Since yesterday’s “Hot or Not” format received such positive feedback, I’ll keep going with the trend of mixing it up and try a superlative-type format. Thanks for your patience while I experiment. This is fun. Again, your feedback is welcome and appreciated.
Best putt(s) of the day: With Kevin Chappell putting a bit of pressure on Matt Kuchar in the last two holes, the 54-hole leader and second multiple-event winner on the PGA Tour this season stepped up to the test and drained a key four-footer for par on the 17th and then capped it off by draining a 21-footer for birdie on the 18th. No big deal. Kuchar, who’s greatest strength is that he has no weaknesses, claimed his sixth victory and he’ll have a ton of confidence heading into Merion.
“When that putt went in I was excited to win, but I think it was even more excitement than just a regular tournament,” said Kuchar. “That was not just a relief that I’ve twoputted and sealed the deal; that was, yes, I have done it. Yes, I have won The Memorial. It felt so good.
“Then to walk off the green and to greet Mr. Nicklaus, and have him congratulate me, that’s something I’ll certainly never forget.”
Biggest balls: Kevin Chappell burned edges on the front nine and made a lot of ho-hum pars. When some players may have let up, Chappell hung in there and then something happened on the 13th, his birdie putt dropped. He went on to make three more in the last five holes, including the last two to make things a bit more interesting coming down the stretch. Chappell recorded his best finish of the season, a solo second, and his third top-ten of the season.
This kid has swagger and wit (as you may recall, he had that great analogy yesterday about playing in the wind and the prizefighter). Oh, don’t count him out at Merion. He’s had some success at this USGA venue, making it to the round of 16 at the 2005 U.S. Amateur. He also finished T3 (tied for low-American) and T10, respectively at Congressional and Olympic in the last two U.S. Opens.
Best host: You can always count on Jack Nicklaus to steal the spotlight in the joint press conference with that year’s champion, who will graciously take a seat to listen to the living legend. Jack loves giving advice and he wants you to ask for it, guys! He had some tips for Kuchar on prepping for the upcoming U.S. Open.
“What I would do is first of all, when you go to a Major, you know that you’re going to be more nervous because you feel like you have more pressure on you,” said Nicklaus, the host of the Memorial, which is held at his course. “And that’s the biggest reason why I went a week ahead of time to a Major scene, Major venue. I would go there to get rid of my nervousness, worrying about the rough or about the narrowness of fairways, worrying about the speed of the greens, firmness of the greens, and just being the U.S. Open. I’d go there and spend a few days until I was comfortable with the golf course and comfortable with what I was doing.
“And then I would go home and get everything out of my mind, enjoy my weekend, and then I would go back and all I had to worry about then was my playing the event. The day or so before making sure that’s what I would do. To me, if I went to, let’s just say, I’m not going to use it here, because I think a little bit more of it, but if I would go to another tournament, let’s just say another tournament, if I would go early I’d get bored because there wasn’t enough there, enough meat in the tournament to prepare for.
“So I would prepare at home, practice round or two was enough to play that golf tournament. But a U.S. Open or British or Masters, I always want to play three or four, five practice rounds beforehand to make sure everything else was out of the way and all I had to do was concentrate on golf.”
Round of the day: For the second straight week, Scott Stallings made a run playing eight groups behind the leaders. And for the second straight week, he came up just short and finished T4, posting a final-round 67 (despite a bogey on the final hole). Stallings caught fire and rolled in five consecutive birdies on the front nine. He cooled off a bit on the back, but he had a couple of impressive up-and-downs, including on the par-3 12th and par-5 15th. On no. 12, he was in the same back bunker as Tiger, but Stallings hit a perfect shot, landing it in the rough and letting it trickle toward the hole. He made an eight-footer to save par. Then, he certainly deserves a few milkshakes for his save on no. 15.
