By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Denny McCarthy’s name was mentioned prominently even before the Memorial began, and then he lived up to the praise over two days at Muirfield Village.
McCarthy took only 25 putts Friday — he only had 24 putts the day before — for a 3-under 69 that gave him a one-shot lead and set the target for the rest of the afternoon.
McCarthy was at 7-under 137, one shot ahead of PGA Tour rookie Davis Riley (71) and two clear of Rory McIlroy (69) among the early starters.
In his fifth year on the PGA Tour, McCarthy is winless in 127 starts and has yet to make it to the penultimate FedEx Cup playoff event. In two previous appearances at Muirfield Village, he had not broken 70.
For those who don’t pore over the litany of statistics available on the PGA Tour, it was a little surprising when McIlroy was asked earlier in the week whom he considered the better putters in today’s game. He mentioned Jordan Spieth. Everyone knows him. He was impressed with Sam Burns, a three=time winner over the last eight months.
And he mentioned McCarthy.
“These are my kind of greens,” McCarthy said of the fast, contoured greens on the course Jack Nicklaus built.
He has a knack for being able to read long, sweeping breaks and making his share of them. One of those Friday was from 40 feet in the closely mown fairway short of the green on the par-3 fourth hole. He had another birdie from 15 feet on the 17th. The others were inside 10 feet.
Told of McIlroy’s comments earlier in the week, McCarthy smiled and said, “I would like to drive it like Rory.”
“Everyone has the best part of their game. Obviously putting is part of mine,” said McCarthy, who is No. 5 in the key putting statistic for the year. “Driving the ball is the best part of his game. I’m no slouch around the course, like putting is not the only thing I do well. Everyone brings up my putter; yes, I’m a good putter. But I need to do good things to get to those putts.”
McIlroy has only played with McCarthy once, in the final round of The Players Championship. He sees McCarthy around South Florida at The Medalist on occasion, but mostly McIlroy is a student of stats. And when it comes to putting, he said he always sees McCarthy’s name somewhere around the top.
Riley, who has had two close calls in his rookie season, is on track for another opportunity. He was tied for the lead until pushing his shot right of the ninth fairway on his final hole. With a pond guarding the front of the green and his path blocked by trees, he had no choice but to punch out, and he wound up missing the 12-foot par putt.
McIlroy, meanwhile, has been picking up a little momentum since his closing 64 at the Masters for a runner-up finish. He finished four shots behind at the Wells Fargo Championship and three shots out of a playoff at the PGA Championship.
McIlroy surged into the mix at the Memorial with a fairway metal that was high and true and into a freshening breeze to 6 feet for eagle on the par-5 fifth toward the end of his round. His momentum was slowed by a bogey from the bunker on the par-3 eighth, but his 69 left him in reasonable shape going into the weekend.
Jon Rahm overcame a shank on the second hole — he made birdie on the next one — to scratch out a 70 without his best iron game. He was at 2-under 142, five behind McCarthy and very much in the mix for another shot at winning the Memorial.
He won in 2020. He was six shots ahead after three rounds last year until his positive COVID-19 test knocked him out of the final round.
Bryson DeChambeau had a 42 on the back nine to start his second round and finished with a 77 to miss the cut in his first tournament since the Masters because of surgery on his left hand. The pain is gone. So is his swing, at least at the moment.
DeChambeau was otherwise in good spirits despite the frustration of not knowing where the ball was going. He was headed to the range at Muirfield Village before heading home to Dallas for a lot of practice before the U.S. Open.
Defending champion Patrick Cantlay was among those playing in the afternoon, when the course was starting to dry out by the hour after Wednesday’s overnight rain.
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