Lefty blows lead; Flesch leads Memorial

Updated: June 2, 2006, 11:53 AM ET
Associated Press

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Steve Flesch never had to hit a sand shot, yet he still didn't like the bunkers at the Memorial.

Flesch parred the 18th hole Friday morning to complete his rain-delayed first round at Muirfield Village, giving him a 6-under 66 and a one-shot lead over Sean O'Hair. Shortly after the opening round was finished, heavy rains held up play again.

Steve Flesch
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesFlesch was at 6-under through 17 holes when the first round was suspended because of storms in the area.

But the No. 1 topic of discussion wasn't the lead, but the rakes.

In an experiment that did not go over well with players, wooden rakes with 2 inches between the deep tines are leaving high furrows in the bunkers in an attempt to make them play like hazards.

It appeared to work.

"It's frustrating just to watch other guys try to get out of them," Flesch said. "I haven't been in one, but I've just seen so many bad shots from guys who are in them. The guys that I'm playing with, they can't get it inside 30 feet. That's crazy."

If that weren't enough, a steady rain fell Friday morning as the first round concluded and the second round began.

Late last week, tournament founder Jack Nicklaus called the PGA Tour office and asked if he could try something new. He wanted to snap off every other tine on the rakes, which then left deeper, wider lines in the bunkers instead of the perfectly smooth and flat surfaces to which the pros are accustomed.

Jeff Maggert, who shot a 73, said the decision to leave the furrows in the bunkers was "Mickey "Mouse." Nick Price shot a 69 and then he vented.

"I don't like it at all," he said. "I don't think there's one player out here who does."

Added Flesch: "What's happened is guys are stepping back and playing very conservative golf."

Tour officials said they would continue to groom the bunkers exactly as they had in the first round. They plan to reserve judgment on whether to implement the changes in other tournaments.

The dispute upstaged several interesting subplots.

Flesch, playing what he called the best golf he had played in 18 months, was nearly flawless. After turning in 3 under and posting a bogey on the 10th hole, he birdied four of the next six holes.

After splitting the fairway at No. 18, he said he had no problem with having to get up to finish what he had started. He's being followed by a large gallery, loaded with friends and family who made the two-hour trip north.

"They're all here," he said. "Not just my family, but half of northern Kentucky is here."

O'Hair recovered from a double bogey from the bunker at No. 3, birdieing four of the next six holes. He closed with an 8 iron to within 2 feet for his seventh birdie in his 67.

He opened the year by finishing 27th in a 28-man field at the Mercedes, and then missing the cut in his next four starts.

"There's been a lot of negative thoughts going on," he said. "Over the last month I'm starting to see a little bit of progress. I've been working pretty hard."

Phil Mickelson led the large group at 3 under, despite bogeys on the final two holes. He was joined by Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Nick Price, Brett Wetterich, Sergio Garcia, Stuart Appleby, Jerry Kelly, David Howell, Carl Pettersson, Ted Purdy, Stewart Cink, Tim Clark and Craig Parry.

Mickelson came to the Memorial after playing three rounds at Winged Foot, tuning up for the U.S. Open June 15-18.

Asked how difficult he considered Muirfield, he said, "Well, see, I just came from Winged Foot, and that makes this not so bad."

Mickelson has never finished better than a tie for ninth in his seven appearances at the Memorial.

Love double-bogeyed the closing hole and then hurried past reporters on his way to the clubhouse.

Defending champion Bart Bryant shot a 70 and David Duval shot a 71 -- despite taking five putts for a double-bogey at the par-5 11th.

Ernie Els and Vijay Singh each shot a 74. Els hasn't won on tour since the 2004 Memorial. Singh, who won at Muirfield in 1997, is winless in his last 20 starts.

Jay Haas, winner of last week's Senior PGA Championship, moved a step closer to tying the tour record for most cuts made. He's one behind Tom Kite's mark of 590 for his career. Former Ohio State player Kevin Hall, the first deaf player on the PGA Tour, struggled to a 79.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press