It was a day of wild scoring, the not-so-good kind, at Muirfield Village for the final round of the Memorial tournament. Rory McIlroy went out in 41. Cameron Smith went out in 42. From one of the final pairings, Francesco Molinari gave back everything he worked for this week: a 7-over round thru 17 holes after starting at seven under. Finally, a birdie on 18 for 78. One under for the week.
What would it mean for the man out front, Billy Horschel, who began the day with a 5-shot lead? Players know it well at this course — hop on the bogey train and it can be hard to hop off. Fortunately for Horschel, all he had to do was keep things around even par. No one was going to go out and shoot 67 to take it from him. He’d have to struggle and they’d have to thrive.
It never manifested.
Horschel largely cruised to victory at Muirfield Village, fluctuating between a two- and four-shot lead for much of Sunday afternoon. Aaron Wise gave the best run of the bunch, eventually reaching 10 under par and two back, but Horschel never broke.
The now 7-time Tour winner made eight pars and a bogey on his front nine, keeping things on the tracks, never wavering too much. He made what Jack Nicklaus called a “good bogey” at the 12th and made Wise press with every shot. Every chance he could take, Wise had to take. Aiming at pins, playing aggressive golf. It paid off, as Wise finished solo second, but it was still too steep of a climb to catch Horschel.
And then, of course, there was Horschel’s bomb on 15.
Horschel reached the back of the par-5 green in two, was 53 feet away from the hole, and urged his ball down the hill, tumbling toward the cup.
“Just beautiful pace,” Nick Faldo said as it crept closer and closer.
“Could it be an eagle?” Jim Nantz offered.
It was an eagle.
“Goodnight!” Nantz exclaimed. The door that was kept just slightly ajar all day was officially shut. A four-shot lead with three holes to play. Forty minutes later, he tapped in for a four-shot win, sending his three children sprinting gleefully onto the green.
“Did Daddy win? Did Daddy win?” they all asked.
Yes, Daddy won, and now he doesn’t have to hear the jokes about winning at the wrong times anymore.
“It’s special. It truly is,” Horschel said immediately afterward. “Jack’s a legend in the game, and to win his event — you’ve seen the guys who’ve won this event — just legends in their own right. It’s pretty special.
We joke about it in the family — my wife and my kids have never been at any of my victories. My parents had. Having a 5-shot lead and knowing this was sort of mine to win or lose, having them here for the first time, I really wanted to win so I could get the monkey off the back. It was pretty special. I’m happy that they’re all here to see it.”
Horschel may have won the event on Sunday, but he really won it on Saturday, when conditions were seemingly just as difficult, but where he played one of the best rounds of his life. Horschel gained more than seven shots on the field average, making seven birdies and 11 pars, nary a bogey on the card. It pushed him into a special threshold where it’s difficult to lose from: five shots clear.
With Nicklaus watching on, and Tiger Woods in the back of his mind, Horschel plodded his way around the course. Where he gave shots away, they were minimized. It ended in victory.
“I’ve watched Tiger play enough. I wasn’t around when Jack was playing in his hey day. But obviously you knew he was unbelievable at course management and how to plod his way around the course. To learn from those two and understand when you have a lead, you don’t have to do anything special.”