By Dan Reardon

William McGirt and Jon Curran? How did this happen? Number 104 vs. number 193 in a playoff at Jack’s Place? The script had been written weeks ago. We knew that for only the second time since the Masters the “Big Three” would be together headlining the field at Muirfield Village. Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth going head to head to shuffle the OWGR. Instead we got McGirt and Curran. What’s going on?

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There’s a simple, if not satisfying answer. In golf, players don’t play against each other. They play against the course. In Ohio, as we have seen every week, 144 players teed it up to see who could best beat the course. There is no All-Defense team in golf. Case in point, world #1 Jason Day.

On Saturday, Day came to the par-4 18th at 13-under ready to climb into the final group on Sunday and restore order. He hit his approach maybe two yards short of where he wanted and rolled a few yards back off the green. No problem, Day is the maestro around the greens. Except the maestro played a flat note with his third, landing in the same spot and now even further from the green. A pitch to above the hole, two putts and Day set the tone for a final-day 74, and a tie for 27th.

There was no Draymond Green blocking his shot to the green. There was no Novak Djokovic returning serve from the baseline. There was just a decade-old golf course presenting the same challenge to Day in the third round that it presents to members this week. It’s the golf course, “stupid.”

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On Sunday, all the elites were there, save Jordan Spieth, with a chance to take the Memorial. Day was still there. McIlroy was there. Dustin Johnson was there. Matt Kuchar was at the top. Patrick Reed was in the hunt. The names were there, but their games were not. A weather front passed through and brought winds that changed a course that yielded 65s and 66s the first three days into a less accommodating opponent. Par became a winner — literally.

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Johnson penciled in four bogeys on the final nine and missed the playoff by a stroke. McIlroy authored six birdies on the day but couldn’t keep bogeys at 12 and 14 off the card — two back. In the lead, Kuchar, starting at the 12th, recorded two bogeys and a double at 13 for another top 10, but a back-nine 39 — also two back. And for Day, it was fire and fall back with five birdies, five bogeys and a double — 74.

While all the elite cars in the field were trading places on the lead lap, it came down to the guy driving the pace car picking up the win. It was like Alexander Rossi at the 500, just being there when everyone else failed.

It was fitting that the two-hole playoff between McGirt and Curran could do no better than par and McGirt’s up and down from the bunker at 18 was the trophy taker.

McGirt won as perhaps only he could. He bored the field with routine. His 20 holes on Sunday featured one birdie and 19 pars. A guy who had gone 165 Tour starts without a win six full years on the PGA Tour, was the last man standing.

“And that’s the biggest thing. The few times I’ve been in this position, everything sped up, but I learned what my tendencies were,” he said afterward. “So I knew starting today I needed to walk as slow as I possibly could all day long. And the same thing on my golf swing, I knew I needed to try to swing as slow as I possibly could. It’s just been years and years of practice and getting your nose bloodied and learning from it.”

He gave the golf course the respect it demanded on the final day, and when he had his chance to beat it, he did. “Yeah, and one thing I had always told myself, if I ever won a golf tournament, number one, ‘don’t cry.’ And number two, ‘don’t make a fool of yourself.’ So when I stood over the putt, I told myself, I said, ‘this is what you’ve dreamed of doing your whole life. You have this opportunity. Hit the best putt you can and see what happens.’”

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Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.