The Memorial Tournament founded by Jack Nicklaus saw a trio of international players steal the spotlight during the first round at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio on Thursday.
After Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Chilean teenager Joaquin Niemann set the pace with 7-under-par rounds of 65 in the morning wave, Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama went 6 under over a five-hole stretch on the back nine in the afternoon to tie them.
Beau Hossler, who also played in the morning, is one shot back at 6 under. Fellow Americans Lucas Glover, Jamie Lovemark, Grayson Murray and Kyle Stanley are another shot off the pace at 5 under.
Australia’s Jason Day is tied with a group of six others within striking distance at 4 under.
“It’s been a while since I actually gave myself a good opportunity here,” Day, a member at Memorial who has never posted a top-10 in the event, told the Golf Channel. “It was nice to get off to a good start.”
Several of the other top players in the field struggled to post quality rounds Thursday.
Masters champion Patrick Reed and England’s Justin Rose, who moved to No. 3 in the world rankings with his victory at the Fort Worth Invitational last week, are at 1 under. Tiger Woods rallied from a 4-over deficit at one point to get into the clubhouse at even par along with world No. 1 Justin Thomas, No. 2 Dustin Johnson and No. 7 Rickie Fowler. Phil Mickelson and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy are 2 over, while fifth-ranked Jordan Spieth is 3 over along with defending champion Jason Dufner.
Mickelson was 4 under through eight holes when he double-bogeyed the ninth. He also bogeyed four holes in a five-hole stretch on the back nine before a par at the 18th. McIlroy also had a double-bogey on his card along with a pair of birdies and bogeys. Spieth, who told Nicklaus earlier this week that he is working on some adjustments to his swing, carded a pair of doubles in a three-hole stretch and also hit his tee shot on No. 18 well left into a creek.
Former Clemson star Doc Redman shot a 5-over 77 in his pro debut. He is unlikely to make his first PGA Tour victory the Memorial — at least not this week — as Matsuyama did in 2014.
Matsuyama garnered the biggest roars Thursday afternoon. He hasn’t posted a top-10 finish since the Tournament of Champions in January while falling five spots to No. 10 in the world, but has traditionally played well at Muirfield Village.
Matsuyama dropped to 1 under after a pair of bogeys to begin his back nine and then parred the 12th hole. That’s when he began to heat up, rolling in four consecutive birdies and drilling a 337-yard drive on the 17th hole. He proceeded to hole out for eagle from 137 yards to leap into a tie for the lead. Matsuyama left his winding birdie attempt on No. 18 just short.
He will begin Friday tied with Ancer, a 27-year-old who was off the course before Matsuyama teed off. After a bogey on No. 4, Ancer went 8 under over his final 15 holes.
Niemann, a former top-ranked amateur who is the youngest player in the field at 19, started his round on the back nine and birdied five of his first seven holes before adding three birdies and a bogey on the front nine.
“I played really well the whole round,” Niemann told the Golf Channel. “I think the good thing was starting strong, two birdies in the first two holes, and that gave me a lot of confidence of what was coming.”
Niemann placed sixth at the Valero Open in his pro debut earlier this year and is coming off a tie for eighth at the Fort Worth Invitational.
“I think that it has been all really quick,” Niemann told reporters. “Two months ago I was playing the Masters as an amateur, and right now I’ve already played four tournaments as a pro. It feels really nice. I just really am enjoying what I’m doing now and still I love golf.”
Hossler posted seven birdies against a lone bogey, and said he entered this week with the mindset of trying to go low rather than concentrating on some swing mechanics he has been working on.
“I’ve been in a spot where I’m working on things, but I’m also playing a lot,” Hossler told the Golf Channel. “It’s tough to score when you’re working on technical stuff, so I’ve kind of found myself in a spot where I need to decide what I’m going to do. Whether it’s trying to be technically-sound to what I’m working on, or just trying to go score. I’ve found that trying to just go score with my ball the best that I can has been effective.”
Woods, a five-time winner of the Memorial, began his round on the back nine. He bogeyed the par-5 11th hole and then double-bogeyed the par-5 15th after hitting his drive out of bounds.
He fell to 4-over par with a bogey on the par-3 16th before beginning his comeback with a birdie on the following hole. Woods made his turn in 39 shots and got back to 2 over with a birdie on No. 2. He gave the shot back with a three-putt bogey on No. 4, then reeled off three consecutive birdies to get back to even par.
Woods finished his round with a pair of pars to shoot 3-under 33 on his closing nine, and was 4 under over his final 11 holes.
“I fought back, and I didn’t really have much starting out,” Woods told reporters. “Didn’t really feel my swing very well, and consequently I hit it both ways — mainly left. Wasn’t rotating very well.”
“Made a few tweaks, a few changes, made a couple birdies, made a couple putts and lo and behold, I shot even par,” Woods said. “I know it’s a long way back, but at least I have a fighting chance.
“It was nice to grind out the round, turn it around and finish at even par. Lunch will taste a lot better that way.”
NOTES: Kenny Perry (three) is the only other player to win the event more than twice. Woods is also the only player to successfully defend at the Memorial, winning three consecutive years from 1999-2001. ... Muirfield Village Golf Club was named after Muirfield, Scotland, where Nicklaus won the first of his three Open Championships in 1966.. ... Rose, the 2010 champion, is seeking to join Kenny Perry (2003) as the only players to win the Memorial the week after winning another tournament. ... No left-handed player has ever won the Memorial, with Mike Weir coming the closest with his tie for second in 2008. ... Fowler has two runner-up finishes, but otherwise has not posted a top-20 in six other starts at the Memorial.
—Field Level Media