Dublin, OH — Playing a Muirfield Village Golf Club course that may be as scoreable as in recent memory, Martin Kaymer, Kyoung-Hoon Lee and Troy Merritt all are tied atop the leaderboard halfway through the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
This is the first time three golfers have held the second-round lead at the event since 2004.
Of the trio, Kaymer has the most notoriety being a two-time major champion in addition to winning The PLAYERS Championship.
His most recent win, his 2014 U.S. Open triumph is approaching five years and Kaymer came into this tournament ranked 186th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
To put this result in context, Kaymer’s best result this season is a T26 at ISPS Handa Melbourne World Cup of Golf and that was an unofficial event. A T40 at last week’s Charles Schwab challenge would mark his official best on the 2018-19 campaign.
“My attitude became a little bit different over the last two or three months, more relaxed, more calm on the golf course,” he said. “I was trying to force it a little bit, the success, and obviously we all know in golf what happens. You try to pull back, but the frustration comes out because you work hard, everything is there, you just can’t get the scores on the scorecard. You don’t get the results. So you need to change something, and the change or the actual changes that you need to do is not to change. There’s nothing to do, and I tried to do something. I needed to pull myself out and that was a big thing for me.”
How did Kaymer get to this point today? He eliminated social media and watching unimportant television as well as unnecessary reading materials which he states makes him more aware and more conscious.
Kaymer had a bogey-free round going until finding the rough off the par-4 ninth tee, his last hole of the round. Prior to that, he had no blemishes on the scorecard for 27 consecutive holes. Kaymer ranked ninth in the second round in Strokes Gained: Approaching the Green at 2.499 which allowed him to maintain an advantage getting around Muirfield Village.
Despite the final-hole miscue, Kaymer has a real chance to get back into the winner’s circle and it would validate the hard work he has put in which got him to this point.
“You want to feel that excitement of playing one of the last groups,” said Kaymer. “Who knows what happens by Sunday afternoon, if I’m still up there or not, but I’m very pleased right now that I put myself in that position, especially with that summer coming up, knowing and proving to myself that I have it in me right now. I just need to play the game.”
Merritt is a two-time winner on the PGA TOUR winning the Quicken Loans National in 2015 and last year won the Barbasol Championship but had won the latter while dealing with a large blood clot that ran from his chest down to his left elbow.
As a result, Merritt could not really lift his arm off, but because he could still make a golf swing he played on. Ten days after winning the Barbasol Championship, Merritt could not lift his arm up and left arm was twice the size of its right counterpart, so he had to withdraw from the PGA Championship where he found out about the blood clot with the cause being thoracic outlet syndrome which is more common with Major League Baseball pitchers.
“I played all last fall on blood thinners and a compression sleeve,” Merritt said. “This past January I decided to have the rib taken out so I didn’t have to be on the blood thinners anymore. I would say I’m in far worse shape overall than before I had the surgery done. Right now it’s just trying to get the body back into playing every day again on PGA courses, and it’s taken longer than I want. I’m not very good being regimented on taking pills once or twice a day, and now I don’t have to worry about it.”
Merritt did state that mentally it has freed his golf swing a little bit more and his tempo has improved.
All of that has translated into a share for the lead in a second round which featured an eagle and six birdies and a 6-under par 66 while leading the field in Strokes Gained: Tee To Green (9.819) and Strokes Gained: Approach the Green (6.369).
“If you told me when I started out I was going to shoot 66, I wouldn’t have teed it up, I would take 66 any day on this golf course,” said Merritt. “I struck it really, really well. Just sloppy on 14 and accidentally nuked a 6-iron on 16, and missed some putts coming in; otherwise, it could have been in the low 60s. I joked with my caddie, I’ve never shot anything between 6-under and 10-under, it’s going to be 6-under or 10-under, and today it was 6-under.”
Lee’s story is an interesting as he is a first-year PGA TOUR member as he did not start playing golf until age 13.
The reason for this new passion was a unique one.
“I try a little diet before, too fat,” he said. “I think summertime try to sweat a little bit.”
It took two-to-three years for him to turn his interest of losing weight into becoming good at golf.
What got him glued to the sport was seeing his ball fly through the air for a long time which he thought was “awesome”.
By virtue of his early pairing and 5-under par 67 during which he hit 17-of-18 greens, Lee will be in Saturday’s final group with Merritt.
“Today was an awesome day,” Lee said. “(Hit) tee shots well, irons and putting well. I just last one a little bit struggle on tee shot. But I don’t want to bogey.”
Were Lee to win at weekend’s end, he would be the third Korean-born player to win on TOUR in the last four weeks (Sung Kang, Kevin Na).
