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The Course That Jack Built

Jack’s Place-Part 2. In a historic first for the PGA Tour, this week’s Memorial presented by Nationwide tournament at Muirfield Village was the second event in a row being played on the same course. Fitting perhaps that the home of the game’s greatest player and arguably his finest course design would be the venue for the first such events.

Although the two courses were identical, they played completely differently for the Memorial. The rough had been allowed to grow and the greens were mowed closer creating Augusta-like speed rendering last week’s winning score of 19-under an impossibility.

Much of the excitement surrounding the week was the return of Tiger Woods who had not competed since February. Woods has won The Memorial 5 times, with his last victory coming in 2012, and has never missed the cut in 17 events.

Woods admitted that playing without spectators was eerie, sort of a vacuum.  

22-year old emerging superstar Collin Morikawa won last week’s Workday Charity Open at Muirfield with a thrilling play-off win over Justin Thomas. Morikawa is enjoying a rookie campaign for the ages having made the cut in the first 22 events he played (the second longest streak to start a career behind Woods’ record 25). It was the second win, with his maiden win coming at the 2019 Barracuda Championship, to go along with two runner-up finishes.    

And then there was Bryson. DeChambeau that is, the game’s current phenomenon who had added an incredible 35 lbs. of muscle in the last 6 months and is quite literally a cross between a mad scientist and the Incredible Hulk. DeChambeau won the last event that he played two weeks ago when he cruised to a 3 shot win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic for his 6th PGA Tour win (he didn’t play last week at Jack’s Place-Part 1).

After the 44-year old Woods played a practice round with the 26-year old Hulk on Wednesday, DeChambeau had this to say about watching the 15-time Major winner in action: “Even now, he’s hitting it pretty long. There were a couple holes he hit 320, 325 [yards]. I’m like, that’s pretty good for his age. It’s amazing for his age.’’ We think that’s a compliment. 

Those were just three of the stars in the strongest field ever in a regular PGA Tour event.

The brightest member of the assembled constellation after Thursday’s round was American, Tony Finau, whose 6-under 66 was one better than Texan Ryan Palmer with Americans Brendan Steele and Gary Woodland a shot further back at 4-under.

Morikawa could not replicate last weeks magic and struggled to a 4-over 76 that left him in danger of missing his second career cut. DeChambeau was up and down but did manage to hit a jaw dropping 423-yard drive en route to a 1-over 73. Woods played well in his first competitive round in 6 months and carded a 1-under 71.

In Friday’s second round, DeChambeau imploded with a 10 on the 15th hole to shoot a 3-over 75 and miss the cut by one. Morikawa rebounded with a 2-under 70 to the weekend’s action. Woods would continue his streak and make the cut on the number at 3-over, but he too struggled mightily.

Woods was obviously bothered by his back on several swings. Ominously, he said after his round that “Ageing is not fun. Early on in my career I thought it was fantastic because I was getting better and better and better and now, I’m just trying to hold on.” 

The co-leaders heading into the weekend were Finau and Palmer at 9-under followed by Spain’s Jon Rahm who was a shot behind. American trio of Luke List, Chez Reavie and reigning U.S. Open Champion, Gary Woodland were tied for 4th at 6-under. Australian Jason Day was at 5-under for the tournament after a best of the day 66.

A hybrid cluster of 8 players were at 4-under including “where have you been” duo of Danny Willett and Jordan Spieth and the “what are you guys doing here” duo of 50 somethings, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker.

Moving day lived up to its moniker. Rahm was by far the best player on the leaderboard and his 4-under 68, gave him a 4-shot cushion going into Sunday’s final round at 12-under. The 3-time PGA Tour winner is a prodigious talent but has always been explosive as a player (on and off the course). The 25-year old is certainly to be counted as one of the star twenty-somethings but needs to win more to become a member of the elite club.

Palmer and Finau tread water on Saturday and began Sunday tied for 2nd at 8-under. 2016 Masters champion, Danny Willett, chairman of the “where have you been lately” club was at 6-under. Day followed a stroke behind at 5-under with Sweden’s Henrik Norlander.

After a weather delay early in Sunday’s final round, Rahm began to distance himself from the field playing the front-9 in 2-under while all his competitors succumbed to Muirfield. As he made the turn Rahm had an 8-shot lead over Palmer but nothing is ever assured in this game and the combustible Spaniard made a bogey on the 10th and a double bogey on the 11th which combined with a Palmer birdie reduced the lead to only 4.  

The lead was down to 3 when Rahm missed the green short and to the left on the par-16th before he produced a ‘Woodsian’ (Tiger chipped in twice on this hole in the final round of two of his 5 victories to seal the deal) moment and chipped in for an improbable birdie to stretch the lead to 4 again.

That lead would become 5 after a Palmer bogey on the 17th, but a Rules official came over to Rahm and said that he had incurred a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in the rough before his chip shot on the 16th hole (the TV camera had captured a very debatable violation of the Rule). Rahm took the news with a maturity that he has not displayed before and two closing two pars gave him a 4-day total of 9-under, three ahead of the resolute Texan. England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick finished in 3rd at 5-under one ahead of Day, who may be rounding into form.

Rahm was the top ranked Amateur in the world for a record 60 weeks before turning professional in 2016.  Rahm quickly made his mark as a pro and after winning his second PGA Tour event in January 2018 at the Career Builder Challenge, he was the #2 ranked player in the world rankings. Since then Rahm has played well at times but hasn’t been able to convert several times when near the lead with a chance to win.

This week showcased a more controlled and calmer Rahm. He also ascended to the top of the world rankings for the first time and for the next week at least is the #1 player in the world.