DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) – That other Rory – Rory Sabbatini – played his best golf in the worst weather Friday at the Memorial and made a surprising appearance atop the leaderboard. Right behind him was a Tiger Woods that looked all too familiar.
Sabbatini played bogey-free over his final 12 holes, and despite missing a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, put together a 3-under 69 in the cool, blustery conditions at Muirfield Village to take a one-shot lead going into the weekend.
Woods looked strong for the second straight day, though he also had another double bogey that slowed his progress. What pleased him was controlling his ball in the wind for plenty of birdie chances that led to a 69.
“I hit the ball well all day, and it was a day that I needed to,'' Woods said. “The wind was blowing out there, swirling in those trees, and it was just a tough day.''
It was plenty tough for Rory McIlroy.
The U.S. Open champion, who returned to No. 1 in the world only four weeks ago, missed the cut in his third straight tournament. McIlroy was in good shape until a shot just outside a creek hit the bank and went backward into the water, leading to the first of two double bogeys on the back nine. He shot 79 and missed the cut by three shots.
“I'm definitely hitting the ball better than I did last week, so I can see an improvement there,'' he said. “But I've still got a long way to go.''
It was tough for everyone on a day that began with a two-hour rain delay in the morning. That softened the course, but the wind featured gusts strong enough that it was difficult to attack the pins. It showed in the scores.
Sabbatini was at 6-under 138, the highest score to lead the Memorial in 22 years.
“We basically just kept the ball in play all day, and that's the challenge out there,'' Sabbatini said. “And we did that very well, and I'm very, very excited, very content with the way that things went.''
Woods has 72 wins on the PGA Tour, one away from tying Jack Nicklaus for second on the career list. What better place to catch him than on the course Jack built, though Woods wasn't ready to entertain such thoughts only halfway through the tournament.
And while he commands attention at Muirfield Village – a four-time champion who has shot par or better in 22 of his last 23 rounds on this course – there were plenty of possibilities going into the weekend.
Spencer Levin (72) and Scott Stallings (73) played in the morning and joined Woods at 5-under 139.
Jim Furyk, another former champion, matched the best score Friday with a 68 and was in the group only two shots behind. There were 21 players within four shots of the lead, a list that includes Quail Hollow winner Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Lucas Glover and Adam Scott, who was contending for the lead until closing with three straight bogeys for a 72.
The surprise was Sabbatini. He has missed the cut eight times this year, and his only top 10 came at the season opener in Kapalua, when he was 10 shots behind. The spunky South African has been toiling with his swing coach, Rick Smith, and for all the work they have done with his swing, even more crucial was keeping his patience.
“It's definitely shown me I have to be a little more patient out there,'' Sabbatini said. “There's nothing that's going to get achieved in an instant. You've got to make sure that you take your time and just make sure that you continue to run the process, and ultimately things will change.''
That's what happened Friday, when Sabbatini made a couple of bogeys in his opening six holes. It started to turn with a 15-foot birdie on the ninth, and he was solid the rest of the way. He took care of the par 5s with good wedge play – both those holes were into the wind – and picked up a key birdie on the 14th to a back pin, leaving it below the hole and making a 12-foot birdie.
Woods did little wrong at the start except for missing a few birdie putts inside 10 feet and failing to take advantage of the par 5s. Even so, he didn't come close to a bogey until he reached the par-3 12th hole, which played into the wind. The question was how much wind.
Woods was trying to decide between an 8-iron and a 9-iron on the 159-yard hole over the water, guarded front and back by bunkers. He watched Fred Couples hit a 6-iron that a big gust knocked down and deposited in the water. Woods went with a 7-iron that he hit like a bullet, over the water, over the green, into the gallery. From there, he hit a poor flop shot that didn't reach the green, chipped to 10 feet and missed the putt to take double bogey.
“I didn't feel comfortable hitting 7,'' Woods said. “I thought I had to take a lot off of it, but I didn't want it to ride, so I started it way left and just bailed out on it, hit it long. And I drew a good lie. It was just a bad chip shot.''
He recovered with a wedge into 6 feet for birdie on the 15th, then a tee shot that covered a front flag on the par-3 16th and settled about 8 feet away.
Woods, coming off his worst three-tournament stretch as a pro, said he played as well as when he won at Bay Hill to end a 30-month drought on the PGA Tour.
“The things that I'm supposed to be doing for the past few tournaments, I was able to do,'' he said. “This is the way that I hit the ball at Bay Hill and the way I hit it at the end of last year. That's what's exciting about it.''