“It was kind of a weird occurrence,” said Stallings. “I hit a bad drive, bottom got a bad break, had a bad second shot. I had to wait 20 minutes (for a ruling to drop from a sprinkler head). The pitch shot I hit on 15 was one of the best shots I hit today. To go and leave it short was pretty remarkable. To make a 10, 12footer to make par is a huge shot in the arm. We had a lot of shots that could have been like that today. And it was a big step to go the last couple of holes.”
Caddie of the year so far: Jimmy Johnson, Steve Stricker’s longtime looper, has taken up some parttime work in his off-weeks since his boss announced his semi-retirement at the start of 2013, but it’s not like he needs the cash because Stricker has played so well (earned nearly $2 million in just 6 starts). Johnson helped Harris English secure a top ten at the Tampa Bay Championship and then he did the same with Scott Stallings at the Memorial.
“I’m fortunate Strick pulled out because I had no one,” said Stallings, who is going through a caddie switch. “Jimmy was unbelievably encouraging, and helping me understand what I needed down the stretch. Obviously you don’t like to bogey the last hole. You have a veteran on your bag, and for him to pat you on the back and say well done, that’s a huge shot of encouragement for me the rest of the year.”
Biggest disappointment: Justin Rose was expected to be the best bet to give Kuchar a run, but the Englishman fizzled after eagling the par-5 5th. Rose, who captured the Memorial Tournament in 2010, went on to play the remaining holes two-over and shot one-over 73. Well, he still finished T8, but he was the only player in the top ten to post an over-par round on Sunday.
Worst day: Jimmy Walker shot 80 and finished DFL, but that’s not exactly why he had the worst day. He was in a twosome behind Tiger’s group and two hours of threesomes. Nails-on-a-chalkboard painful.
Worst-best weekend: After opening with rounds of 68-67 to take the 36-hole lead, Bill Haas went cold on the weekend. He shot 76 on Saturday, but it was a rough day for everyone. Then, he couldn’t get anything going on Sunday, but I do have to commend him for bouncing back in the last six holes, where he was three-under — he ended up shooting one-under 71 and placing T4.
Story of the day: “I learned a valuable lesson last year on Saturday when I played with Tiger. We both shot 74 or something like that on Saturday, a really tough day. He looked at me walking up the 18th tee, he said if we shoot 5under tomorrow I’ll see you in a playoff. He birdied 18 to shoot 6under and beat me by a couple. I always thought about this. You never know, crazy things can happen. You saw my round, Lord knows I could have shot a lot better. I could have shot a lot worse.” —Scott Stallings
Quote of the day: Kevin Chappell had that great analogy yesterday about playing in the wind and the prizefighter and the bull, so I asked him what he’d say for today after chasing the leader in the final round. First, he joked, “There’s nothing appropriate. Then, he quipped, “Whipped cream on dog doo. It was a great day, but I came up short.”
Excuse of the day: Rory McIlroy gave a short interview after his round because he had a “flight to catch.” In other words, his private jet was scheduled to leave the field at 6pm. But we did learn he struggled with reading the greens all week.
“It was just a little bit of adjustment with green reading,” said Rory, who shot a final-round 72. “I felt everything I was reading, I was reading it too far right and pulling it. I guess it’s like whatever I see on the left-to-right putt, sI ort of double it.
“It’s just a little bit of an adjustment and something I can work on and something it was good to figure out this week, so I can work on it next week.”
He’s close, guys.
Photos of the day: Tiger Woods and Rory commiserating over their 78s at Muirfield Village on the 12th tee…(not really, but possibly…). I decided to walk outside the ropes with my friend, who wanted to watch Tiger, for most of the back nine — I thought it’d be a meaningful reminder for me that we have it real good as media to walk inside the ropes all the time. It worked.
Fashion faux-pas of the day: This fan who isn’t Rickie Fowler or under the age of 18…
Miscellaneous: Scoring averages at the par-72 Muirfield Village Golf Club
Front 9 Back 9 Total Cumulative
R1: 36.225 36.775 73.000 —
R2: 36.289 37.842 74.132 73.439
R3: 36.904 36.699 73.603 73.394
R4: 35.658 37.014 72.671 73.256
(AP Photo/Darren Cummings)