Geoff Ogilvy felt as though he made more putts in one round at the Memorial than he had in the last month. One little miss that cost him the outright lead Thursday sure wasn’t going to spoil his day.
On greens that were fast and pure despite two rain delays at Muirfield Village, Ogilvy rolled in eight birdie putts to take the lead, only to fall into a three-way tie when he stepped over a 30-inch par putt and watched it spin out of the cup on his 17th hole.
No matter. He still shot a 7-under 65, his best start of the year, and shared the lead with 21-year-old Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose, who made most of his birdies after the 2-hour rain delay in the morning.
“I putted very well,” Ogilvy said with a wry smile before adding, “except for one little blip.”
They were two shots ahead of a large group that included Phil Mickelson, who can go to No. 1 in the world with a victory on the course Jack Nicklaus built, as long as Tiger Woods isn’t among the top four.
Woods, the defending champion, will be playing again Friday with the cut in question.
He looked ordinary through most of the afternoon, failing to make birdie on any of the par 5s in a round of 72. Beyond a few errant tee shots, he was off by some 30 and 40 feet with wedges in his hand on several holes.
“They’re perfect sand wedge numbers, but I can’t hit a sand wedge because it’s going to rip (spin),” Woods said. “I had to hit little wedges and I don’t have the feel for it yet. I hit terrible shots. That’s just the way it goes.”
It was the first time since 2004 that he failed to break par at the Memorial, which he has won four times.
Mickelson has never come particularly close to winning the Memorial, although it is among those he would dearly love to win. Nicklaus even joked with him Wednesday that a golfer’s resume is not complete without a victory at Muirfield Village, spinning a phrase that Bobby Jones once said about St. Andrews.
“I told Jack yesterday it would really mean a lot to me to win his tournament,” Mickelson said. “This golf course is wonderful.”
Mickelson played bogey-free for his 67, a refreshing change from last week when he missed the cut at the Colonial. He made up ground toward the end of his round with two simple birdies on the par 5s at No. 5 and No. 7, sandwiched around a 10-foot birdie on the sixth.
“The soft greens allow you to attack a lot of the pins,” Mickelson said. “It played a lot longer because the ball wasn’t rolling. It was a very fun day and a lot of good scoring today.”
Rose began pouring it birdies not long after a downpour that soaked the course. He birdied six of his last 10 holes to get his name atop the leaderboard, and no one could catch him until the afternoon.
First came Fowler and a blazing stretch of holes on the front nine. After a bogey on the third, Fowler ran off three straight birdies, then holed a wedge for eagle on the par-5 seventh and birdied the eighth hole to get into the mix.
Then it was Ogilvy’s turn.
He finished the back nine with a birdie on the 18th, where the pin was cut in the front of the green. On his next hole, from a deep bunker right of the fairway, he hit 8-iron to a back pin, 12 feet away for what he called his best birdie of the day.
There were a lot of them.
“It was nice to hole the putts,” Ogilvy said. “If anything has been missing from my game the last month or two it’s been poor putting.”
Ogilvy noticed the low scores when he arrived at the course. Along with Rose at 65, Mickelson was joined by Andres Romero of Argentina, Rory Sabbatini and Michael Letzig, who last year played the final round with Woods and saw his 65 to win.
“It was definitely a day to make some birdies,” Ogilvy said. “You want to take advantage of a day like today because this course generally won’t get any easier during the week. It does give you a few chances, and it’s nice to take them, for sure.”
As for that little miss?
“Just one of those things,” he shrugged. “It happens to you two or three times a year.”
It happened on the par-3 eighth, when Ogilvy was at 8 under and had a birdie putt just inside 15 feet. He ran it 30 inches by the cup, and without marking the ball, stepped over it and saw it spin in and out of hole.
“It’s easier when you miss a 2-foot and it takes you back to 7 under,” he said.
Woods could have gone either way.
He went long of the first green for a bogey, and dropped another shot on the sixth when his approach from the left rough hit a sprinkler just short of the green and bounced over the putting surface and into the gallery.
Consecutive birdies around the turn brought him back to even as he headed to the par-5 11th, but with a wedge in hand, he went some 40 feet beyond the pin and had to make a 5-foot putt for par. He didn’t make birdie the rest of the day, and didn’t have that many good chances at them.
“If I take care of the par 5s, I’m right there,” he said.