Van Pelt, Mat­suyama tied; Woods nine be­hind

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

Hideki Mat­suyama was brac­ing for a rough day at the Me­mo­rial and wound up with a share of the lead Thurs­day.

Tiger Woods still doesn’t know what to ex­pect.

Mat­suyama made a bold start in his bid to join Woods as the only re­peat win­ners at Muir­field Vil­lage by run­ning off four straight birdies on the back nine and one strong par save on his way to an 8-un­der 64 that tied the Ja­panese star with Bo Van Pelt.

“To be hon­est with you, up un­til yes­ter­day I was not hit­ting the ball very well, I was not chip­ping very well, I was not putting very well,” Mat­suyama said through a trans­la­tor. “And I don’t know what hap­pened overnight. We just caught magic.”

It was a dream start for Van Pelt for other rea­sons. He grew up across the state line in In­di­ana and used to play hooky from school to at­tend the Me­mo­rial from the time he was 10 un­til he got out of high school. Muir­field Vil­lage is where he first dreamed about play­ing the PGA Tour. In calm con­di­tions un­der an over­cast sky, Van Pelt made a ca­reer- best 10 birdies for his best score in 41 rounds at the course Jack Nick­laus built.

“Other than the Masters, this tour­na­ment means more to me than any one I’ve ever played,” Van Pelt said. “So it’s al­ways good to play well around a place that means a lot to you.”

Woods, a five- time win­ner of the Me­mo­rial, wasn’t sure what he was go­ing to get. He hooked his tee shot and started with a bo­gey for the eighth time in his last nine starts on the PGA Tour. He went so far right off the tee at the 18th that it went out- of­bounds ( the next tee shot wasn’t much bet­ter) and made dou­ble bo­gey to go out in 40. He hooked his 3- wood on the first hole. It was look­ing like an­other big num­ber.

In­stead, Woods bat­tled to save pars and con­vert birdies, and he sal­vaged a 73 that left him nine shots be­hind.

“Phys­i­cally, I feel good. Men­tally, I feel beat up,” Woods said. “To turn that round around like I did to­day ... that was hard.”

He was determined to stick with the changes he is mak­ing to his swing un­der a fourth coach as a pro, no mat­ter how long it takes. Con­sid­er­ing he hasn’t had a top 10 in his last 13 events dat­ing to the end of 2013, this could take time.

“I was just try­ing to stay com­mit­ted to what we’re work­ing on, to what we’re do­ing,” he said. “I hit it aw­ful, yeah. So what? I was go­ing to go through this phase and stick with it, keep stick­ing with it. And some of the shots I hit were re­ally, re­ally good. But then I also had some re­ally bad shots, too. And we need to work on that.”

Mat­suyama won the Me­mo­rial last year in a play­off. It was his first win in Amer­ica and val­i­dated him as one of the many ris­ing stars in golf.

He said ev­ery course on the PGA Tour feels dif­fi­cult to him, and even when he made a pair of 15- foot birdie putts on his way to a 32 on the front nine while play­ing with Phil Mick­el­son ( 72) and Rickie Fowler ( 72), he wasn’t com­fort­able.

“I was just try­ing to hang on,” he said.

So was Ja­son Dufner, the for­mer PGA cham­pion, whose tied for eighth last week at the AT& T By­ron Nel­son ended a stretch of 17 events on Amer­i­can soil with­out a top 10. He was tied for the lead af­ter mak­ing a 60- foot ea­gle putt on the 15th hole and was still poised to join Mat­suyama and Van Pelt at 64 un­til he pulled his tee shot into the wa­ter on the 18th and closed with a dou­ble bo­gey.

That put him at 66, along with Rus­sell Knox, who fed his putts off the ridges beau­ti­fully in mak­ing seven birdies.

Har­ris English and Kevin Kis­ner were among those at 67. Masters cham­pion Jor­dan Spi­eth, who saved the start of his round with a world- class short game, was cruis­ing along un­til one mis­take turned a birdie into a bo­gey on the par- 5 sev­enth late in his round. He had to set­tle for a 68.

English ( No. 70 in the world) and Kis­ner ( No. 61) each have a chance to do well enough at the Me­mo­rial to avoid U. S. Open qual­i­fy­ing next week. An­other im­por­tant start be­longed to Pa­trick Rodgers, who has his last chance to gain spe­cial tem­po­rary membership on the PGA Tour.

Woods grabbed the most at­ten­tion for two rea­sons. He’s Tiger Woods, still enough to at­tract the big­gest gallery. And there re­mains a mys­tery about the game of a 79- time PGA Tour win­ner who has plunged to No. 172 in the world.

Most in­trigu­ing about his as­sess­ment of Thurs­day’s round was a stub­born­ness to see the changes to a con­clu­sion, no mat­ter how long that takes. Pre­vi­ous changes have taken as long as 18 months for Woods to fig­ure it out. Time is no longer on his side, how­ever, not at his age and with five surg­eries be­hind him.

“I’ve gone through phases like this, rounds like this, where yeah, it’s easy to revert back and go ahead and hit some old pat­tern,” he said. “But it doesn’t do you any good go­ing for­ward. And I’ve done it. Some­times it’s taken me about a year and then it kicked in and I did pretty good af­ter that. ... If you be­lieve in it, do it. And even­tu­ally it will start turn­ing.

“And when it turns, I’ve had pe­ri­ods where I’ve played good for four or five years, where I’ve won close to 20 tour­na­ments in that stretch.”

AP

Tiger Woods hits on the 13th hole dur­ing the first round of the Me­mo­rial golf tour­na­ment, in Dublin, Ohio on Thurs­day, June 4.

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