DUBLIN, Ohio — Erik Compton considers the Memorial a special week no matter how he plays, knowing his second heart transplant came from a donor in Ohio.
The opening round was even sweeter with three birdies on the back nine late Thursday afternoon at Muirfield Village for 5-under-par 67, leaving the former Georgia Bulldog one shot out of the lead after a day that featured a timely rally by Rory McIlroy and a surprising departure by Phil Mickelson.
When the day ended, Scott Stalling was atop the leaderboard with 66 and hardly anyone noticed that Stallings had nine one-putt greens and chipped in for eagle on the par-5 seventh.
Compton has been an amazing story as long as he has played golf.
He had his first heart transplant at 12, played in the Walker Cup after a solid career at Georgia, nearly died from a heart attack on his way home from the golf course in 2007, had a second transplant in May 2008, and earned his PGA Tour card for the first time last year through his play on the Nationwide Tour.
“It’s just a great story, obviously, and it’s a great place – for me, it’s a special place,” Compton said. “For me, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my donor. To be able to play here, regardless of whether I play good or bad, it’s just always a nice week.”
It could have been another bad week for McIlroy.
Coming off back-to-back missed cuts that cost him his No. 1 ranking and ramped up the scrutiny, McIlroy took a quadruple bogey on his third hole of the tournament when he went from the bunker to the water, back over the pond to the drop area on a forward tee, and then into another bunker. He blasted onto the green and took two putts for 7, and there were murmurs from the crowd to see him at 4-over par so early.
The next 15 holes were much better, and he rallied for 71.
Mickelson wasn’t anywhere near those scores, and when his round ended, he was nowhere near the golf course.
Mickelson walked out of the scoring hut after signing for 79 – his worst score ever at the Memorial – and said he was withdrawing because of mental fatigue.
He said playing three consecutive weeks, followed by a trip to Europe for his wife’s 40th birthday, took too much out of him and he needed extra rest with the U.S. Open only two weeks away.