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Spieth, Day, McIlroy Tee Off at Memorial Tournament

DUBLIN, OHIO—Play gets underway today at one of the most anticipated PGA tour events of 2016.

The top-three players in the world arrive in Dublin coming off thrilling victories in their last appearances. Jason Day won the Player’s Championship; Rory McIlroy the Irish Open, and Jordan Spieth won last week’s tour event. Muirfield Village is getting rave reviews from the players as to a man they say it’s the best condition they’ve seen it play. This tournament falls two weeks before the US Open, so it’s an ideal tune up for America’s championship. That’s a big reason why all the big names in attendance.

The play on Thursday took a backseat today as they honored Johnny Miller for all his contributions to the game of golf both as a player and broadcaster.  Miller was feted by both his son John and his idol Jack Nicklaus.

According to his son, Miller would take his three boys out to play golf and never fail to shoot lights out.  “He’d be 8 under after 11 holes and tell us, ‘OK, this is boring. Let’s go get cheeseburgers.’” He had 4 holes-in-one in a month and 2 in a day….one of which was left handed. Johnny Miller is a huge muscle car fan.  John would find him occasionally just doing burnouts in his prized Ford Thunderbird.  He’d say, “I need to practice my burnouts.”

He’s won 25 PGA tour events but only 2 major championships. His first was the infamous 1973 US Open win at Oakmont, where he shot a still-record 63 on Sunday to overtake Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, and Tom Weiskopf.  This is on the very short list of greatest golf rounds ever played. He also outplayed a young Seve Ballesteros to win the 1976 British Open at Royal Birkdale. But only winning two majors is a disappointment with someone with Miller’s talent.

Miller had a great line about Nicklaus that really does encapsulate a champion’s mindset. He once asked Jack, “How do you win 18 majors? They’re the hardest tournaments to win.” Nicklaus responded to Miller, “You’ve got it completely wrong; they are the easiest tournaments to win.” Miller said it then dawned on him that Jack was right. Im majors, players start to gag under pressure and you only have to play decently down the stretch to win. He meekly complained that he just wished Nicklaus would have told him that earlier in his career.

Miller’s joy for the game of golf is infectious and that combined with his willingness to criticize players make him the best analyst in all of sports.  He wrapped up his comments with the short and sweet line of: “What a game, huh”?  It certainly has been for him.

Jack Nicklaus also did a QA session with fans and the media. This was a real treat because you are literally able to ask the greatest golfer ever any question you want and he’ll do his best to answer.

I asked him about any the majors he thinks he may have given away. He thought about it for a moment and listed three: the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hill where Arnold Palmer stormed from 7 shots back to win with a blistering 65 on Sunday. Nicklaus briefly held the lead on the back nine but three putted 2 holes to lose by two shots. He kids Arnie by saying, “I had to give that one to you or else nobody would’ve remembered who you are.” There was also the 1963 British Open, where he bogeyed the last two holes to finish one stroke out of a playoff with eventual champion Bob Charles. And finally the 1971 Masters, where he finished two strokes out of the lead after taking an 8 on the par 4 seventh hole. “That one doesn’t bother me because Charles Coody won his only major that day,” a magnanimous Nicklaus said.

Play begins today at 7:20 am Eastern and has a featured group of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Justin Thomas teeing off at 8:26 am.  Check back here for round by round updates.

Dan Redmond can be reached on twitter @danfromdc.

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