Scott Stallings fired an opening-round 6-under 66 Thursday to take a one-shot lead at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament.
The Worcester, Mass., native heads into Friday just ahead Spencer Levin and two-time heart transplant survivor Erik Compton. Meanwhile, world No. 2 Rory McIlroy rebounded from a quadruple bogey-7 on his third hole to finish with a 71, Tiger Woods settled for a 70 after posting his own double-bogey on the par-4 18th, and Phil Mickelson withdrew after signing for a 79.
“It wasn’t the start that I wanted to get off to, being 4‑over through three holes, especially after the last few weeks,” McIlroy, who was coming off two straight missed cuts at the Players Championship and the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship, told reporters. “I was just like, here we go again. But I hung in there well, and proud of myself for the way I just fought back. To finish the round under par I thought was a really good effort.”
For Woods, it was all a matter of consistency. “I didn’t do anything great and I didn’t do anything poorly,” he said, “I was just very consistent.”
Stallings was on a different type of bounce-back — from a torn cartilage in five ribs and an intercostal muscle he suffered at the Humana Challenge back in January. The second-year tour pro tried to play through the injury, pounding down painkillers just to get through the Masters. After missing six cuts in a row (10 for the season) and taking 35 days off, Stallings told reporters he was on the comeback trail.
“I wasn’t able to work out, wasn’t able to do the things you need to do to play against the best players in the world,” said Stallings, who returned to his workout regimen just two weeks ago. “Now I’m cleared and happy to be able to play injury-free.”
Stallings, the winner of last year’s Greenbrier Classic, made six birdies and two bogeys on Thursday, but a chip-in for an eagle-3 at the par-5 seventh jump-started his round.
“That was kind of the moment that my caddie is like, ‘all right, here we go,’” Stallings said. “I was kind of starting to build some momentum. I started hitting some really good shots….Obviously any time you have a little chip that goes in like that, it’s a bonus….Hopefully we can build on it for the rest of the week.”
Faring less well were Boston’s James Driscoll (1-over) and reigning PGA champ Keegan Bradley, whose 76 included an eagle and two double-bogeys.
As for Mickelson, the popular lefty said he was psychically beat after making his fourth start in five weeks, celebrating his wife Amy’s 40th birthday in Europe, and playing in a corporate outing in New York.
“I think mentally I’m a little bit fatigued,” Mickelson said after posting his worst score ever at Jack Nicklaus’ event. “I’m hitting it so poorly that…I have to look at what’s best for me to play in the U.S. Open, and I’m going to take the next few days to kind of rest up.”
Mickelson excused himself from quitting an event he pledged to play, saying he had to do preserve himself for the Open in two weeks.
“I feel like it’s the responsibility of a player to see through your commitment and finish the tournament and so forth,” he said. “And I’m kind of overruling that just a touch, because I’m trying to think big picture on what’s the best way for me to get ready for the Open.”
Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. You may follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminer
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