So, statistics are boring. But what better way to summarize the par-smashing explosion that left Memorial Tournament scoring records in a shambles? You start with Louisiana's Hal Sutton, who obliterated the former championship record by NINE strokes with a 17-under par 271 (mocking the 280's posted by David Graham in 1980 and Jack Nicklaus and Andy Bean in 1984).
The blond Bayou-bomber also became the first to play Muirfield under 70 in all four rounds (68-69-66-68), illuminating his card with an eagle and 23 birdies. And his winning margin of four strokes - over Don Pooley - constituted another high mark. The (usual) strong field nailed 1,241 birdies (previous record: 1,022); the stroke average for 356 rounds was 72.145 (previous record: 73.236); there were 80 rounds under 70 (previous record: 36); 161 under par (previous record: 102); and 211 par or better (previous record: 154). Also, consider that 13 players finished under the previous four-round record (280); that a par card (288) netted only $1,858, compared to the previous low, $3,250; that to make the top 25 (automatically qualifying for next year) a player needed a 283, compared to a 288 for the previous two years; and that the average number of rounds over par was 145, compared to the 10-year average of 238.
Host/course designer Jack Nicklaus provided a new line for the record book too, firing six straight birdies in Sunday's final round (10 through 15), one more than the previous best. This shocking assault on proud Muirfield (No. 6 in Golf Digest's 1986 listing of "America's 100 Greatest Courses") resulted from a combination of factors: (1) pre-Tournament rains that left the course soft and the greens more vulnerable: (2) little or no wind - a sharp contrast to other years; and (3) perpetuating the tradition of other years, a superbly groomed course that rewarded artful strokes.
"I don't think that record (Sutton's 271) will be broken for a long time, "suggested Nicklaus. "I just don't think you're going to have four days (of scoring conditions) like that again for a long time," adding that as in the past, there would be a least one day "where the wind would practically blow everybody off the course" and the tournament scoring average would balloon.
"It's the best golf I've ever played, from start to finish; the best tournament I've ever had," Sutton decided. "I made a bogey here and there and I even made double bogey on the ninth hole the first round, but there never were any real lapses. I hit 17, 14, 15 and 15 greens." Sutton entered the final round with a three-stroke lead over Pooley, Dan Halldorson and Doug Tewell and simply refused to back off. His advantage never dipped below two and stood at three through the final nine, despite bogeys on Nos. 14 and 16.
Nicklaus injected great excitement with his string of six birdies, starting at No. 10. It seemed a case of deja vu - another magnificent down-the-stretch victory march a la the Masters. The huge gallery, roaring in mounting frenzy with each disappearing putt, thought so. But Sutton handled the pressure. The Golden Bear's streak still left him four strokes back and a bogey-bogey-bogey finish dropped him into a fifth-place tie with John Mahaffey at 277.
Recalling that Nicklaus nearly caught him in the final round of the 1983 PGA Championship, Sutton confided after the Memorial windup: "I made up my mind that Jack was probably going to get hot and that I wanted to answer whatever he dished out." Sutton finished like a champion, sinking a side hill 25 foot putt to save par on the eighteenth for a 68. Pooley, in the same threesome, posted a 69 for 275 (and $60,000, the biggest check of his 11-year TOUR career), one ahead of Mark O'Meara, who closed with a 66, and Johnny Miller (68).
Of his triumph, the 28-year-old Sutton said, "anybody would want their name on that trophy. It's Jack's tournament and that makes it even more important. I would say it was a big win for me at this time in my life."
After trailing by one and three strokes through the first two rounds, Sutton bounced into the lead in the third round with a 203 on a day when the field average set a record of 71.494 strokes (71.865 in 1982) and bagged eight eagles. Pooley, Tewell and Halldorson were at 206. Nicklaus had 208. "The eagle at 15 probably got me going," Sutton said. "I had 240 yards and I hit a 4-wood about 25 feet left of the hole. I swung the putt way out to the left and it went right in the middle." He added birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 for a final 66.
The day's more spectacular eagle, however, belonged to Halldorson. On No. 14, he drove into the rough, selected a 9-iron for the 125-yard shot and sent the ball toward the green. "At first it looked like it would catch the front bunker," he related, "then it looked like it would go into the back bunker. But then it lost its steam and came back down sideways and ker-plunk! "
Halldorson had been the first round leader with a 65 (the Memorial's best first-day total ever) that included no eagles, but a record-tying nine birdies. Nicklaus' lowest opening round in 11 Memorials, 66, shared second with Tewell and Peter Jacobsen. There were 17 within four strokes of the leaders.
As one wit suggested, Nicklaus became an "un-Bear-able host" on Saturday, canning a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 18 for a 70-136 and a tie with Halldorson, Tewell and Don Pooley atop the leaderboard. With a 69, Sutton was among six at 137; Chip Beck's 65 also gave him a 137 and Andy Bean's 66 netted 138. A record 78 players made the cut (previous high: 76), which was a record low 146 (previous low: 149). Clarence Rose stroked the Memorial's fourth hole-in-one and second on No. 4, using a 5-iron (188 yards).