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Memorial memorable for bad, good

06/02/2014, 12:00am EDT
By DAVE HACKENBERG BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Memorial memorable for bad, good

DUBLIN, Ohio — If the book Golf For Dummies had come with a video, it could have been a compilation of lowlights from Sunday’s final round of the Memorial Tournament.

As late-afternoon shadows began to lengthen at Muirfield Village, golf became more communicable disease than sport.

And, at the end, Kevin Na caught whatever it was that was going around. He found it in the water at No. 18.

Now, consider this. Na finished his round a little before 4 p.m., shooting a 64. While facing little pressure that early, he was the only player to complete the final regulation 18 holes without a bogey. In fact, he had gone 28 holes without one.

He adjourned to the clubhouse, did some texting, probably drank a Buckeye shake, one of those ridiculously thick chocolate-peanut butter concoctions they do here better than maybe anywhere, and started watching the proceedings on TV. And pretty soon he realized he’d better go get loose in the event of a playoff.

Of course, it might not have come to that. Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, and Hideki Matsuyama were staggering so badly to the finish that Na might have won it outright. When the final groups came to the last hole he had a one-shot lead just by staying as far away from the course as possible.

But after scoring double bogey-bogey at Nos. 16-17, Matsuyama hit a better tee shot than he thought, landing on the right side of the 18th fairway — more on that later — and became the first in Memorial history to birdie the hole in all four rounds, forcing a playoff.

So Matsuyama, from Japan, and Na, a native of South Korea, went back to the 18th tee. Remember, Na had not suffered a bogey in 28 holes.

And, of course, he immediately zip-lined his drive to the left, past a tree, and it one-hopped into the creek. To make a long story short, Matsuyama hit 3-wood off the tee into a right fairway bunker, yanked his second shot left of the greenside bunker, short-siding himself with the flag tucked left, then hit a wonderful chip and putt for the par that won.

Na never even got to putt.

“I was trying to be aggressive,” Na said. “I had plenty of time to prepare myself, so there’s no excuse. I hit a bad shot.”

Join the club.

Watson, the free-swinging lefty who recently won his second Masters, was at 15-under through 13 holes and then started hitting it off the globe. At No. 15, he smacked it right, through a forest, and out of bounds into someone’s yard, where the family dog was seen wagging his tail over his newly found toy. He played the last seven in 3-over.

Scott, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, was one stroke off the lead when his tee shot at the par-3 12th plugged in the greenside water hazard. Three holes later, he was too good or too unlucky, hitting the pin with his approach and seeing it spin well back off the green. He played the last seven in 4-over.

Matsuyama hit his ball in the water at No. 16, chipped poorly at 17, and then thought so little of his tee shot at 18, where he knew he needed a birdie to tie Na, that he slapped his driver against the ground and snapped off the clubhead.

But he was amazed to find his ball in the fairway and then, he said, he knew he had a chance.

And he made the most of it.

In the process he became the fourth Japanese golfer to win a PGA Tour event. He did it at 22, the age at which Jack Nicklaus won his first tour title. A tad larger than many Asian players, he has plenty of distance, and he won with tempo, calmness, and a steady putting stroke.

And Nicklaus, the Memorial founder and host, made it clear it’s time to end the joking around and get serious about Matsuyama.

“I think you’ve just seen the start of what’s going to be truly one of [the] world’s great players over the next 10 to 15 years,” Jack said.

Matsuyama said through an interpreter that winning his first U.S. event “is enough, but to win it here at Mr. Nicklaus’ course really gives me a lot of confidence now going on.”

It would seem Matsuyama is the first Memorial champion to have never seen Nicklaus play golf.

“The last time I played in Japan was probably when his parents were born,” Nicklaus quipped.

But, said Hideki, ever since he was a little kid he’s watched the Masters on TV. And they always show Jack’s putt at No. 17 that steered the thrilling win at Augusta in 1986.

“That’s the memory I have of Mr. Nicklaus,” Matsuyama said.

In golf-crazy Japan, fans have a new memory — Hideki‘s playoff chip and putt at No. 18, both so sweet, that won Mr. Nicklaus’ tournament.

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

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