The PGA’s Deep Field Traded Leads at Muirfield Village
After two weather delays, including one after his drive with a two shot lead on the eighteenth hole, Jason Dufner emerged from a confusing pack on Sunday to win the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village.
Dufner was off the fairway to the right, with bunkers to clear, trees to avoid, and over 200 yards remaining when the horn blew for a second time. He had bogeyed 18 twice in his previous three rounds. Fowler was well down the fairway to the left side, with a good path to the green on a hole he has birdied twice in his three rounds. The two were separated by two shots, with Dufner at -13 and Fowler at -11. There were four golfers behind him, including Daniel Summerhays who stood the best chance of the other competitors to come back.
This year’s Memorial has been marked by players surrendering lead after lead. Part of this is the crazy Sunday weather that prompted a pair of delays, but part of it is that the golfers involved tend to get wildly different results from round to round.
Jason Dufner came into the weekend at -14. With two straight 65s, it looked like the tournament would be a walk for him. He turned in a +5 77 on Saturday in the last group, watching as his playing partner Daniel Summerhays took the lead from him.
Rickie Fowler had a chance or two, holding the lead at multiple points on Sunday. The man with the flat brim was striking the ball with authority, launching drives consistently, but he went long a couple of times on the back nine to give Dufner the opening he needed.
Justin Thomas got close more than once. He started the final round within striking distance of the lead. During the back nine, he was always within one or two strokes. However, he missed a short birdie putt at 13. After that, he missed another makeable birdie at 14. The par 5 15th saw him settle for a par. On 16, he flew the green and found the sand. He had his opportunities, but Thomas couldn’t convert, and it seemed to get into his head after that.
Bubba Watson had the lead at the turn on Sunday. He too faded on the back nine, going from the lead to two strokes back at 16 where he too found the bunker. He took a bogey on the hole.
Daniel Summerhays started the final round with a lead. He carded a double bogey almost immediately, and fought an up-and-down round all day.
Starting Sunday at -9, Dufner had a strong front nine to stay in the hunt. After some rain, he was able to take advantage of a soggy back nine to come into the final stretch of holes with a lead. Dufner headed into the final hole of the tournament with a two stroke lead at -13, but now he had a difficult shot from the rough to contend with. Also: A prolonged amount of time to think about it, and about his playing partner in the fairway.
While Dufner has won a major before, having lifted the PGA Championship’s Wannamaker Trophy, he has not been a regular in contention in recent years. He has won one other tournament since that 2013 PGA: The CareerBuilder Challenge in January, 2016. At 40, he’s certainly not a part of the young crop of golfers that have taken over the tour, and inconsistent play has taken him out of the mix on many weekends. This time around, at Muirfield Village, Dufner got things together. Twin 65s on Thursday and Friday, capped by a hole-out eagle on 18 on Friday, showed that he still has the ability to turn it on and drive himself into position to win a tournament on the right week.
Chasing him was Fowler, who is himself no stranger to inconsistency. Rickie Fowler is one of the longest hitters on Tour, and he’s one of the most talented players as well. At times, though, his ability to close out tournaments has been lacking. As he looks to take the next step as a pro, he needs to start finishing strong.
Summerhays is another of many up-and-comers on tour, but he has yet to win. If this tournament demonstrates one thing, it’s that winning a professional golf tournament is ridiculously difficult. Summerhays had his opportunities to seize control of the tournament, but weather and inconsistency left him short
This can be seen as both a tribute to Jack Nicklaus the golfer and Nicklaus the course designer. Muirfield Village has shown an entertaining side, where players like Dufner have carded some low scores over the week, but over the weekend it showed some teeth. Between Saturday and Sunday, the leader of the tournament has been +1. Narrow drives and difficult rough are making it hard to pros to find the green in regulation, and Muirfield Village’s famous finishing stretch is really showing its teeth.
Fewer than ten golfers on Sunday were able to put the ball on the green off the tee.
It all speaks to the consistency needed to win as many tournaments as Nicklaus won. In the days leading up to The Memorial, we have been talking a lot about the other all-time golf legend, the one who was supposed to pass Jack for golf’s most hallowed record. At 41, Tiger Woods’ future in golf is murky and will require healing and time he may or may not have. Nicklaus stayed at the top of golf beyond that. Well beyond that. It leads one to wonder why we thought it would be inevitable that Jack would be passed.
We never really stopped back then to ask ourselves if Jack’s record really could be beaten that easily. Certainly, it looked like it would be inevitable, at least at the time, but the amount of time on top was wildly underestimated. It may have felt back then that Jack had already surrendered his crown, but here he remains, and here his tournament remains.
This new crowd I’m always raving about? They may be built in Tiger’s image, but they have a long way to go if any of them want to be Jack.