By Zak Kozuchowski, PGATOUR.COM
Every year, Augusta National honors past Masters champions with the Champions Dinner. This year, the Reno-Tahoe Open is having a collection of past tournament champions of its own -- except it’s on top of the leaderboard.
Vaughn Taylor, winner of the event in 2004 and 2005, leads the field at 9 under. He’s shot rounds of 69-66, and is one shot ahead of 2006 champion Will MacKenzie.
“Obviously the course has to fit your eye, and then the altitude is definitely an adjustment.” Taylor said. “I think anywhere you play well when you come back, especially if you win, you come back and a lot of good memories and feelings, and, you know, it can turn things around for you.”
Champions Steve Flesch (2007), Chris Riley (2002) and Notah Begay (1999) are also all inside the top 6 on the leaderboard.
MacKenzie said it’s the idiosyncrasies of Montreux Golf & Country Club that have allowed past champions to do well this year.
“Like, this putt is just historically fast or this putt don't go away from Mount Rose quite as much or this putt does go away from Mount Rose harder than you think,” he said. “And just trusting yardages. Trusting you're hitting 7-iron downhill on No. 9 - or 18 now rather -- from 230. That's the actual yardage.”
Vaughn Taylor is always happy to be back in Reno. The two-time Reno-Tahoe Open champion (2004, ‘05) is off to another good start at Montreux Golf and Country Club, sitting at 4 under through 14 holes in a bogey-free round so far.
The pace is being set at 5 under right now, with Nick O’Hern, Chris Riley and Dean Wilson at that mark. Wilson, in particular, could use a good week to solidify his date with the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup. He’s 123rd in points.
If you’re wondering about the cutoff man at No. 125, that’s Australian Matt Jones. He’s 1 over through 10 holes in Reno.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. -- The reason K.J. Choi has a two-stroke lead entering today’s third round? Tee-to-green performance.
For example, Choi is tied for first in driving accuracy, tied for second in greens in regulation and third in proximity to the hole with an average just over 29 feet on his approach shots.
And even when Choi has missed the green, he’s scrambled well, making par or better on five of six attempts -- best in the field. No wonder he has just three bogeys so far. The field, meanwhile, is at six bogeys per player on average.
The most impressive stat for Choi, however, is also the most important: He’s 5-for-7 in converting 36-hole leads into wins.
Meanwhile, Chris Riley, who is two strokes back and will play with Choi in today’s final group, has been putting on a clinic on the greens.
Through two rounds, he’s gained over nine strokes on the field with the putter -- easily best in the field with Bryce Molder at just over six strokes gained.
Riley has 21 one-putts (also best in the field) and 51 total putts (you guessed it, first in the field) and he’s yet to miss a putt inside 10 feet.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. -- The U.S. Open was two weeks ago, but Aronimink Golf Club is playing an awful lot like a major championship venue at this week’s AT&T National.
The rough is up, the scores are down and there’s a premium on par.
Not that this is an unfamiliar theme here. Last year, Aronimink was the fourth-toughest course on the PGA TOUR and second most-difficult non-major venue.
Of course, Aronimink has hosted a major championship before -- the 1962 PGA Championship -- and there’s been talk of it getting another.
“Not much needs to be done to the golf course to hold a major championship here,” said Rickie Fowler, who is 3 under through two rounds following a 69 Friday. “You move a couple of tees back, pinch some fairways, grow the rough a little and this place could be near impossible.”
Case in point: On the par-3 14th, Fowler hit what he thought was a perfect 6-iron to a pin that’s tucked just over a bunker. The ball landed just left of the hole and bounded into the rough. He wasn’t able to get up-and-down and made bogey.
On that same hole, Nick O’Hern took a safer approach and hit his tee shot to the middle of the green. He three-putted for bogey on the undulating green.
Charles Howell III put himself in contention with a 68 Friday, but his round wasn’t without its pitfalls -- he had five birdies and three bogeys.
“It's so hard to get close to these pins,” Howell said. “They're on the edges of the slopes, and the greens look big but there's so much slope in them, it's actually quite hard to get the ball close.
