Varying conditions add intrigue for leaders

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June 01, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Jim Furyk is hoping for summer to return again on Saturday.

"But you never know," he said good-naturedly. Not in May. Not at Muirfield Village when the PGA TOUR's top stars come to play in the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.

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Friday was another one of those days. Temperatures that had been in the sweltering 90s early in the week tumbled into the low 50s after Jack Nicklaus' signature creation was pummeled by wind and rain for the better part of 18 hours.

"It feels like it's snowflakes right now is what it feels like to me," said Kyle Reifers, the Columbus native who finished off a round of 70 just before darkness fell in the day's final group.

With the dramatic change in the weather came some pretty striking turnover on the leaderboard, as well. With all deference to Rory Sabbatini, who claimed sole possession of the lead after his second straight 69, it was Tiger Woods who made the biggest impact as he moved within a shot of the South African at a tournament the former world No. 1 has already won four times.

And at the opposite end of the spectrum, again with apologies to Sabbatini, the spectre of another Rory loomed large. This time is was Rory McIlroy, the 23-year-old Northern Irishman who missed his third straight cut just nine days before he defends his U.S. Open title at the Olympic Club.

McIlroy wasn't sure whether he would head on to Memphis, where he'll give his game one more test at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, or stay in this toney U.S. enclave of Dublin and hit balls at Muirfield Village's state-of-the-art range. But while McIlroy needs more work, both Sabbatini and Woods felt the effort they have put into their game of late is finally paying off.

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Projected points
The race for spots in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup continues this week. Click to see who's making moves in Ohio. Projections

Woods, who interestingly could tie Jack Nicklaus in career wins this week, is making his 13th appearance in the Memorial Tournament. The 69 on Friday marked the 22nd time in his last 23 rounds at Muirfield Village that Woods has shot par or better.

Such familiarity can't hurt, of course. But Woods has been as consistent this week as he'd been erratic in the last three starts where he hadn't finished better than 40th since ending a 30-month victory drought at Bay Hill.

What pleased Woods, who is tied at 5 under with Spencer Levin and Scott Stallings, the most was the way he adjusted to the varying weather conditions in the first two rounds. He has hit all but 10 greens in regulation to tie for first in that category while finding 20 of 28 fairways and using just 28 putts each day.

"It's not about magic or past experience, it's just about controlling my golf ball and staying in the present," Woods said. "You know, that's one thing you have to do on this golf course. It forces you to do that because there's no letup in it. Yesterday we had hard and fast conditions; today they're soft, but it's windy and blustery and gusty and it's swirling in those trees.

"It's two different tests but nevertheless great tests."

Interview: Sabbatini

Memorial 36-hole leader Rory Sbbatini talks after posting his second-consecutive 69 at Murifield Village.

Until this week, Sabbatini, who won his sixth PGA TOUR title a year ago at The Honda Classic, hadn't put two rounds in the 60s together in the same tournament since his title defense at PGA National back in March. He felt things come together last Sunday at Colonial, though, when he closed with four birdies over his final eight holes after making the turn in 39.

"It's just kind of funny; golf is such ... a mental game in general, and it is a game of confidence, and I have been struggling," said Sabbatini, who has been working on his swing with Rick Smith. "I was down on myself and I was down on my game. Colonial ... on Sunday I was playing awfully and managed to turn things around over the last eight holes, and I think that kind of maybe flicked a switch on for me and kind of reminded me of what I can do.

"So coming into this week, I was definitely a little more adamant and a little more positive about my game, and it's just all so fortuitous. This is a golf course I've always felt comfortable on, it kind of fits my eye, and I enjoy playing here."

So, of course, does Woods, who will be seeking his second win of the season this weekend. That said, there are 21 players within four strokes of Sabbatini's lead and 36 challenging holes remain.

"Obviously it's great to see him playing well," Sabbatini said. "... Ultimately I'm not worried about what he's doing or anyone else is doing. I'm focused on myself. Ultimately it comes down to the challenge inside me, and that's what I've got to focus on. It was a trying day out there today, and I managed to stay patient. That's all I can do."

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