DUBLIN, Ohio — Part of the appeal of this game is watching great golf. And part of the appeal, not that we like to really admit it, is occasionally seeing the golf course win. It doesn't happen often in this era of 300-yard 3-woods, but Saturday at the Memorial was such a day.
Muirfield Village Golf Club bit back, thanks to a second straight day of strong, gusting winds and very fast putting surfaces. Only six players managed rounds in the 60s, none lower than the 68s posted by Kevin Chappell, a former NCAA champion from UCLA, and J.J. Henry.
This was not one of the most difficult rounds of all-time, nothing like that, but it was a very challenging day.
How challenging? Thanks for asking.
Tiger Woods shot a Hank Aaron. That would be a 44 (Aaron's old jersey number) on the back nine, where he began play. Tiger had the kind of full house you don't want in golf — three 5s and two 7s. He doubled the 12th and 15th holes (three-putts were involved in both of those disasters), and he tripled the 18th hole after his approach shot spun off the front of the green and down a steep slope, and then his ensuing pitch did likewise. When he finally got his ball on the green, he threw in another three-putt from five feet. That's called piling on. It's also called golf.
Tiger rallied with birdies on the first two holes of the front nine, if you can call it that, to shoot 79. The 44 was his highest nine-hole score as a pro. But it could've been worse. He wasn't even the high score in his group. Playing partner Zach Johnson regurgitated nine bogeys en route to 81.
Yes, it was a tough day out there. Asked he if enjoyed his round, Chappell joked, "It's like a prizefighter. He enjoys winning, but I don't know that he enjoys getting hit that much."
Matt Kuchar put himself into position to rack up another victory. He shot a second straight 70 to open a two-shot lead over Chappell and Kyle Stanley. Matt Jones, Justin Rose and Bill Haas were another shot back. Sunday's tee times were moved up slightly, as Saturday's were, in case of more inclement weather.
"This place is really challenging with winds at 25 miles an hour all day," Kuchar said. "It was survival, all right. This course is challenging without wind, but with this much wind, it's got to be one of the tougher days we've played. Thankfully, the rain last night softened things up. If it was anything near as firm as it was Thursday or Friday, it would almost be unplayable."
Asked if this was the toughest day of the year, Kuchar answered, "I guess you could take Kapalua. But it got canceled a couple of days. That was really challenging."
Kuchar made one of his three bogeys at the par-5 15th hole. He went for the green in two with a 3-wood and thought he hit a nice, solid shot. The problem was, it sailed a little higher than he'd planned and he was stunned to watch the wind work its magic on it.
"I thought it would be fine, it will just end up in the right greenside bunker," Kuchar said. "No problem. And the ball just kept drifting and drifting and found its way into a hazard that I didn't even know existed over there."
Windy days on the PGA Tour separate the players who are hitting the ball solid from the ones who aren't. Only the solid shots are able to consistently survive the wind. Kuchar is among the more consistent players on tour. He's had five top-ten finishes this year, including a win in cold conditions in the Accenture World Match Play near Tucson, and a second a week ago at Colonial. You can look at his tour stats and not find any obvious strength. He's 115th in driving distance, 149th in accuracy and 90th in greens hit in regulation. He ranks 25th in strokes gained putting, and, in the only category that matters, is eighth in scoring average.
In short, he knows how to get the ball in the hole. Which is why he has quietly risen to ninth in the world rankings.
Sunday will likely be another test of survival. A lot of players are bunched behind the top six. Masters champ Adam Scott is among the group four strokes back, former Masters champ Bubba Watson is one of three players who is five back.
"I don't have to be perfect tomorrow," said second-round leader Haas, "But I've got to be pretty good."
A dozen other players are thinking the same thing. At least Sunday will have one clear winner other than the golf course.