Donald works his art on Jack’s greens for leadDUBLIN, Ohio – Jack Nicklaus – founder and host of the Memorial Tournament and builder of the pristine Muirfield Village Golf Club, a work – had sunk back into warm coziness of a soft green leather couch in the players lounge in the clubhouse, when suddenly he lightened and sat up and grinned.
“Hey, nice playing,” Nicklaus said, reaching out to shake hands.
It was Luke Donald, age 31 but still the boyish Englishman, who was on the premises for an unusual amount of time for a guy who had led off the first round at 7:30 a.m. Donald said thanks and maybe mumbled something. Leading the Memorial was one thing, running into Jack Nicklaus, and having him come to his feet for you -- was another.
“You like to putt these little greens?” Nicklaus said. Just a little humor. Donald had just thumped his course for a 64, good for a three-shot lead. But that was no big deal. The course record is 61.
The other thing was the big deal. Donald usually does a work of art with a brush and oils. He’s an art graduate of Northwestern. Thursday, he used a putter. The work could be hung in the Guggenheim and titled, “Muirfield Village greens, begging for mercy.” He needed only an absurd 20 putts, breaking the previ
ous record by one. Donald was already No. 1 in putting on the PGA Tour for this season, coming in averaging 1.697 putts per hole. He averaged 1.111 for this round. If it gets down 1.0, someone calls the CIA.
Donald’s 64 was his best round ever in six Memorials, and by four shots. He started it with a bogey on the first hole.
“I guess all good rounds start with a bogey,” Donald said. He got that back by holing out a 48-yard wedge shot for a birdie at No. 2. “It was,” he added, “just kind of a normal, everyday round until I got to the eighth.”
At No. 8, he holed a 15-foot putt. Then a 10-footer at No. 9. Like a horse sensing the barn, he dropped a 25-footer at the 10th, then a 12-footer, a 6-footer-an 8-footer.
A streak is just a series of back-to-back scores, but at some point, even the most cold-minded golfer has got to realize that he’s on what’s called a hot streak, a streak that quickens the heartbeat. At one point did Donald realize he was on this streak?
“Probably 14,” he said, grinning, “when I hit it left, in the water.”
That’s the mean par-4 with the reachable stream running across the front. Donald saved par – you could almost count that as a birdie -- then birdied the 15th from a foot and the 16th from 20. Donald had a record 12 one-putt greens.
There20was a similar scorched-green performance in the Memorial, back in 1978. A tour journeyman with bad eyesight, the late Jim Simons, closed with a 68 and against all odds won the tournament. When Donald was putting for birdies and streaking off with the lead, Simons was putting for his life. In the final round, he had 11 one-putt greens, then the record. With the class of the tour bearing down on him, he saved par seven times, and five of those times in the final seven holes.
Donald had finished early, and the rest of the field was left to look at the scoreboard all day and wonder what Donald had had for breakfast.
Jason Day, the young Aussie of promise, was threatening Donald, getting to 7 under at the 15th. But he faded to two closing bogeys and tied Jim Furyk, Ted Purdy and Tom Aiken at 67. Tiger Woods, a three-time winner, finally got his driver to behave. He hit every fairway, till the 18th, and there made his second bogey of the day and shot 69, five off the lead.
Others had more adventuresome days. Jim Driscoll, for one. He might be on the leaderboard, except for two holes. He double-bogeyed the par-5 fifth, and at the par-4 13th, he hit two tee balls out of bounds, needed a penalty shot on his third one and ended up with a 10. The way things were going for Brad Faxon, he was lucky to finish 119th out of the 120 starters. From No. 9, he went bogey-double bogey-bogey-tripl
e bogey and went on to an 83.
Donald, meanwhile, whiled away the long day,
perhaps to consider how to avoid the intoxication of the streak.
“You try not to get caught up in it too much,” he said. “You just try and focus on every shot as it comes. Obviously, it’s in the back of your mind that you’re making a good run, and you want to keep that going. Really, it’s about staying in the present.”
Nicklaus gave him another handshake and a grin.
“Sending the bulldozers out to the greens, Jack?” someone said.
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