Ross: Leaders need a tough chin to win prized fight at the Memorial Tournament

June 01, 2013
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

DUBLIN, Ohio -- If Matt Kuchar or Kevin Chappell or Kyle Stanley is looking for some light reading on Saturday night, they'd be well-advised to take a page from Dr. Bob Rotella's book, "Golf Is Not A Game of Perfect."


Not when the brutal winds are swirling and gusting to nearly 35 mph. Not when faced with sloping greens that approach 14 on the Stimpmeter, lush Bluegrass rough and 18 of the most challenging holes in Jack Nicklaus' architectural digest.

Not perfect at all.

"Conditions like this, you've got to be hitting it in the sweet spot just to have a chance," Matt Kuchar said.

Fortunately for Kuchar, he was on Saturday. That's why he's 8 under and leading the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance by two strokes over Stanley and Chappell.

But you have to look no further than the world's No. 1 player to see how quickly things can go wrong. The 79 Tiger Woods shot on the windswept Saturday tied for the second-highest round of his PGA TOUR career as a professional -- and included a 44 on his first nine that included two double bogeys and a triple bogey.

If it can happen to the man many believe will go down in history as the best to ever play this game, watch out.

"Golf is a fickle game," Kuchar said. "I think everybody that's ever played the game has those days where I think they've got it and then the next day they don't know where it went.

"Conditions like this, I think even if you feel like you've got it, (it's) pretty easy for the round to get away from you."

Granted, the winds are expected to moderate slightly for Sunday's final round after a cold front blows through overnight and brings with it the potential for heavy rain and hail. Whether the impending wet stuff takes some of the fire out of the greens remains to be seen.

One thing's for certain, though. The pressure will be on, and Muirfield Village Golf Club is a stern test in the best of conditions, which these certainly haven't been this week.

"I don't know what the average score would be today, but I think this course is challenging without wind,” Kuchar said. "But with this much wind, it's got to be one of the tougher conditions we've played."

For the record, that score Kuchar mentioned was 73.603. Maybe that's why overnight leader Bill Haas didn't feel like he played "all that bad" despite shooting a 76 that left him three strokes behind Kuchar. Ditto for Stanley, who shot 73 but was pleased with the way he hung in -- "It was probably as good as it could be," he said.

If a few more putts fall on Sunday, who knows?

"I don't have to be perfect tomorrow, but I've got to be pretty good," Haas said.

And patient, too. Particularly when the wind gusts and even the best-struck shots don't end up where they were originally headed -- like that 7-iron Chappell hit at the eighth hole Saturday that landed in the bunker 20 yards short of the green.

"I kept saying, ‘Wow, this is tough out here," he recalled. "You hit a good shot and end up in a bad spot. What can I do? ... You've got to just keep doing it, put one foot in front of the other and finish each hole."

But was Chappell enjoying the challenge on Saturday? After all, the 68 he shot tied for the day's low round and left him in contention for his first TOUR win in just his 77th start.

"I guess it's like a prize fighter, he enjoys winning, but I don't know if he enjoys getting hit that much," Chappell said with a smile.

Kuchar hasn't been taking too many punches of late, though.

In fact, he delivered a big one in the title tilt of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship when Kuchar beat Hunter Mahan and picked up his fifth PGA TOUR win. He's one of just two players in the top 10 on the leaderboard with a victory this year, and he's four strokes ahead of the other, Masters champion Adam Scott.

There was a time, though, when Kuchar thought Muirfield Village was a bomber's paradise, and he ranks a distant 115th in driving distance. Over time, though, he's learned the course takes a more cerebral approach, not unlike its creator, and Kuchar hasn't finished lower than 13th in the last five Memorials, including a tie for second last year.

Will this be the year Kuchar finally wins?

He's certainly doing a lot of things right this week -- he's ranked eighth in greens in regulation and once he gets there, second in strokes-gained putting and first in the distance those putts cover. He shot four rounds in the 60s last week at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and finished second, too, so to see him at the top of another leaderboard is hardly a shock.

"I feel really confident," Kuchar said. "I had some good stuff going on last week, carrying into this week. It's nice to keep it going and to have another chance to win late on Sunday will be fun."