Daily Wrap-up: Round 1, the Memorial Tournament

June 02, 2011
Staff and wire reports

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Rory McIlroy only gets to play three regular PGA TOUR events this year. He showed Thursday why the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance was one of them.


On a Muirfield Village course that already ranks among his favorites, McIlroy had a birdie putt on his last eight holes and converted half of them on his way to a 6-under 66 to join Chris Riley in the lead after the first round.

McIlroy hit the ball so pure that he shot 32 on the front nine despite missing three birdie putts inside 8 feet.

"A great way to start the tournament," McIlroy said.

The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland narrowly made the cut at Wentworth in the BMW PGA Championship and wound up in a tie for 24th. Asked the difference between last week and this week, he replied, "It's about 30 degrees warmer."

A tournament known for its sloppy weather has been spectacular, and it showed in the scoring on a well-manicured course.

Chris DiMarco and Josh Teater were at 67, followed by a large group at 68 that included Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Stewart Cink and Rickie Fowler, the runner-up at the Memorial last year.

Fifty-one players in the 120-man field broke par.

Luke Donald, in his debut as the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, recovered from a slow start by making four straight birdies toward the end of his round for a 70. He played with Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and four-time major champion Phil Mickelson, who each had a 72. Mickelson did that without making a single birdie on the par 5s.

Riley was in the first group to play in the morning and relied heavily on his putter to take advantage of the smooth greens, although scoring conditions were not much different in the afternoon.

"The less I think, the better I play," Riley said. "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."

This is the last tournament for McIlroy before the U.S. Open, a chance for the No. 6 player in the world to atone for his 80 in the final round that cost him a chance to win the Masters. That collapse hasn't stayed with him long. He was third the next week in Malaysia, and while he missed the cut while defending his title at Quail Hollow, he reached the quarterfinals of the World Match Play in Spain.

And now, the U.S. Open beckons -- along with a chance to win on another stronger course in America.

"This is one of my favorite weeks of the year, one of my favorite 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 (Firestone) and Quail Hollow. And I'm swinging well, I'm hitting it good and I'm holing a few putts. Hopefully, I can keep it going for the next three days."

McIlroy likes to play the game through the air, the brand of golf most often seen in America.

But he doesn't get out as often.

By giving up his PGA TOUR membership, he is allowed to play only 10 tournaments. That includes the four majors and three World Golf Championships events, with THE PLAYERS Championship not counting against his number -- although McIlroy chose not to play this year.

And that's probably not going to change soon.

Shot of the Day

Dustin Johnson holes a 51 foot chip on the Kodak Challenge hole.

"Even if I did win, I still probably wouldn't take my card up," McIlroy said. "As a European and playing in some European events over the summer, like the French Open and the Irish Open, we have a very busy summer of golf. And I felt like after the PGA last year at Whistling Straits, I wanted to take a couple of weeks off just to refresh. You couldn't really do it. You had a week off and then straight to the (FedExCup) playoffs. It was a lot of golf over a short period of time."

There's a lot of golf left in this tournament, as McIlroy knows well. And there are plenty of players behind him.

Riley, Teater and DiMarco, who all played in the morning, are all ranked out of the top 250 in the world. Fowler is off to a slow start this year, but he looks right at home at the Memorial. Stricker has never had a top 10 at Muirfield Village in 11 tries, a strange statistic he would like to change. And then there's Johnson, who feels his game is about where it was last summer, when he nearly won two majors.

Donald has nine consecutive top 10s and is off to a solid start. For the 33-year-old from England, it felt slightly different from other tournaments, just because of the ranking attached to his name.

"It feels good," Donald said. "I'm excited to be there and looking forward to the challenges. I heard a few 'No. 1' shouts and stuff like that, so you feed off that."

Muirfield Village: Thursday
The par-5 7th hole was the easiest with a Thursday scoring average of 4.483.
The par-4 18th hole was the toughest with a Thursday scoring average of 4.466.
About the leaders
• Rory McIlroy, the Northern Ireland native, shot the low round of the afternoon tee times with a 6-under-par 66. McIlroy has now played five stroke-play events in the United States in 2011. His first-round scoring average in these five events is 69.4.
• McIlroy finished T10 in 2010 in his only previous appearance at the Memorial.
• McIlroy has led or shared the first-round lead in two previous PGA TOUR events, both major championships (2011 Masters -- finished T15, 2010 British Open finished T3).
• Following this event, McIlroy will be going to Haiti on a tour with UNICEF for charity work for a few days before heading to Congressional to prepare for the U.S. Open. McIlroy joined UNICEF as an ambassador in 2011. "You want to associate yourself with a charity that you feel close to, and UNICEF works with mainly children charities, and I feel like I'm the sort of age that I can relate to the younger people. I don't just want to really put my name to it. I wanted to do something, and they were very keen for me to go and see where they're sort of hands on and they're working with," McIlroy said in his post-round press conference.
• Chris Riley is looking for his first top-10 finish since opening the season at the Sony Open in Hawaii with a T9. Riley has 13 rounds under par in 2011, seven of them have come in the first round. Riley ranks 24th in first-round scoring average this year with a 70.23 average, but ranks 162nd, 130th and 158th in 2nd, 3rd and 4th round scoring average, respectively.
• Riley, making his first start at the Memorial since 2002, has yet to make a cut at the Memorial in three previous tries and Thursday's round of 66 was the first time in seven attempts that he has broken par.
• The last time Riley held or shared a first-round lead was the 2006 PGA Championship. The last time Riley led following any round on the PGA TOUR was the third round of the 2009 Wyndham Championship.
• Riley, who won the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2002, had consistent success on the PGA TOUR from 1999-2004, including 2003 when he finished in the top-10 seven times. During that stretch from 1999-2004 (166 events), Riley compiled 26 top-10s. Since the end of the 2004 season, Riley has played in 145 events and has a total of seven top-10 finishes.

DIVOTS: Nick Watney, the No. 15 player in the world, had to withdraw because of an illness. He was replaced by Kevin Stadler, who didn't bring his regular caddie with him fearing he might not get in. Stadler turned to Rich Schlaack, who once caddied for Bob Estes and Steve Flesch until retiring years ago. "I'll lose 20 pounds by the weekend," Schlaack said. ... The tournament is down to 118 players because Derek Lamely withdrew after he was 10 over through 12 holes, and Joost Luiten of the Netherlands was disqualified. ... Kenny Perry, a three-time winner at the Memorial, was among four players who shots in the 80s.