DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Not long after another downpour at Muirfield Village, Justin Rose started pouring in birdies.
Rose came out after a 2-hour delay and made six birdies over his final 10 holes for a 7-under 65 to build a two-shot lead over Phil Mickelson and other early starters Thursday at the Memorial.
Defending champion Tiger Woods played in the afternoon and was unlikely to finish his round after another storm delay, this one lasting about 30 minutes as players sought shelter in nearby houses.
Rose has done well at Muirfield Village with two finishes in the top five, including a runner-up two years ago to Kenny Perry. It’s a matter of stringing together four days of work to earn his first victory in America.
“It’s a tournament that I feel like I should have won, for sure,” Rose said. “I always feel comfortable when I do get here. I like all the tee shots, and the greens are so pure here that if you do get a putting stroke going, you’re going to make some putts.”
Mickelson has never come particularly close to winning on the course Jack Nicklaus built, although it is among those he would dearly love to win. Nicklaus even joked with him Wednesday that a golfer’s resume is not complete without a victory at Muirfield Village, spinning a phrase that Bobby Jones once said about St. Andrews.
“I told Jack yesterday it would really mean a lot to me to win his tournament,” Mickelson said. “This golf course is wonderful.”
Mickelson played bogey-free for his 67, a refreshing change from last week when he missed the cut at the Colonial. He made up ground toward the end of his round with two simple birdies on the par 5s at No. 5 and No. 7, sandwiched around a 10-foot birdie on the sixth.
“The soft greens allow you to attack a lot of the pins,” Mickelson said. “It played a lot longer because the ball wasn’t rolling. It was a very fun day and a lot of good scoring today.”
Woods wasn’t finding much of that in the early going. He went well long on the first hole and failed to get up and down, then he caught a bad break on the sixth hole when his approach from the left rough hit a sprinkler short of the green and bounded over the green and into the gallery. He had to make an 8-footer just to escape with bogey. Woods was 2-over through six holes.
Also at 67 were Andres Romero of Argentina, Rory Sabbatini and Michael Letzig, who played in the final round last year with Woods when he closed with a 65 to overcome a four-shot deficit and win the Memorial for the fourth time.
“I got to witness the perfect round last year,” Letzig said. “Watched him just tear the golf course apart. Any time you get to go with him, you can learn from it. It definitely helped me.”
Jim Furyk and Sean O’Hair were among those at 68, while Michael Sim of Australia wasted a great start – a 31 on his front nine – by having to settle for a 69.
No one was more frustrated than Ernie Els, who was went out in 33 and then watched shots miss the target by small margins and leave him in difficult spots. He made five bogeys on the back nine for a 41 and wound up with a 74.
Rose began his most impressive streak of the round with an 18-foot birdie on the second hole. It was the start of five birdies in six holes that put him atop the leaderboard.
He barely made the cut last week at Colonial, finished toward the bottom of the pack, yet somehow took confidence from that. Rose is trying to focus on getting better instead of the scores on his card, and he hopes the change in attitude will help.
“Came away from the week feeling really good about things, which is a rare state of mind for me,” Rose said. “I feel like I’ve been comfortable with my game for a number of weeks, and I’m not really trying to do anything different.”