 13 red marks on his hands.
Couples, whose back was so bad that he chose not to play the Senior PGA Championship last week, is in the field for the Memorial. After this week, he is not sure where he will play next.
DAY’S NEW HOME: Jason Day is moving to central Ohio, and he already has been extended playing privileges at Muirfield Village.
But he’s not at the Memorial.
Tournament host Jack Nicklaus was surprised – first that Day had been offered playing privileges, then that the Australian was not playing in the tournament. Nicklaus was told that Day withdrew to take a break before the U.S. Open. He was not informed that Day’s wife had uterine surgery earlier this month and has a follow-up appointment in Houston this week.
“We did?” Nicklaus replied when told that the club had given Day a membership.
His son, Jack Nicklaus II, told him that Day has playing privileges at Muirfield Village.
“He does and he’s not here?” Nicklaus said. As the room filled with laughter, Nicklaus added, “We’ll take that away. I did not know that. Does Jason live around here?”
The Australian reporter said that Day’s wife was from Ohio, and asked Nicklaus for a comment on Day’s performance this year. Day was runner-up at the Masters after closing with a 68.
“He’s a good player, and if he’s got a gal from … has he married a gal from Ohio?” he said. “He should be here.”
SQUEEZING TALENT: Paul Goydos is amused when he hears people say he gets the most of his game.
“I’m not sure exactly what that means, quite frankly,” Goydos said. “The guy asked me, ‘Who gets the most out of his game?’ I go, ‘Tiger Woods.’ The guy won 71 tournaments, 14 majors. If he’s not getting a lot out of his game … my God.”
Goydos was not blessed with the same physical skills as Woods or Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els. He says the secret is not getting more out of less, but simply understanding limitations.
“You know your strengths and weaknesses, and try to stay where you are comfortable playing,” Goydos said. “And I’ve been able to do that. Understanding what you do well, what you don’t do well, what you need to work on … it’s an individual sport. You really need to get the most out of what you can do, and the first thing you have to do is an honest evaluation of who you are and what you’re capable of doing.”
DIVOTS: Steve Hulka filled in as Ryuji Imada’s caddie for the final round of the Byron Nelson Championship, and it raised an interesting question: If Imada had won, would Hulka get the Cadillac that goes to the winning caddie. It didn’t come to that, but Hulka had it figured out ahead of time. “All I wanted was four tires for my truck,” he said. … For the first time since 1974, the top three players in Europe’s PGA Championship at Wentworth were from England. … Padraig Harrington has slipped to No. 50 in the world ranking. The last time he was out of the top 50 was March 23, 2000. … Tom Watson has won more than $24 million in his career, with $13.1 million of that on the Champions Tour. … Former USGA chief business officer Pete Bevacqua has joined CAA Sports to work in its golf division.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Four PGA Tour winners in 2011 were on the Nationwide Tour last year.
FINAL WORD: “It’s not just a European winner. I can see a European beating a European to win, like it was last year.” – Colin Montgomerie on his prediction for the U.S. Open.