Dustin Johnson has gone 15 months without winning, which would suggest that golf has become a struggle.
That's hardly the case, as the opening round of the Memorial showed.
Johnson is still No. 8 in the world, and for good reason. Dating to his last victory in March of last year at Doral, he has posted 14 finishes in the top 10 and missed only one cut (he also withdrew from one tournament). Sometimes, the game can feel hard.
Thursday, it felt easy.
Johnson made birdie on his opening three holes with shots inside 12 feet. He ran off three straight birdies to close out the front nine at Muirfield Village. And he made four straight birdies on the back nine, leading to an 8-under 64 and a one-shot lead over Brendan Steele.
The man known for his power was in the lead, mainly because of the shortest club in the bag.
"With me, it has everything to do with the putter," Johnson said after his best score in nine trips to the Memorial. "I rolled it well today. I've been working pretty hard on the putter, and I felt like it's finally starting to pay off."
Jason Day did his part with a 66. Jordan Spieth (70) and Rory McIlroy (71) have some work to do on Friday.
PATIENT DAY: Day was coming off a victory in The Players Championship, his seventh victory in the last 10 months. He is No. 1 in the world. Muirfield Village is his home course — his wife is from Ohio and they live here — though he has never fared better than a tie for 27th. He was determined to change that.
And when he got to the course, Johnson already posted a 64.
Day rallied on the back nine with three birdies and an eagle, but he was careful to not try to make it all up in one day. Credit that to a conversation he had with Jack Nicklaus, who built the course.
"Mr. Nicklaus told me earlier, 'Just play within yourself.' Being patient is key out here," Day said. "When you see 8 under, it's hard to be patient."
But he was.
THE FINISH: The last time Brendan Steele played Muirfield Village in competition, he made a 6 on the 18th hole and closed with an 80.
On Thursday, he took only five shots for the last two holes.
He holed a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 17, and then holed out from 155 yards on the 18th hole for an eagle. The 3-2 finish gave him a 65.
"I found a lot of the time, the balls that actually go in are shots where you miss your number by 3 or 4 yards and it takes a bigger bounce that you think," he said. "This one did exactly what we were trying to do. So a little bit of luck and a good swing."
SPIETH ROLLING: The question posed to Spieth on Wednesday was who made more 30-footers, Spieth or Steph Curry?
"I think his percentage is better than mine," he said. "What is he, something like 50 percent?"
Spieth isn't too shabby with the shortest club in his bag. He won the Colonial by taking nine putts over the last nine holes. He started the Memorial with seven consecutive one-putt greens. That's 16 holes, a total of 16 putts.
Except at the Memorial, he was only 1 under through seven holes. The putter this time kept his score from being worse.
MICKELSON MOMENTS: Phil Mickelson was asked about the unsuccessful vote at Muirfield to allow female members in this context: Because the R&A took Muirfield off the British Open venue, he could be the last Open champion in its storied history.
But when pressed on the vote and his opinion, Lefty said, "I'm not going to go down that road right now. I've got enough issues to deal with, but thanks."
He recently was spared criminal charges in an insider trading complaint and chose to return a nearly $1 million profit, and Mickelson said he was glad it was behind him and he was back to golf. But oh, that golf.
Mickelson shot 68 with a few wild moments.
On the 14th hole, he caught a flier from the rough that bounced off the grandstand and so far behind it that his wisest option was to take a penalty and go back to the previous spot. He avoided a big number by making a 20-foot putt for bogey. Then, his tee shot on the 15th hit a marshal in the head and went from the right rough all the way across the fairway to lighter rough. He wound up with a birdie.
"I've hit a lot of people — a lot of people," Mickelson said. "Nobody's taken it as well as that marshal did on 15."