One shot back of this trio is Jordan Spieth who shot a two-under par round of 70. He is making his 45th TOUR start since his last win, the 2017 Open Championship.
“I probably shot the highest score I could have shot today, with where I was tee to green,” said Spieth. “It felt really good. Continue to trust it. Give myself as many looks as possible, don’t force them into the pins, rely on the mid-range game with the putter and more will go in.”
Five golfers are an additional shot behind the lead.
Bud Cauley was in the lead for a short while and his story is one which has many fans pulling for him but he had a couple of hiccups while shooting a two-under par 70 Friday.
“I putted well, which is nice,” Cauley said. “I’ve made a lot of good par putts, converted most of the good birdie putts I had. Yesterday I drove it well and today I kept missing it a little bit right. But I didn’t hit anything too crazy off line, so I think I can get it figured out and hopefully hit some more fairways this weekend.”
Patrick Cantlay finds himself back in contention at Muirfield Village after his three-under par 69 which has him in the logjam for fifth place.
“It is just feeling comfortable where you need to leave the golf ball, where you need to hit shots,” said Cantlay. “There’s a lot of hole locations out here that you need to know where to feed the ball in from. It is almost second nature now.”
Emiliano Grillo also loves playing in Dublin as he has given himself a chance to win once again.
“Every time I come here, I can see the breaks a bit easier than most of the other courses,” Grillo explained. “I always liked it here, everything is perfect. For me every time I step in Muirfield Village something clicks.”
A year ago Adam Scott was enough out of sorts, that he was debating whether or not it was worth trying to go through sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open. He did out of pride and not coincidentally his game picked backup shortly after.
Now, he also has a real shot of winning in Ohio once again.
“It wasn’t like I was just playing horrible, but I just really couldn’t get anything to go my way,” said Scott. “If I did something good, the other part of my game was ordinary. I guess that had gone on for a while and it takes its toll on the brain. My short game was very good today. I just wasn’t quite on yesterday, didn’t have a feel for the ball yesterday. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t right there on my lines all the time and I was a bit better today. A few poor shots I scrambled really well.”
Rickie Fowler is looking to get back into the form which allowed him to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open and his current placement allows him to do just that. Fowler has twice been a runner up at this event.
“I am working on a few things to get back to where I was earlier this year,” Fowler said. “Nice to see some work come together this week. I was able to get a good amount of work in the last few days, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, leading up to starting here. It’s still a work in progress, but being in a place that I’ve had success, played well at, I like our chances where we’re at heading into the weekend.”
Tiger Woods’s second round picked up on the back nine and he got to four-under par, but was done in by the par-5 15th hole which he double bogeyed. Still he made the cut for the 17th time in as many Memorial Tournament starts.
First-round leader Ryan Moore shot a three-over par 75 and is at -4, five shots off the lead.
The cut this year was 1-over par, a number which held through the entire day. A total of 73 golfers will play the weekend.
Several notables will not be playing the weekend. Among those whose stays were cut in half were Rory McIlroy (+2), Matt Kuchar (+3), Jason Day (+5), Justin Thomas (+7) and Tony Finau (+7).
Hank Haney’s remarks on the U.S. Women’s Open this week have drawn plenty of fire across the golf community and Sirius XM in coordination with the PGA TOUR released a statement announcing a suspension. Haney has since offered multiple apologies.
“He deserved it,” Woods said. “Just can’t look at life like that, and he obviously said what he meant, and he got what he deserved.”
His playing partner Justin Rose shot his lowest-ever round at Muirfield Village with his 9-under par 63, a feat which says a lot given he has won the event and twice been a runner up.
“I came out today with the intention of not just trying to making the cut, but trying to play a round that would get me into the tournament,” said Rose. “I was thinking about how I could turn in 31 today and then see if I can keep it going from there.”
The second round average at the Memorial Tournament was 71.75. The morning wave averaged a 71.15 and in the afternoon a mean of 72.38 proved to be the final outcome… Shubhankar Sharma holed a 2-iron from 250 yards out on the par-5 fifth hole which went in for the hole’s first-ever albatross. It is the fifth albatross on the season and came on the tournament’s easiest hole, the par-4 18th hole has played toughest both days… Jason Kokrak is currently tied for 55th and has now made the cut for a PGA TOUR-leading 23rd consecutive time. He last missed a cut at the 2018 Open Championship. As was the case Thursday, there were three bogey-free rounds with Lee’s 67 joining Brian Stuard (65) and Kevin Streelman (68).
Chris Pohl also contributed to this report