The hill overlooking the 14th hole at Muirfield Village Golf Club, normally a raucous party scene during the Memorial Tournament, was quiet as a morning prayer on Saturday at the spectator-free Workday Charity Open.
On the 14th tee, however, the silence was interrupted by low murmurs nearly every time a player and his caddie surveyed the scene before them: only 300 yards separating the tee and the pin, making the green on the par-4 hole reachable with a wood club.
It was the Yalta of golf come to Dublin. Important decisions needed to be made, such as whether to go for the green with a 3-wood or 5-wood or play it safe with a mid-iron and then hit wedge onto a narrow green protected by bunkers on the left and water on the right.
What would FDR do? Churchill definitely would have gone for the green. Just like Phil Mickelson.
Lefty is nothing if not aggressive, one reason the 50-year-old is a fan favorite. It may be the smart play to lay up at 14, but galleries — or in these times, TV viewers — want to watch some BOMBS.
Mickelson did not disappoint, pulling 5-wood on Saturday (after aiming at the pin with a 3-wood on Friday) and hitting it 297 yards into the greenside bunker.
At least he gave it a ride, as did about half the field over the past two days of the Workday event. The second round saw 77 of 151 players go for the green, and even though only 13 landed on the putting surface it, they undoubtedly were appreciated by high-handicappers whose motto is “Let the big dog eat.”
Hackers should know the PGA Tour officials heard them by moving the 14th tee up on Friday and Saturday to tempt the world’s best players into leaving their irons in the bag.
“We haven’t done it during the Memorial Tournament in recent years, but you know, I think you’re going to see some fun this week creating some different angles on teeing grounds,” said Gary Young, who is handling the setup of the course for the Workday tournament, a late filler on the tour schedule after the cancellation of the John Deere Classic.
Creating entertainment was not the only reason the tour shortened tees. With the Memorial beginning on Thursday, the tour wanted to avoid having too many divots in the same landing areas.
Players appreciate being taken care of that way, but their gratitude also extends to crediting the tour for making No. 14 more interesting. During the Memorial, almost every player lays up with an iron. On Workday Saturday, nearly half – 32 of 67 players – tracked the other way.
“I thought it was a really good course setup decision by the tour. It made us think,” said Kevin Streelman, who went for the green Friday. “It makes the hole that much more intriguing.”
Justin Thomas agrees.
“It’s very risk-reward,” he said, saying how on Friday the 3-wood felt good in his hands, which is why he went for broke.
Of course, bravery has a downside. Streelman found sand with his 299-yard drive Friday and Thomas flew his 3-wood 300 yards into the rough left of the bunkers, prompting him to rue his decision despite saving par.
“If I had it over, I would have laid up 100 times out of 100,” Thomas said. “It’s a real easy pin. It’s a wedge downwind; I’m never going to have more than 10 feet with a wedge, and there’s a lot of bad things that can happen” by going for the green.
But the potential for bad is what makes watching golf good. It doesn’t make a tour player any less of a man to travel the safer route at No. 14 — 10% of those going for the green Friday found water, either the stream that cuts across the fairway or the pond next to the green — but a play-it-safe personality trait is not what gets the beer spilling.
What does? Viktor Hovland took dead aim at 14 on Friday and cut his drive to within 3½ feet of the pin. His caddie initially thought the ball hit off the flagstick and bounced back, but video showed that not to be the case.
“I knew it didn’t hit the hole, or else it was going to make me a little angry that I got robbed of a hole-in-one there,” Hovland said with a smile.