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2 golfers, 2 stories so engaging

05/29/2014, 12:00am EDT
By DAVE HACKENBERG BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
2 golfers, 2 stories so engaging

DUBLIN, Ohio — Rory McIlroy called off the wedding, then won the European Tour’s flagship event, its PGA Championship, at Wentworth with a final-round 66.

Adam Scott, meanwhile, ascended to No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings for the first time in his career, and then beat Jason Dufner in a playoff at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial Country Club.

Different sides of the Atlantic Ocean — the Pacific, too, for that matter — with different pressures, but the same result on the same weekend.

Today, they both tee off in the 39th edition of the Memorial Tournament, Jack Nicklaus’ event at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

From purely a golfing standpoint, Scott has to be considered last weekend’s biggest winner.

He supplanted Tiger Woods in the rankings as the latter’s most recent 60-week stretch at the top was felled by inactivity because of injury. Playing at Colonial after the rankings were announced was a last-second decision and Scott, an Australian, certainly made the most of it.

“World’s No. 1 goes out for the first time to play and wins,” Nicklaus said. “I think he solidified his position pretty good with that. Pretty impressive win.”

McIlroy’s win was too, for obvious and not so obvious reasons.

The young Scot, who was No. 1 in the rankings from late 2012 into ’13, had been up and down and had won just once, in Australia, since Nov., 2012. He gave one away with a 74 on Sunday at the Honda Classic. A batch of bad Fridays kept him from jumping into contention at several other tournaments this spring.

Then, hours before teeing off in England, he publicly announced that he was ending his engagement to tennis professional Caroline Wozniacki despite the save-the-date invitations having been mailed just days before. Would he have been as upfront on the subject if he could take a mulligan?

“Honestly, I don’t know,” McIlroy said Wednesday. “It’s one of those things that it was a very public relationship. And I thought it was best that instead of letting it linger and [become] rumors, just to have it right there as soon as possible.”

He was in both good and bad humor about the subject at Muirfield Village.

When asked if he would be as public with future relationships, he smiled and said: “It’s only been a week, so I’m not thinking that far ahead, to be honest.”

But it was a blank stare when he was asked about a report that he had broken up with his fiancée via a three-minute phone call, which Wozniacki first thought was a joke, saying, “I’m here to talk about my golf.”

And, really, that’s how it should be. He’s a 25-year-old kid, she’s 23, and the Kardashians aren’t involved, so why should we care beyond being empathetic to both of them.

“I think I’m pretty mature for a 25 year old,” McIlroy said. “I think on the golf course I’m in a good point. There [have] been a few things that have happened in my life in the last couple years that have been huge learning processes. And I think every time you face some sort of adversity you learn from it and you become more mature and you make better decisions the next time.”

McIlroy’s golf has been fine, for the most part. After losing in a playoff at the Honda, he had a string of top-10 finishes. But Friday scores of 77 at the Masters, 76 at the Wells Fargo Championship, and 74 at The Players left him clawing from behind.

The win at Wentworth “gave me confidence that my game can hold up under pressure… [I’m] able to manage my game when I’m not in total control and turn a 74 or 75 into a 71.”

Scott, who won the Masters in 2013 and was top five in two other majors that year, also comes to Muirfield Village with all the confidence in the world after his win in Fort Worth.

“It’s satisfying, absolutely,” Scott said. “I think getting to No. 1 was such a journey and so much work went into it, I wasn’t going to settle for just staying there for a week.

“When you’re a kid, dreaming of being No. 1, and you’re out on tour when you’re 19, 20, you think you’re going to roll into it. It does happen for some, but it wasn’t the case for me. And a lot has gone into it. I think it’s going to take continued hard work and determination to stay there and we’ll see how it goes. I know I’m going to have to continue to play well.”

And the next test begins today.

The Memorial: 5 to Watch

■ Phil Mickelson: He has withdrawn from two tournaments, missed the cut at three others. Maybe the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow sums up his whole year. He shot 67-75-63-76. Ups and downs. Which will the 2014 Memorial be for Lefty?

Bubba Watson: Forty years ago when Muirfield Village opened, Jack Nicklaus envisioned it as a tribute, of sorts, to Augusta National and wanted the Memorial to be as classy as the Masters. There are indeed a lot of similarities. But Bubba, a two-time Masters champ, has yet to crack the top 20 here in eight tries.

Matt Kuchar: The first two times he played at Muirfield Village, he figured he didn’t have the right stuff and took a few years off. More recently came four straight top-10 finishes, including the championship in 2013. What is it like to be the defending champion? “Holy cow,” said Kooch, who has nine top-10s this year.

Jim Furyk: He is 44 years old and hasn’t won on tour since 2010, when he was the PGA Tour’s player of the year. But the man still grinds and has been knocking on the door with five top-10 finishes in 2014, including runner-up slots in back-to-back events (Wells Fargo, The Players).

Jason Day: He was as hot as anybody early in the year, but this will be his first start since the Masters. A bum thumb was the culprit. Of the game’s young guns, he may know this course as well as anyone. The Aussie married an Ohio girl, they settled in nearby Westerville, and he is a dues-paying member at Jack’s joint.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

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