Dublin, OH— In 2010, Abraham Ancer was a recipient of the Jack Nicklaus Award as a freshman at Odessa College, now eight years later, in his first appearance as a player at Muirfield Village Golf Club, he shares a first round lead at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide with Joaquin Niemann and Hideki Matsuyama
“It was like Deja Vu walking the fairways, watching from outside and now playing,” Anser said. “It’s a dream come true obviously. Today I felt great. I hit the ball really good off the tee, hit my irons well, I putted well and I scrambled really good. So when you do that it’s usually a pretty good round.”
Niemann who is playing in his sixth PGA TOUR event and fifth since turning pro just over a month ago, needs 89 additional FedEx Cup points to be eligible for Special Temporary Membership of PGA TOUR. That would work out to a solo seventh place finish or better.
“It was really nice being out there and playing good golf,” said Niemann. “I made a lot of birdies. I hit it really good from tee to green, so really happy with how it went today. My game is feeling really nice, and after those two top-10s, I have gained a lot of confidence in my game and I’m also feeling better and I feel able to be out here and play good golf.”
Hideki Matsuyama rounds out the trio using a back-nine of 32 to share the lead. The 2014 champion is in familiar territory once again.
“2015 that was really unusual to be in the same position,” Matsuyama said through interpreter Bob Turner. “I played well then, I played well today. Hopefully we can have a little different outcome at the end of the tournament. Again, I’m just really pleased that I was able to play as well as I did today.
Ancer made six birdies in eight holes, hit 12 of 14 fairways and hit 12 of 18 greens. Some of those missed greens came on the back-nine where several bunker shots either continued his round or in the case of the par-5 15th hole, advanced his round with a birdie.
“There were some key moments there, obviously, playing some good golf and hitting some good shots,” said Ancer. “Sometimes if you don’t have the right club, if you’re in between clubs, I mean it gets dicey, because it’s, you got some small landing areas there that you’re going to play a little bit safe. I went in the bunker there a couple times, managing to do, to get those up-and-downs, that was huge.”
Niemann got off to a quick start posting five birdies in his first seven holes, beginning his round on the back side.”
“The course was really soft,” he said. “The greens also were really soft so you just were playing for the number. You weren’t thinking of how much the ball is going to roll. I think that also the fairways were really soft, the drivers didn’t go so far. So I think I was hitting a lot of 7- and 6-irons on to the greens.”
This is Niemann’s first Memorial Tournament and were he to win, he would become the third-youngest winner in PGA TOUR history behind Harry Cooper and Ralph Guldahl. Niemann’s 65 is one stroke shy over his career-low PGA TOUR round which came in the final round of the 2017 Greenbrier Classic.
Matsuyama was three-under par when he made the turn, but two bogeys temporarily halted his momentum.
Quickly, Matsuyama recovered with his stretch on holes 13-through-17 with which he posted a six-under score, which ties for the second best this season.
“I had some good rounds there at (Byron) Nelson and had some momentum coming into my off week, had a real good week of practice back home, came here, and I couldn’t find it again,” said Matsuyama through Turner. “This morning I had a good warm-up session and as the round went along I played better and better.”
The highlight certainly came on 17 when he made an eagle, hitting a gap wedge from 137 yards.
Hideki (-7) from 137 yards out…perfect.
He's six-under over his last five holes 🔥. pic.twitter.com/l70f67hVsG
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) May 31, 2018
Matsuyama has now shot under-par in 11 of his 15 Muirfield Village rounds.
This is the fourth time that three players tied for the first-round lead, with the last coming in 2010, when that year’s champion Justin Rose accomplished this with Rickie Fowler and Geoff Ogilvy.
Beau Hossler is one shot behind this trio at -6 and also competing in his first Memorial Tournament. Hossler was bogey-free until a misstep on the par-3 16th hole when he powered his par putt past the hole.
Hossler’s 66 was his ninth round with that total or better this season which is second-best behind Austin Cook for most on TOUR.
