Joe Podelco / Photo editor
While the main focus of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Course was on 44-year-old Steve Stricker’s 10th PGA Tour victory, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy, both 22 years old, were the center of attention for many spectators throughout the entire weekend in Dublin, Ohio.
Both players finished the week under-par, and McIlroy finished in fifth place, five shots behind the champion, Stricker.
“Yeah, when you’re five behind going into the last day, you know you’re going to have to do something pretty special,” McIlroy said. “I’m happy with how I played. I could have been a little bit better, but it’s been a good week.”
Fowler, who was in the second-to-last group on Sunday at Muirfield in 2010, and finished in second place behind Justin Rose, finished this year at 4-under-par for the tournament.
Fowler said he is in good shape heading into the U.S. Open, which begins June 13 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
“I’m hitting a lot of good shots,” Fowler said. “(I’m) hitting a lot of solid golf shots, driving the ball a lot better than I have been all year.”
Youth was a theme that extended beyond Fowler and McIlroy — there were 34 players in their 20s, which accounts for nearly 29 percent of the field.
Jack Nicklaus, Memorial host and record holder for the most major tournament wins, said the PGA Tour goes through cycles of good players, and that for awhile, Tiger Woods was the only player under 30 winning on a consistent basis.
“We went a long time where Tiger was the only multiple victor on the Tour,” Nicklaus said. “All of a sudden, we got a rash of young player that have come along.”
Nicklaus said the success of the younger players, such as Fowler and McIlroy, encourages young people to take up golf.
“The young kids say ‘Hey, if they can do that, I can do that,'” Nicklaus said.
Fred Couples, PGA Tour veteran and captain of the 2011 U.S. Presidents Cup team, said there are many young players making an impact on the tour this year.
“There’s so many young players,” Couples said. “It used to be young players were in their late 20s, a good player who developed and then started to win,” Couples said. “Now you have … all these guys who are barely in their 20’s.”
McIlroy had a share of the lead after Thursday’s round, shooting a 6-under 66. On Friday and Saturday, McIlroy struggled to repeat his first-round performance, shooting only 1-under par during the ensuing two rounds. Entering Sunday, McIlroy was five shots off the lead, but was unable to catch Stricker. McIlroy shot a 4-under 68 on Sunday to put his four-day total at 11-under-par.
“When (Stricker) turned in 6-under and went to 18-under par, what do you do?,” McIlroy said. “You’re just trying to play as best you can and finish as high up on the leaderboard as possible.”