Saturday, September 23, 2023

Feeling healthy and happy as ever at Matsuyama Memorial

DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) – Hideki Matsuyama is starting to feel healthier, and being at the memorial usually makes him happy. That became clear on Friday when the Japanese star carded several birdies for a 7-under 65 and a one-stroke lead.

Matsuyama, whose first PGA Tour title came at Muirfield Village in 2014, carded a 25-foot birdie on the par-5 seventh and a 30-foot birdie on the par-3 eighth to take the lead in the morning as the wind picked up.

Two-time winner Patrick Cantlay was with him throughout the day at Muirfield Village and posted a 67. He was one behind with David Lipsky (69).

Matsuyama and Cantley played well together (Billy Horschel joined them and was 12 shots better than their opening 84) and made a fine display of hitting the ball and timely delivery.

“Making putts on the seventh and eighth was fantastic,” Matsuyama said. “I made some good putts to save par today. The course is playing tough, especially the greens. If the greens get even tougher now, it will be challenging this weekend. But today, the putt went in and I’m satisfied.”

Cantley made just two bogeys in 36 holes, which is impressive considering how demanding Muirfield Village has been with fast fairways and warm sunny conditions.

His best shot of the day was a 6-iron that covered the flag on the par-3 16th, the most difficult of the par-3s and nobody’s favorite on a course built by Jack Nicklaus. He fell over the edge of the hole and ended up in a thick thicket. Had to pair 6 feet.

Rory McIlroy was mostly happy with his result. He played well on Thursday only to suffer a terrible break when his ball got hung up in thick grass on the slope of a bunker, causing a triple bogey on the 18th hole that ended his good work and cost him a 72.

This time he put in a strong performance for 68 which puts him in the mix heading into the weekend.

McIlroy still isn’t quite comfortable with this swing. Even after winning in Dubai at the start of the year and racing at Bay Hill, he is trying to get his swing back to where it was. He can handle that fine in the range. Put a scoring card in your hand or a hazard in your sight and it falls apart.

It is a matter of trust and emotion. He thinks he is getting there.

“An empty head is no good, but obviously a head full of clutter is no good either,” McIlroy said. “So try to find that balance where you have some idea or some ideas in your head, but don’t let that dominate what you’re actually trying to do, which is the scene happening and trying to play the shot. Have been and be as comfortable as possible.

Jordan Spieth had a 72 and was four shots behind Matsuyama. Davis Riley, who started the afternoon with a 67 in difficult conditions, followed it up with a 78 in the calm of Friday morning.

Those playing in the afternoon included Jon Rahm and Scotty Scheffler.

The course is very difficult to play in the afternoon due to the constant wind and sunshine blowing the fairways. Cantley had a 15-par Thursday round of 70 and felt he was playing well. He also knew that Friday morning would be better for scoring and he needed to take advantage of that and he did.

So Matsuyama put in a solid performance as he carded birdies on all but two holes. One of them was at 16, where he saved a par from the front bunker.

This led to the lowest score of the tournament so far, with 60 players still in play for the afternoon. But nobody expected it to be this easy over the weekend.

Some players will not have that opportunity. The cuts were emerging as the highest (4 more) in 14 years. Among the losers are Justin Thomas (75-75) and PGA contender Corey Connors (77-75).

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AP Golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

World Nation News Desk
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