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Monday, June 6, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Memorial Tournament

Winner: Steve Stricker

Around the wider world of golf: A week that featured some amazing play! Steve Wheatcroft set all kinds of records when he won the Nationwide's Melwood Prince George's County Open with a score of -29; Alexander Noren won his 2nd ET event at the Saab Wales Open (remember, this is the tournament that launched Graeme McDowell's yearlong run in 2010); Melissa Reid also got her 2nd win at the LET's Deloitte Dutch Ladies Open, making her a serious contender for the Solheim Cup later this year; Brittany Lincicome shot 64-66 over the weekend to take the ShopRite LPGA Classic; 21-year-old Sakura Yokomine won her 18th career victory -- imagine that, 18 wins and she's only 21! -- at the Resort Trust Ladies on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has the details); Kathleen Ekey won the Ladies Titan Tire Challenge on the LPGA Futures Tour; and Bob Gilder won the Principal Charity Classic on the Champions Tour. I probably missed somebody, but there were a lot of tournaments going on this weekend! UPDATE: The Constructivist tells me that Yokomine is actually 25 years old. That's still a pretty impressive record!

Jack greets Steve Stricker after win
I wanted a picture of Jack giving Steve a "Bear hug," but I couldn't find one. Darn. Click it to read the Deseret News summary.

After never posting a Top 10 finish at the Memorial, Steve Stricker got his 10th career win there. You just can't make this stuff up, folks!

And he had his hands full getting it. "The storylines were intriguing," as the media guys like to say:
  • Stricker after the biggest win of his career
  • Brandt Jobe coming back after nerve damage that prevents him from feeling the top of his backswing (he's lost feeling in the fingertips of his left hand after a serious injury two years ago, and had to completely rebuild his swing to work around it)
  • Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson trying to break through and win again
  • Rory McIlroy trying to prove that his Masters loss is behind him as he prepares for a UNICEF trip this week
  • Luke Donald trying to back up his big win at the BMW PGA last week, when he took #1 in the world rankings
And for the most part, these stories lived up to their billing. Donald, clearly tired after a long few weeks, still managed to post a T7 finish; McIlroy snagged 5th; DJ grabbed 4th, Jobe 3rd (probably enough to keep his card), and Kucher 2nd.

And all Stricker did was start hitting fairways again... but that was enough. He's been working on a slight swing change -- setting up with his hands a bit closer to him, to get his swing a bit more upright and on line at the top -- and it finally took. His iron play swung back and forth from brilliant to questionable, but IMO it's his driving that's been really holding him back. His iron play should catch up soon enough; as it is, he's improved enough to be added to my short list of U.S. Open favorites.

How erratic was his iron play? He was -20 on the front nine this week, but +4 on the back nine. No winner has ever played the two nines in such a dramatically different way. In fairness, the final 3 holes at Muirfield Village played the hardest of any 3-hole stretch all year, and Sunday's 2.5 hour rain delay for the last 4 holes didn't help any. As for that -20, it was 6 strokes better than anybody has ever played the front nine over 4 days, and "anybody" includes Tiger Woods. Erratic indeed.

After this tournament, the Top 3 players in the world -- Donald, Westwood, and Kaymer -- may be European, but the next 3 are American. Stricker, Mickelson, and Kuchar now hold numbers 4, 5, and 6 in the OWGR. With the exception of Mickelson, who shocked everyone by rediscovering the concept of hitting fairways -- the addition of a driving iron let him hit 69.6% of his fairways this week, including 79% on Sunday -- the Top 6 players in the world are consistent players. But don't think that mean's they're just "Top 10ers."

These players are actually winning tournaments -- in this calendar year Westwood and Donald each have 2 wins, Stricker and Mickelson 1 each -- and over the last 12 months these 6 players have a total of 15 wins with 1 major. (All of Kaymer's wins were in 2010.) No, these are not the kind of players we're used to seeing at the top of the rankings. But with the increased emphasis we're seeing now on hitting fairways (as Jack said, you can't just make the courses longer anymore) it's only a matter of time before these players, and others like them, start snagging the majors. Don't be surprised if Congressional starts the trend.

In the meantime, here's a limerical tribute to the new #4. Welcome back to the party, Steve!
So the rankings leave no room to bicker;
Yes, America's best is Steve Stricker.
I admit that I'm stunned
He's not yet #1…
I was sure he would make it there quicker!

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