DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Bo Van Pelt experienced his first big disappointment in golf at Muirfield Village.
“I remember I tried to get Greg Norman’s autograph,” Van Pelt said. “He was No. 1 in the world, and I couldn’t get it. And I said something not very nice to him. That was my buddies’ fault. They said I would say anything, but I did. I was 13, trying to impress. He was the only autograph I really wanted.”
Van Pelt grew up across the state line in Indiana, and his father let him play hooky from school from the time he was 10 so he could watch the best in the world on the course Jack Nicklaus built.
On Thursday, Van Pelt enjoyed a different view at the Memorial.
He made a career-best 10 birdies for an 8-under 64 that gave him a share of the lead with defending champion Hideki Matsuyama.
The opening round was ripe for scoring with calm conditions and an overcast sky, though that wasn’t the case for everyone. Tiger Woods wasn’t sure which way his shots were going and he played some of his best golf of the year over his final nine holes — six pars, three birdies — to salvage a 73.
It was his highest start at Muirfield Village, where he is a five-time winner, since a 74 in 2002.
“Physically, I feel good. Mentally, I feel beat up,” Woods said. “To turn that round around like I did today … that was hard.”
He was determined to stick with the changes he is making to his swing under a fourth coach as a pro, no matter how long it takes. Considering he hasn’t had a top 10 in his last 13 events dating to the end of 2013, this could take time.
“I was just trying to stay committed to what we’re working on, to what we’re doing,” he said. “I hit it awful, yeah. So what? I was going to go through this phase and stick with it, keep sticking with it. And some of the shots I hit were really, really good. But then I also had some really bad shots, too. And we need to work on that.”
Phil Mickelson took double bogey on the 18th hole for a 72, while Rickie Fowler stumbled on the back nine for a 72. Dustin Johnson had to birdie three of the last five holes to atone for a litany of mistakes in his round of 72.
Van Pelt and Matsuyama had no such worries.
Matsuyama made a bold start in his bid to join Woods as the only repeat winners at Muirfield Village. He ran off four straight birdies on the back nine and had one strong par save from a bunker on the 16th hole. And he’s not sure how it happened.
“To be honest with you, up until yesterday I was not hitting the ball very well, I was not chipping very well, I was not putting very well,” Matsuyama said through a translator. “And I don’t know what happened overnight. We just caught magic.”
Van Pelt had one of those days where he felt he had the right club for every shot, and it showed on his card. He ended the front nine with five straight birdies, and then ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine.
“Other than the Masters, this tournament means more to me than any one I’ve ever played,” he said. “So it’s always good to play well around a place that means a lot to you.”
Van Pelt for years was a guy who could get in a round with few concerns. He won only twice on the PGA Tour (and once in Australia), but he was becoming a regular among the top 50 until the game became mundane and he fell on the other side of that fine line in golf. There is a thin margin between good and great, and another fine line between good and mediocre. He became the latter.
After three straight years of playing all the majors, he got into only the U.S. Open last year by qualifying.
“I played a bunch of golf for three years and had played pretty well, and I just think I was just kind of tired of playing,” he said. “And there’s so many good players out here, if you get a little sloppy with what you’re doing, there’s not that big a difference between a great year and a so-so year out here.”
He got away from the basics, and only recently worked long hours with his coach to find his way. The desire to compete has returned, and Van Pelt hopes the inspiration he gets from being at Muirfield can carry him even further.
Woods, meanwhile, starts Friday trying to avoid missing the cut for the first time at the Memorial. He was in a tie for 85th.
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