Hossler and Ancer were in the same group and it was the former who led for the majority of the round, though Ancer’s back nine-kept him close. The two traded positions with Hossler’s bogey and then each birdied on the par-4 17th hole from nearly identical positions on the green.
“If you get your ball below the hole you can definitely make some putts and fortunately today I did,” Hossler said. “Really strong all around. I drove it pretty good, got my ball in position and then was able to be pretty aggressive into these soft greens after the rain.”
2018 Memorial Tournament First Round Leaderboard
T1. Abraham Ancer -7
T1. Joaquin Niemann -7
T1. Hideki Matsuyama -7
4. Beau Hossler -6
T5. Jamie Lovemark -5
T5. Grayson Murray -5
T5. Kyle Stanley -5
T5. Lucas Glover -5
T9. Byeon Hun An -4
T9. Patrick Cantlay -4
T9. Patrick Rodgers -4
T9. Wesley Bryan -4
T9. Ryan Armour -4
T9. Jason Day -4
They said it
“I wasn’t rotating very well today, back was tight, and just it is what it is some days. And I made a few tweak in my swing, my setup, and lo and behold I was able to make some good swings on the back nine, well, my back nine, and turned the whole thing around. I’m going to have days where it’s just tight. Unfortunately today was one of those days and that’s all right. I don’t have any pain. It’s just tight. So, no biggie.” – Tiger Woods who went from +4 after seven holes to even par following 18.
“I didn’t touch a club for four days, so I kind of needed a little break there. It’s the time of the year where it can get to be too much sometimes, all these tournaments and the heat wears on you. So that was good. I’m glad I went home for those couple days, instead of staying in Dallas. Obviously I think today I was more fresh out there and didn’t use up too much energy. Still have a lot of energy going into tomorrow and hopefully do the same thing tomorrow. A course like this, you’ve got to be patient and the less juice you use, the better off you are. So I think I did a good job of that today.” – Grayson Murray who finished -5 on his day
“It was a guessing game. You had wind swirling. It felt like it was swirling. You thought it was down wind but it wasn’t. So there was a few shots where you had to just kind of play a lot safer than you really wanted to just because of those conditions. Today, for me, it just worked out where I hit the right numbers and the right height so I can get it on the green and somehow make pars.” – Bubba Watson on afternoon playing conditions
The bogey-free three
There were three bogey-free rounds Thursday in Keegan Bradley, Andrew Dorn and Branden Grace. Last year, there were two bogey-free first rounds. The last time everyone in the field had a bogey during first round play came in 2013.
Grace’s bogey-free round was the first sub-70 round he has at the Memorial after eight previous rounds in the 70’s.
This is Dorn’s first Memorial Tournament appearance and first-ever round on the PGA TOUR and after the 18-hole marathon, he still had his sense of humor.
“That’s cool, can I retire now,” he asked. “That was my very first round on the PGA TOUR. I’m done. I was just staying patient all day. I made a few really good up and downs which helped. I felt in command all day. I was controlling distances really well and that’s why I shot as low as I did.”
Dorn had a good-sized gallery following him filled with friends and fellow Ohioans.
“The first tee shot was pretty awesome,” said Dorn. “It’s good and bad. You could easily lose focus. I’m pretty even keeled. It was nice to have so much support.”
The 19th hole
The Jack Nicklaus Award named all of its recipients Thursday afternoon with one winner selected from NCAA Division I, II, III, NAIA and NJCAA.
Norman Xiong of Oregon, Florida Southern’s John VanDerLaan, Josh Gibson of Hope, Dalton State’s SM Lee, and Midland College’s Callum Bruce have been named the 2018 recipients of the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award presented by Barbasol.
Lee also won this award last year.
Saturday, the quintet will play Scioto Country Club in the Barbasol Shootout where Jack Nicklaus grew up playing the game. At stake will be a spot in the PGA Barbasol Championship which will be played July 16-22.
Sunday, Nicklaus will recognize the recipients in a 10 a.m. presentation.
The easiest hole of round one was the par-5 fifth hole at 4.583, while the toughest was the par-4 ninth hole at 4.30.
Chris Pohl also contributed to this article