Charl Schwartzel made 10 birdies—including five on his last six holes—en route to a seven-under 65 in Round 1 of the Memorial Tournament on Thursday at Muirfield Village Golf Club. That gave the past Masters champion a one-shot lead over Scott Piercy.
It marked yet another strong opening 18 holes for Schwartzel, which has been a pleasing trend for the South African in 2013, as ESPN's Justin Ray alludes to:
Defending champion Tiger Woods had a rollercoaster afternoon, shooting a round of 71 to sit six strokes off the pace.
Below is a look at those most prominently in the hunt after the first day of action in Dublin, Ohio. For complete scores, visit PGA.com.
|1||Charl Schwartzel ||-7|
|2||Scott Piercy ||-6|
|T3||Josh Teater ||-5|
|T3||Russell Henley ||-5|
|T3||Kyle Stanley ||-5|
|T3||Charlie Wi ||-5|
|T7||Bill Haas ||-4|
|T7||Matt Kuchar ||-4|
|T9||Robert Karlsson ||-3|
Note: All statistics and video are courtesy of PGATour.com.
Schwartzel got off to a hot start at the HP Byron Nelson Championship two starts ago with a seven-under round and wound up finishing third, but missed the cut at the Crowne Plaza Invitational.
Whatever went wrong for Schwartzel last week was quickly remedied.
The sweet-swinging South African started on the second nine alongside fellow major winners Adam Scott and Ernie Els, who both were off their games in posting 73's.
A three-putt bogey from roughly six feet on the par-four 13th defined an inauspicious even-par through four holes, but Schwartzel found his groove shortly thereafter. With birdies on Nos. 14-17, he was surging up the leaderboard in the morning wave.
To get on that type of run, some luck is involved along with an incredible amount of skill. When making putts of over 20 feet, it's always a bonus, which is what Schwartzel did on the 16th—the hardest par-three on the PGA Tour in 2012:
A second run of four straight birdies commenced at another par-three, No. 4:
Schwartzel's final par-three of the day wasn't as kind, as he encountered a massive speed bump at No. 8. He bladed a bunker shot after airmailing the green with an eight-iron, and then failed to get up and down.
That double bogey didn't discourage Schwartzel too much, because he holed out from 13 feet at No. 9 to get back to minus-seven.
Piercy started off with a rocky, closing with his second bogey on the front nine on No. 18. But on the back nine, he rattled off five consecutive birdies of his own to finish strong with a six-under 66.
Rick Young of ScoreGolf.com wasn't shocked at how well Piercy played, since his game is ideal for the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout:
Let's take a gander at the other golfers who are making headlines for a variety of reasons at the Memorial, including the notable struggle of one of the world's premier players.
Rory McIlroy Implodes
The second-ranked player in the world certainly didn't play like it, and it's likely to result in him missing the cut.
Beginning on the back nine, things looked promising with a birdie on the par-four 10th, but McIlroy was out of sync from there, managing only a six-over round of 78.
In the midst of his horrible performance, Golf Channel's Jason Sobel reminded the Twitterverse that the Northern Irishman endured similar struggles here last season, and it didn't ultimately doom him:
After a slump in the middle of 2012, the 24-year-old went on to win both major-tour money lists and the PGA Championship by eight strokes.
Nevertheless, it was an ugly display from McIlroy, particularly on the greens, where he averaged more than two putts per hole. The low point was a four-putt for double bogey on the intimidating par-three 12th hole.
McIlroy can't seem to get any traction on the greens even with a switch from the Nike Method putter to his old, trusty Scotty Cameron. There weren't any positive signs Thursday, but McIlroy can take solace in the fact that he's bounced back in a big way from similarly poor form before.
Tianlang Guan Continuing Prodigious Run
The 14-year-old Chinese sensation won't go away. After bursting onto the scene as the low amateur at The Masters, Tianlang Guan is continuing to pick up PGA Tour event invitations—and capitalizing on them.
Guan bounced back from a missed cut in his last appearance at the Byron Nelson Championship to fire a respectable even-par 72, nearly matching the total put up by the top-ranked, five-time Memorial winner Woods.
A beautiful, rhythmic putting stroke helps Guan overcome the innate disadvantage he has with regard to distance.
Birdies on Nos. 5 and 6 got Guan to back to even on the day, and from there, his short game assisted him in keeping the round afloat. This sand shot from the green-side bunker on the par-four ninth hole was among the highlights (h/t PGA Tour on Twitter):
Plenty of youngsters have a lot of game, but few could hope to possess Guan's mental makeup and maturity at such a young age. Nothing indicates he'll slow down anytime soon, so don't be surprised if he makes yet another cut.
American Young Guns in Contention
Both Russell Henley and Kyle Stanley are in their mid-20s, but have already established themselves as Tour winners, and each managed early rounds of 67.
A bogey-free back nine of 32 gave Henley the boost he was looking for. The Georgia native hasn't really built on his electrifying debut win at the Sony Open in Hawaii, with only one top 10 since—a tie for sixth at the RBC Heritage.
Perhaps this is Henley's time to win a second event and place himself in the driver's seat for Rookie of the Year honors.
Steve Elling humorously pointed to what has been plaguing Stanley recently, and in a strange way, it may foreshadow a victory at the Memorial on Sunday:
Putting certainly wasn't a problem for Stanley in Round 1. He gained nearly three strokes on the field on the greens, and bounced back from a double bogey on No. 13 to birdie the next two holes.
Stanley made the turn at even-par, but five birdies and zero dropped shots on his second nine allowed him to come home in five-under 31. If his flatstick continues to be kind, the talented, long-hitting Stanley could very well hold the trophy at week's end.