“I think it'll start getting a little bouncier, a little firmer. I think as it dries out ‑‑ par is a heck of a score.”
Chris Riley shot 66 and needed just 24 putts, but even he found conditions similar to that of a major.
“If the greens got any faster they would be kind of unplayable,” Riley said.
DUBLIN, Ohio – The leaderboard after the first round of the Memorial Tournament has a decidedly American flair.
Rory McIlroy, who hails from Northern Ireland, is the only international player among the top 21. He’s tied with Chris Riley for the lead after both opened with 66s
Interestingly, Ernie Els (2004) and defending champion Justin Rose are the only players who have won the Memorial after owning the first-round lead. No one has ever led Jack Nicklaus’ tournament wire-to-wire.
Chris DiMarco and Josh Teater – the Sergio Garcia lookalike -- are tied for third after shooting 67s. Rickie Fowler, Steve Stricker, Rocco Mediate, Matt Bettencourt, Rickie Barnes, Dustin Johnson, Stewart Cink and Bryce Molder are tied at 4 under.
A total of 51 players in the field of 118 broke par at Muirfield Village.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Muirfield Village has that "look." You know, what we mean. Lush grass, tree-lined fairways.
Just what Rory McIlroy likes.
So it was no surprise to see the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland fire a 66 on Thursday that left him in a tie for the lead with Chris Riley after the first round of the Memorial Tournament.
"This is one of my favorite weeks of the year, one of my favorite golf courses," McIlroy said. "I feel as if it really does set up well for me. I like these sort of golf courses, the likes of here and Akron and Quail Hollow, ... and I sort of feel as if I'm pretty comfortable on courses like that.
"... I'm swinging well, I'm hitting it good, and I'm holing a few putts, so hopefully I can keep it going for the next three days."
The results at those venues back up McIlroy's words.
His first PGA TOUR victory came at Quail Hollow, which annually hosts the Wells Fargo Championship. He tied for 10th here at Muirfield Village in his debut last year, then shared ninth at another look-a-like in Firestone at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
"I do prefer this sort of golf where you've got to fly it in the air," McIlroy explained. "When there's no wind and the conditions are as good as they are and the greens are this good, you're going to give yourself plenty of opportunities."
And he did -- particularly on the front nine, which was McIlroy's second of the day. He surged to the top of the leaderboard with a string of three straight birdies that began on the sixth hole.
"(I was) really happy with the way I played today," McIlroy said. "Got off to a little bit of a scrappy start on my front nine, which was the back nine. Got it up and down a few times just to keep myself around 1- or 2-under par and then found a few birdies on the way in, which was the bulk of my birdies.
"Happy with 66, a great way to start the tournament."
McIlroy is making his second start in the U.S. since he squandered a chance to win his first major at the Masters earlier this year. He took a four-stroke lead into the final round but shot 80 and ended up in a tie for 15th.
McIlroy was the third 54-hole leader to self-destruct in the last four majors -- joining Dustin Johnson at the U.S. Open and Nick Watney at the PGA Championship. He sees it as a learning experience.
"I don't know how Dustin and Nick were feeling whenever they were going into the last round leading, but it's a new experience, and I don't know if it's just because we all want it so badly that we sort of change from Saturday night to Sunday in a way," McIlroy said.
"... I mean, they're huge. They're major championships, and you want to really try and get your first one out of the way and kick on. I think the common thing probably between all three of us, we probably put ourselves under a lot of pressure on that Sunday to just get it done, and that probably worked against us."
Small wonder, then, that McIlroy is looking forward to another shot in two weeks at Congressional for the U.S. Open. He's got quite a busy -- and unusual -- schedule leading up to the season's second major, though.
McIlroy heads to Haiti on Monday where he will be part of a field trip for UNICEF. The he heads to Congressional on Wednesday and Thursday, Bayonne on Friday and Pine Valley for the weekend.
"It should be pretty eye-opening," McIlroy said of the trip to the island nation that was devastated by an earthquake last year. "It's something I've wanted to do since I signed up with UNICEF at the start of this year. I'm looking forward to it."
McIlroy said he wanted to work with UNICEF because he feels that he can relate to the young people it serves.
