June 2, 2006

Flesch one shot clear at weather-hit Memorial

DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - American Steve Flesch pared the
final hole to take a one-shot lead at the Memorial tournament
when the weather-hit first round was completed on Friday.

The left-hander signed for a six-under-par 66 at Muirfield
Village Golf Club, finishing a stroke ahead of compatriot Sean

Thirteen players were a further two shots back on a
high-quality leaderboard, including U.S. Masters champion Phil
Mickelson, Davis Love III, former world number one Nick Price
of Zimbabwe, Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Briton David Howell.

Flesch, who had split the middle of the fairway with his
drive on 18 when play was suspended on Thursday because of the
threat of a late afternoon thunderstorm, was delighted with his
seven-birdie round.

"I was just hitting it really good, keeping the ball in the
fairway and was pretty good with my irons," the 39-year-old
told reporters.

"Fortunately with the greens being as soft as they are,
you're able to get the ball close to the hole, which is a
little out of character for this place.

"Usually the greens are pretty firm and it's tough to get
the ball close.

"I birdied all the par-fives and hit a lot of good putts.
It's probably the best round I've played in a year, maybe even
a year-and-a-half."


A significant factor in Flesch's performance was staying
out of the controversially beefed-up bunkers at Muirfield

"I've been avoiding them like a water hazard," he said.
"It's frustrating to watch other guys try to get out of them,
to be honest with you.

"The way they're groomed this week makes it tough, even if
you are a good bunker player, to get it out close to the hole."

The decision by tournament host Jack Nicklaus to have the
bunkers raked in an unconventional way has sparked wide debate
among the players.

Nicklaus has introduced a long-toothed, widely spaced rake
which creates furrows to make recoveries from the sand more

Although Mickelson felt the bunkers were fair for everyone,
Ernie Els and Zimbabwean Price disapproved of the ploy.

"I disagree with it," Price said. "I don't like it at all.
I don't think there's one player out here that does. It's a bit
of pot luck, to be honest."

(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles)