Jack Nicklaus had to be watching the end of his Memorial Tournament and wondering how he would have managed on today’s tour in this era when we hear so often ‘today’s players are so much better.’
Maybe, but at Muirfield Village we saw the opening day leader, the 63 shooting Rory McIlroy, cruise to the turn in 43 on Friday and finish with 78.
It was on Sunday afternoon however we saw some real carnage as some of the best in the game tried to get to the clubhouse without doing anything horribly destructive to their winning chances. Most failed.
Adam Scott birdied the 11th to tie the lead and then pushed a short iron into the water on the right of the par three, 12th. He followed the double bogey with a birdie but then three straight bogeys from the14th. In fairness his pitch into the 15th crashed into the base of the pin (nothing much good comes from crashing into pins on the full) and came to rest thirty yards short of the green but it was a destructive run of holes – destructive to his winning chances anyway
Nick Faldo had presciently suggested on Saturday night Bubba Watson, the leader, might go for a big number somewhere on the final eighteen and sure enough he came to Scott’s pin hitting hole and drove low, right and somehow through the trees and onto the lawn of a neighboring house. A seven when four was to be expected of a man who drives as far as the Masters Champion was his ultimate undoing.
Hideki Matsuyama is a brilliant young Japanese who at twenty-two is clearly now one of the better players in the game. His countrymen before him have curiously never won a major championship and really only Isao Aoki, and to a lesser extent Tommy Nakajima, performed with any long-term worldwide credit. Others like Massy Kuramoto flashed like comets for a short time but they were such huge stars at home, well rewarded for their efforts on the course and their endorsements off it, it was little wonder they happily stayed at home.
Ryo Ishikawa is doing decently in America but Matsuyama looks as though he is really capable of, and committed to, winning one of the games biggest championships.
After Watson’s implosion the Japanese looked like he might get to the clubhouse ahead of mid-afternoon finisher, Kevin Na who had begun the day at five under and shot 64. Instead his middle iron came up short of the par three 16th and fell back into the water. With the almost mandatory five, Na looked like winning without even the aggravation of a playoff.
Matsuyama finally did something Nicklausian and birdied the 72nd hole to tie Na’s 275 with a final heroic iron to five feet.
The playoff ended as the tournament had finished. After Matsuyama drove right into one of ten or so fairway bunkers protecting the corner of the dogleg Na flipped one way to the left and into the creek. In the end he had a seven footer for a bogey but was put out of his misery when Matsuyama holed from just outside for a scrappy up and down par.
The tour now heads to Memphis for a final run before the U.S Open at Pinehurst. In Elvis’ home town they will play on a modern American courses conceived to hold tournaments and create drama at the end with water lined holes but it is at Pinehurst the game and comes to one of the world’s very best courses.
Restored with great skill by Bill Coore and his partner Ben Crenshaw, Pinehurst will be an important Open course. It will show the game can be made difficult without resorting to the use (and the curse) of long, green grass.
The short grass around the greens will feed the ball far away from Donald Ross’s famed upturned putting surfaces. Jack Nicklaus circa 1975 would be the clear favourite for this open but in his absence and the injury enforced withdrawal of Tiger Woods it is an Open anyone can win.
Someone though will need to avoid the mistakes, which so littered the finish last week, and they will need to do it under the severest of pressure.
It will be fun watching but if any of them say it was fun playing they will be lying.
As Tom Weiskopf says ‘Trust me, the U.S Open is not fun.’