"I just don't want to really put my name to it, I wanted to do something," McIlroy said. "They were very keen for me to go and see somewhere where they're sort of hands on and they're working with, and it sort of just fit in quite well that I could go to Haiti for a couple of days and see what they do."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- A lot has happened in the nine years since Chris Riley last played in the Memorial Tournament.
He won his only PGA TOUR event in Reno and played in the Ryder Cup. He got married and became a father -- times two.
But with those peaks, there have been valleys. On the business side of the ledger, Riley also lost his playing privileges several times and has struggled to regain the kind of form that made him a four-time All-America at UNLV.
So he'd like nothing better than for the Memorial Tournament to signal a new beginning. And that 66 he fired in the first round at Muirfield Village was a good start -- in more ways than one.
Until Thursday, Riley had never broken par in three Memorial starts -- missing the cut each time. And the 66 matched his low round of the season, a year which has only seen him post one top-10.
"These guys are so good out here, if you don't play the best level of golf, then you're going to get blown away," Riley said. "It's been a struggle. I think this is my 13th season out here and the first six were great and the next three after that were really not that good, and I'm trying to climb out of a hole right now."
There have been bright spots for Riley, of course. He opened with a 66 at TPC Las Colinas last week and was just five strokes off the lead entering the final round of the HP Byron Nelson Championship.
Then Riley closed with an 8-over 78 in brutal conditions to tumble back down into a tie for 45th. But the laid-back Californian refused to blame the skid on the stiff and swirling winds that buffeted the course.
"It was real windy, but I'm just thinking too much, really," Riley said. "I'm just trying to turn off my head and play golf. If you play well, then I'm just so result-oriented right now instead of just doing -- and it's easy to do.
"It's kind of funny, a lot of guys that I came out here with aren't here anymore and as you can see, it's a tough game. For me it's just I'm just thinking too much, and the less I think the better I do, and today I didn't have time to think.
"The pace of play was so good and I didn't stand around and think about shots, I just played golf."
Riley teed off No. 10 in the first group of the day. He took advantage of the par 5s -- playing them in 3 under -- and ended up making eight birdies while dropping just two shots to par.
"I really putted good," said Riley, who went back to his old putter and finished with just 25 putts. "I made a lot of nice par saves. I made one on 6, my 15th hole, for like 20 feet for par, and (the first) hole I made about a 15-footer for par.
"It was just one of those days where everything was going in the hole, and it felt pretty good to see that."
DUBLIN, Ohio – Chris Riley played in the first group off the tee on Thursday at the Memorial Tournament. That 66 he shot held up as the lead after the morning wave, too.
Riley is one stroke ahead of Chris DiMarco and Josh Teater as the second wave begins in earnest. Rickie Fowler, who finished second here a year ago, heads a group of four shooting 68s that includes Matt Bettencourt and the veterans Steve Stricker and Rocco Mediate.
Another four players shot 68s in the morning, including Matt Kuchar, who finished second in the FedExCup last year. Meanwhile, the top two players in this year’s FedExCup had very different days -- No. 1 Bubba Watson shot 75 while Luke Donald turned things around with a string of four straight birdies on the way to a 70.
“The greens are soft and if you drive it in the fairway, the course is in such great shape you can make cuts,” Riley said. “I imagine there’s going to be a 6 or 7 under, another one. Par 5s are reachable.”
DUBLIN, Ohio – Chris Riley has never made the cut at the Memorial Tournament. In fact, he’d never broken par in six previous rounds at Muirfield Village.
But the same Chris Riley grabbed the clubhouse lead on Thursday with a round of 66 that included eight birdies – including a 4-footer on his final hole – and just two bogeys. The veteran hit 11 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens while using just 25 putts.
The round of 6 under matches his low on TOUR this year, shot three times, most recently in the first round of last week’s HP Byron Nelson Championship. Riley, who played in the first group off the 10th tee on Thursday, was two strokes ahead of D.A. Points, Steve Stricker and Rickie Fowler when he finished.
Riley’s best finish of the year came in his 2011 debut when he tied for ninth at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He hasn’t finished higher than 39th in 12 tournaments since so Thursday’s start is a welcome one.