DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Bryson DeChambeau is on a roll going into the Memorial with top 10s in his last seven starts dating to March, including a victory the last time he played at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Rory McIlroy was going even better. He had seven straight tournaments in the top 5 — including a victory in a World Golf Championships event in Shanghai — until the COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf.
Since the return, McIlroy has failed to crack the top 10 in three tournaments he has played. He remains No. 1 in the world, but now four players have a mathematical chance to replace him at the Memorial this week.
Time to panic? No. But that didn’t stop him from having longtime swing coach Michael Bannon fly to Florida last week. McIlroy had planned to play Muirfield Village last week, too, but figured he needed to work on his game.
“It was the first time I’d seen him since the start of February, so it was nice to spend some time with him and get some good work done and feel a bit better about my game and my swing going into this week,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy said he had sent Bannon videos over the last few months, but it was hard for the swing coach to have a sense of the ball flight and other elements best seen in person.
“So for him to see how I’m hitting it, what was going on, it was just a great thing,” McIlroy said. “My club face was getting a little shut, my right arm was getting a little too much on top of the shaft instead of letting my right elbow fold and getting a little bit of external rotation in my shoulder. So there’s a couple little things that we worked on.”
He didn’t play poorly. McIlroy had a chance to win Colonial until closing with a 74. He had never seen the course. It had been a decade since he played Harbour Town. And part of him what to see what golf would be like without fans, without the energy he typically draws on while playing before big crowds.
“For me, the first three weeks were good just to get a feel for what it was going to be like,” McIlroy said. “And now someone like Tiger hasn’t experienced that yet, and maybe he’s going to find it a little weird. … It was just a good look at what we were all going to expect going forward.”
SPECULATING ON SPECTATORS
What’s the best guess for when the PGA Tour will have fans? The fact Commissioner Jay Monahan started to repeat the question made it clear he didn’t know and was buying time for the right answer.
The right answer: He didn’t know.
The Memorial scrapped plans to have spectators. Monahan said there won’t be any fans or pro-ams the rest of the season through the Tour Championship. And the San Francisco Chronicle reported the Safeway Open to start the new season Sept. 10-13 won’t have spectators, either.
“Right now, you look at the PGA Tour schedule, the next event up is the U.S. Open,” he said. “And I know that the USGA continues to work with the state of New York and is making plans to return fans. If I had to guess, that would be the first week that we would do so.”
Meanwhile, he said the tour is working with subsequent tournaments on staging them at full capacity, partial capacity or no spectators at all. And that depends on the COVID-19 situation in the communities where the tour plays.
Still on the schedule are tournaments in Mississippi, Houston, at least one in Las Vegas, Sea Island in Georgia and the Gulf Coast of Mexico (Mayakoba). That doesn’t include the Masters, set for Nov. 12-15.
Monahan hasn’t ruled out the rest of the fall. He said he’ll have a better idea in August before making decisions.
“We’re hopeful that you’re going to see fans at our tournaments when we get to the back half of the year, or quarter of the year,” he said.
Jack Nicklaus had hoped to be at Muirfield Village in time for the end of the Workday Charity Open, the tournament that took the place of the canceled John Deere Classic. But tee times were moved up Sunday to avoid any weather, so the tournament was ending about the time Nicklaus was getting on his plane.
The last shot he saw was Justin Thomas making a 50-foot birdie on the 18th in the playoff.
Nicklaus said he wife Barbara sent Thomas a text — they live near each other in Florida — congratulating him on the putt.
One problem: He didn’t see what happened next. Collin Morikawa matched him with a 25-foot birdie putt, and then Morikawa won two holes later.
Only when the plane reached 10,000 feet to get internet service did Nicklaus realize what happened.
“We found out Morikawa won the tournament, and so I had to send him another text and say, ‘Oops, a little premature,’” Nicklaus said. “He was good about it. He texted back and he said, ‘All’s good, it’s OK.’”