DUBLIN, Ohio — Players certainly got more than they bargained for in preparation for next week’s U.S. Open, as Muirfield Village Golf Club played quite difficult for the Memorial Tournament.
In the end, Viktor Hovland hoisted the trophy, prevailing in a playoff over Denny McCarthy as his more mature and patient approach won the week.
Hovland’s recent form saw him tie for second place at the PGA Championship and tie for 16th at the Charles Schwab Challenge. He will join Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler as favorites to win the season’s third major at Los Angeles Country Club.
Here are some other prevailing storylines from the weekend:
MCILROY OPTIMISTIC FOR LOS ANGELES
On paper, Rory McIlroy’s week at the Memorial Tournament mirrored that of the PGA Championship in that he tied for seventh, but it was the process of getting through four rounds which had him far more optimistic.
“I feel a lot more positive about things today than I was two weeks ago at Oak Hill,” he said. “Even though the results might reflect that I had a better week at Oak Hill, for example. I feel a lot more positive about everything going forward.
“It’s nice. I’ve got next week, get straight back on the horse again in Canada and try to take the learnings from this week and try to do a little bit better next week.”
McIlroy seemed to enter the PGA Championship an exhausted man by all stretches. He was not happy with his golf and certainly appeared exasperated after skipping his second designated event, a miss which carried a $3 million fine.
What likely made him feel far worse than the fines were his fellow players, ones he has advocated for on a consistent basis turning on him in some respects as they felt he proverbially had his cake and ate it too.
Phil Mickelson has taken advantage of this fact and as his Twitter presence has increased, took several shots at McIlroy, who was not asked nor offered a response during media availability over the weekend. At the PGA, he did a press conference in which many of his answers were uncharacteristically short.
Admittedly, McIlroy overprepared for the Masters and it certainly cost him in his second round at Oak Hill as he missed the cut.
McIlroy has attempted to make changes to his swing but the takeaway from the range to the course has been hard and one which expects to take several months.
It has certainly led to some inconsistencies on the course as really McIlroy put two good rounds together and just tried to hang on over the other 36 holes.
Even on Sunday, it felt destined that McIlroy would win. He has found a way to win several times while not playing with his best stuff and after a fist pump on his 18th hole Saturday, he worked his way into the final group.
McIlroy came to Muirfield Village Golf Club on Sunday wearing yellow for the tournament’s Play Yellow Day and early on he was in the lead. But he came undone when he uncharacteristically bogeyed both par 5s on the front nine and he was largely a non-factor on the back nine.
McIlroy remains in the field for the RBC Canadian Open this week, where he is the two-time defending champion and then will make it three weeks in a row at the U.S. Open.
It is a difficult ask to play these three weeks in a row, but perhaps the reps will allow him to find his way as he seeks his first win since October.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER
By all accounts, Scottie Scheffler should have been shaking Jack Nicklaus’s hand late Sunday afternoon, but there was a huge problem. The longest putt he made all week was 9 feet, 8 inches.
Scheffler was dead last of all of the golfers in Strokes Gained: Putting at minus-8.650 and it certainly held him back. This can be traced back to ranking first in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (4.733), Strokes Gained: Tee To Green (20.718), Strokes Gained Approach The Green (11.407), Proximity (27’9″) and Strokes Gained: Total (12.067). Furthermore, Scheffler ranked second in Drive Distance (305.3) and Strokes Gained: Around The Green (3.882).
Had Scheffler gotten putts to go, the tournament would have been over by the turn at the very least, not bad for a player who scratched and clawed just to make the cut, and not bad for a player who was playing his fourth consecutive start that he admits was exhausting.
Though he struggled getting putts to drop, Scheffler felt he was far closer than at the Masters as several putts were just off or burned the edge.
Scheffler has worked hard on his tee-to-green game and the stats certainly support that.
It will certainly be a week of rest and recovery ahead as he has dialed his game up for the U.S. Open, but if he expects to win, putting will be the key.
“I think a little bit of my struggles with the putting have probably helped me sort of elevate my ball striking just because with the putts not going in, I got to hit it really good and I’ve been able to do that,” he said. “That’s one of those deals where I think maybe people are asking me about my putting so much more because I’m hitting it so good, but when you’re hitting a bunch of greens it’s not easy to make every putt.
“I mean, if I was putting the best this week, I would have won by a crazy amount of shots. Granted my stats should still be significantly better than what they are now, but I have confidence in the stuff that I’m working on. Like I said, the ball feels good coming off the blade, so I don’t really have an explanation for it, but, you know, I’m sure I’ll get back towards my average and putts will start falling.”
As the golf season has advanced, the Memorial Tournament proved to be an event where the players were quite honest about the states of their game.
It started with Billy Horschel, the tournament’s defending champion, firing a first-round 84 and making the decision to talk to the assembled media at the 18th hole flash interview location.
There he stated through tears that he was trying to do the right things and felt technically he was not far off, but that he could not hit the cut the way he wanted and with much less margin for error he was just not executing.
Instead of withdrawing, he fought and fired an even-par round Friday, 12 shots better than Thursday’s effort. After the round he stayed to sign every autograph and take selfies with those crowded off the ninth green.
Horschel is an automatic qualifier for the U.S. Open, so now time will tell how quickly his game can turn the corner.
Collin Morikawa spoke to PGN and a couple of other assembled reporters following Saturday’s round, an effort in which he converted eight birdies and expressed that Horschel’s words on Thursday not only resonated with him, but that to some degree he could relate to them.
Morikawa described what was a two-way miss and a ball flight that he was not used to impacting his game.
He has not had a top-10 finish since the Masters and Morikawa opined that his swing visually looks as good as it ever has, but his efforts to refine his swing have brought the left side of the course into play.
Morikawa was two shots off the lead heading into Sunday, but he withdrew due to back spasms. It is unknown how these injuries will impact his U.S. Open efforts, though it certainly was enough to cause his first PGA Tour withdrawal.