Memorial notebook: 75 can’t spoil childhood dream

The Columbus Dispatch
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Scott Stallings rolls in a birdie putt on the sixth hole on his way to a 3-over-par 75. But the score didn’t matter as much as the chance to play with his inspiration, Tiger Woods.

First-round leader Scott Stallings shot a 75 yesterday to fall six shots off the pace, but he was hardly bummed when he came off the Muirfield Village course.

Playing with his boyhood golfing inspiration, Tiger Woods, erased any disappointment about his round.

When Stallings was a day from turning 12 in 1997, he got his first hole-in-one. Shortly after that, Woods routed the Masters field by

12 strokes.

“I told my dad I was quitting every sport and playing golf,” Stallings said. “At that point, my best score was 75 and he was like, ‘What?’ (Woods) was definitely the guy who made me want to play golf for a living. So it was awesome to have an opportunity to play with him and get to pick his brain a little bit.”

Stallings said he didn’t want to badger Woods with questions, particularly because he knew Woods was ill. But Woods engaged Stallings in conversation, and the two spent the last part of the round chatting and needling each other.

“Walking up 18, he was pumping me up, (saying), ‘A good round tomorrow, you never know, we could be there together,’  ” Stallings said. “He could not have been a nicer guy to play with.”

Stallings did taste the negative side of a round with Woods. He said he became distracted by the movement of media photographers and was disappointed by some of the barbs directed at Woods.

“It’s amazing what people yell at him,” Stallings said. “You’d think if you’d done the things he’s done on the golf course there’d be some level of respect. I kind of found myself out there telling people to chill out a little bit.”

Stallings said it was a tiny minority of fans who made inappropriate comments. “That 1 percent can ruin it for everybody,” he said.

But nothing could ruin the day for Stallings — not even a 75.

“If you can’t have a good time out here, you’re doing the wrong thing,” he said. “If you couldn’t get excited about playing in one of the final groups on Saturday at Jack’s place with Tiger Woods, how could you not be excited, whether you play good or play bad?”

Subs on the bag

The two players atop the leader board are using substitute caddies this week.

Third-round leader Spencer Levin’s normal caddie, Mike Hicks, is off for his son’s graduation from high school. So Levin is using his friend Jon Turcott, who has played on the Nationwide Tour and is scheduled to play in a U.S. Open qualifier on Monday in Springfield, Ohio.

Turcott caddied for Levin last year at the Canadian Open, where Levin tied for ninth.

“It’s nice to be playing well with a friend on the bag,” Levin said. “It’d be nice to have my man Hicksy on the bag, too.”

Rory Sabbatini, who will start today a shot behind Levin, also is employing a backup bag man. His regular caddie, Mick Doran, traveled to England to visit a nephew who was in an auto accident. Kirk Pearson, a Texas friend of Sabbatini’s, is manning his bag for the second-straight week.

“We play about 40 or 50 times a year, so I know all the shots and I’m just a good buddy,” Pearson said. “It’s just like we’re playing at home.”

Hanging in

Kyle Reifers did not shoot the score he wanted, but his 73 in gusty conditions was good enough to keep him in contention, six shots from the lead.

The Dublin native made the turn in 38 with bogeys at No. 5 and No. 9, but he played better on the back, the highlight coming with a birdie at No. 17, which is playing fifth-toughest for the tournament. Reifers will be paired today with Aaron Baddeley, who also shot 73.

Finishing strong

Canadian David Hearn is a first-time competitor at the Memorial, but he played a round at Muirfield Village last year while he was in town for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational.

He thinks that has helped him this week. He shot a 2-under 70 yesterday, which included three birdies in a four-hole stretch late in the round, and stands at 1-under for the tournament.

“I was fortunate to get around there today in a couple under, and I’m not going to ask to do it again,” Hearn said. “There isn’t a single shot here that doesn’t make you a little bit nervous. It’s one of those courses that tests every part of your game.”

Nice and slow

Any motorist in a rush to get somewhere in the Dublin area at midday would have done well to take a deep breath, roll down the windows and enjoy the breeze.

Bright sun and near-perfect temperatures at the Memorial sent big crowds toward Muirfield Village, but traffic on westbound I-270 to Sawmill Road was backed up more than a mile just before noon. Flow was smoother on Rt. 33 heading toward Muirfield Drive, but parking lots filled, prompting tournament officials to direct fans to park at the Columbus Zoo.

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