The tournament carries Jack Nicklaus' name. For a large part of Sunday at the Memorial, that was as close to good golf as there was.
Long after Kevin Na carded a sparkling 8-under 64 to secure the very early clubhouse lead, it looked as if his 13-under total just might hold up, as player after player hit bad shot after bad shot. But young Hideki Matsuyama righted himself in the nick of time to force a playoff. He parred the first extra hole to capture his first PGA tournament title – after Na, in keeping with the theme of the afternoon, hit a disastrous tee ball into a creek.
But to back up a bit ...
World No. 1 Adam Scott and fourth-ranked Bubba Watson, who have combined to win the last three Masters, of which Nicklaus has won six, were in position to set up a thrilling finish, allowing us to forget that Tiger Woods wasn't there, that Phil Mickelson was all but not there and that bachelor Rory McIlroy was there largely for one round. (Sheesh, did he start dating on Thursday night?)
Coming off victory last week, Scott tied for the lead with a birdie at No. 11, only to find the water on 12 and then bogey 14, 15 and 16. Thanks for coming, Adam, drive home safely.
Watson, amid his finest season and in or near the lead since Thursday, also bogeyed 14. That wasn't so catastrophic. His double on the 15th, a par 5, was.
Matsuyama, for his part, did not have a single par over the final six holes. He bogeyed 14, doubled 16 and bogeyed 17, needing a birdie simply to force a playoff with Na, who had been sitting for about two hours. Finally, the 22-year-old Japanese displayed what has been expected of him this season, hitting his approach on the par-4 18th to five feet, from where he sank the putt.
Meanwhile, Na had been sitting on a sofa watching on TV instead of hitting balls – what, no popcorn, Kevin? On the first playoff hole, No. 18, Na looked like he hadn't hit a ball in two hours and – surprise! -- rinsed his drive and needed to take a drop. Matsuyama himself drove his tee ball into the bunker, but he recovered enough to leave himself a 10-footer for par, which he sank to become the youngest Memorial champion ever, usurping a 23-year-old Woods.
There were silver linings for Na, who qualified for the U.S. Open, and Watson, who overtook Woods for No. 3 in the world with his solo third, one stroke out of the playoff.
Don't look now, but Kirk sits sixth in the point standings after another stellar outing, tying for fourth with Scott. He's 18-for-18 in cuts with half of those resulting in top 25s. And this was his third top-5 showing of the season. We don't expected Kirk to win a Major this year, but he could win again after taking the McGladrey Classic in November and is looking likely to be in the 30-man field for the season-ending Tour Championship.
This was only Stricker's sixth stroke-play event of the season, and his game is now rounding into form. A T6 this week followed a T13 in The Players Championship. And while the Tour Championship for Stricker seems like too big of a hill to climb, he's shown that even with his advanced age and limited schedule, he's a must-start every time.
Speaking of limited schedules, there was a Ben Curtis sighting! Actually, Curtis has been playing a lot, certainly for him, as this was his 17th start and it's barely June. The thing is, he's missed more than half his cuts. But his last two weekends have produced his best results, including T6 at the Memorial. Unfortunately for him, his previous weekend, which ended with a T12 at the Shell Houston Open, was followed by four straight missed cuts. Curtis does not seem to be a viable fantasy option, much less a starter, unless you are hurting for bodies.
Haas added his third top 10 of the season, with a T8. He's 16-for-17 in cuts, and the one miss was actually a WD at the Heritage with an injury. Haas really hasn't been in contention to win any event this season, but he's 32nd in the point standings and it wouldn't surprise at all if he could string together four rounds to a victory. He's the defending champion at the Quicken Loans National (Tiger's event known formerly as the AT&T National), to be played later this month.
Even Horschel's best tournament in five months came with a dash of disappointing news. In contention for his first win of the season, a closing 74 dropped him 10 spots to T15. Horschel tweeted afterward that his game is "finally coming around." We'll wait until it's completely around.
Els is 44 and hasn't had a top 10 in a stroke-play event all season. But it was nice to see him turn in four rounds of par or better, his 5-under total good for T19. Els finished T4 in last year's U.S. Open, but it would be a huge surprise to see him come close to repeating that feat. He's not even a guaranteed fantasy starter every week.
Bo Van Pelt
Van Pelt is still only 102nd in the point standings, but he has made five of his past six cuts, plus he's turned in his two best finishes of the season in the past two weeks, with his T19 on Sunday following last week's T14 at Colonial. A tournament victory doesn't seem in Van Pelt's future, but steadying play at least let's you have a little confidence putting him into your lineup.
Just about the biggest news on Thursday was that Bradley ditched his anchored putter and shot a 5-under 67. That was as good as it got, though, as a 75-70-73 finish left him tied for 37th, still meandering through 2013-14. Still, it was good to see Bradley try something drastic in an effort to turn around his fortunes.
Woodland was tied for fourth on the back nine on Saturday, then chose to go In-N-Out Burger one better, with a double-double-double on Nos. 11-13. And that was that. Woodland continued his freefall on Sunday, tying for 57th. He's been in contention on the weekend often this season, and even lost in a playoff in the CIMB Classic way back in October, but he would be the first to admit he has been unable to close the deal.
When we last saw Fowler, he was coming off rounds of 75, 80 and 75 – his third and final round at The Players and his two-and-out at Colonial last week. He turned in another 75 to open Memorial before righting himself with a 2-under 70. That still wasn't good enough to make the cut, and Fowler continues to stumble leading up to the U.S. Open.
Jaidee of Thailand won the European Tour's Nordea Masters in a playoff, getting his game in form two weeks in advance of the U.S. Open. He defeated France's Victor Dubuisson and Scotland's Stephen Gallacher on the first extra hole in Malmo, Sweden. It was Jaidee's sixth Euro title.