DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Tiger Woods is nursing his surgically repaired left knee and isn’t in the Memorial Field. But that doesn’t mean no one is thinking about him.
Phil Mickelson was asked what he thought of when he heard the name Jack Nicklaus, the Memorial Tournament’s founder.
“Best of all time,” Mickelson said before adding, “Maybe not for long, but best of all time.”
FIRST TIME: Mathew Goggin leads the Memorial Tournament without ever having played a competitive round on the Muirfield Village course.
He had his chance, back in 1999, before his 25th birthday got in the way.
“I was staying with some friends,” the Aussie said after shooting a 7-under 65 on Thursday. “We got so drunk. We were going to play the course the next day. I was all fired up. I was playing the Nike Tour and I didn’t get to play (courses like) Muirfield.”
This was no way to gear up for a championship course designed by Jack Nicklaus.
“We had a big night and I think (we played) like eight holes,” he said to loud laughter from reporters. “I had such a bad hangover we decided to pull the pin and get out of the sun.”
The friend he was staying with? Gary Nicklaus, Jack’s youngest son.
“He was a bad influence,” Goggin cracked.
BETTER THAN WINNING: Pat Perez has never been more desperate to find success in these parts, and it has nothing to do with winning the Memorial.
Perez missed the cut in his five previous starts at Muirfield Village, and his 2-under 70 on Thursday was the first time he broke par in the opening round. He is playing well, and there is reason to believe this could be his week.
But all he cares about is Monday.
Perez is more concerned with the 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier the day after the Memorial, particularly because the Open will be played at Torrey Pines, a public course in San Diego that he played practically every day as a teenager.
How badly does he want to play the U.S. Open this year? He was asked if he would rather make it through qualifying or win his first PGA Tour event at a tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus.
“Qualifying,” Perez said with no hesitation. “If I knew I was in that tournament, I’d pull out (of the Memorial) now. I guarantee it. Nothing against Jack. I’ve never made the cut here, anyway. Right now, I would take that over a win. Very much.”
Perez nearly made it into the Open field off his world ranking, shooting 67-65 on the weekend to finish sixth at Colonial. But that only moved him up to No. 54 in the world, and the top 50 are exempt.
“We’ll just see what happens Monday,” he said. “If I don’t get in, I’ll be off for about a month. I won’t even watch it on TV.”
ANDRADE TO ATLANTA: Billy Andrade is one of a half-dozen players who are opting to play the U.S. Open qualifier against smaller fields, although they offer fewer spots.
Why not go to a big qualifier with two dozen spots available to a field loaded with PGA Tour players?
Andrade used to qualify at Woodmont, but one experience in particular changed his mind.
“You’ve got six-hour rounds, four or five groups stacked up on some tees,” he said. “I played with two guys who should probably never play competitively again. One guy was 15 over, the other guy was 14 over, and they still came back for the afternoon round. So I missed it by a shot by averaging like 40 putts a round, and they asked for an autograph and if they could get their picture with me.
“Atlanta sounded pretty good to me,” he said. “It’s a pleasant walk.”
FURROWED BROWS: The gap-toothed rakes in Muirfield Village’s sand traps have been around for the past three Memorial Tournaments.
Quite a few players would like to throw them into the water hazards.
The rakes, which have tines that are several inches apart, create deeper furrows in the sand. As a result, balls which find their way into the traps have a tendency to sit lower. Many say the furrows take away any advantage held by the tour’s best sand players.
Robert Allenby made double bogeys on two of the first four holes during Thursday’s opening round of the Memorial. He blamed it on the rakes.
“I just got stuck in those bunkers with those so-called rakes,” said Allenby, who nonetheless shot a 69. “They’re like shovels or picks, plowing tools or something.”
XPECTING TROUBLE: Joe Ogilvie grew up about 40 miles away from Muirfield Village in Lancaster.
Surrounding by friends and family, he shot a 69 in Thursday’s opening round of the Memorial Tournament. But the speed of the greens — Ogilvie said they were the fastest he had seen all year — had him worried about the second round.
“Shaun Micheel had a 40-footer on 18 and he putted it 40 yards off the green,” Ogilvie said. “That’s not an exaggeration — he had a 40-yarder. It’ll happen again. They (the greens) are really quick, Trevor (Immelman) played at the Masters and played pretty well I’m told and said they were by far faster than the Masters.”
Of course, Immelman won the Masters, conquering the slick putting surfaces.
Ogilvie also was worried about the weather report.
“I heard we’re going to have 10 to 20 mph winds with 25 mph gusts tomorrow,” he said. “That’s going to be real entertaining. It’s going to be an extremely difficult day.”
DIVOTS: So fast are the greens that Sergio Garcia, who shot a 72, said, “In 18 holes you’re only going to have, on a good day, probably five putts you can go after.” … Justin Rose, who shot a 68, said when he returned home to England for two weeks of rest he played Royal Birkdale for the first time since he pitched in for birdie on the final hole to tie for fourth at the 1998 British Open.