Troy Merritt tees off on the 18th hole during the second round of the Memorial golf tournament Friday, May 31, 2019, in Dublin, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Merritt takes early lead by 2 shots at Memorial

May 31, 2019 - 12:26 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Troy Merritt is playing this year as if he's on a rehab assignment from a blood clot, and his score Friday at the Memorial spoke to the progress he's making.

Merritt made three birdies putt from outside 12 feet, chipped in for eagle and had everything going his way until a few errant shots at the end of his round. He wound up with a 6-under 66 and a two-shot lead among the early starters in the second round.

Among those two behind was another player who has been through a significant recovery: Bud Cauley, who broke six ribs in a car crash a year ago after missing the cut in the Memorial.

Merritt was at 9-under 135, two ahead of Cauley, Adam Scott (66), Rickie Fowler (68), Patrick Cantlay (69) and Emiliano Grillo, who had the lead until a bogey-double bogey finish dropped him to a 68.

Phil Mickelson was headed for another weekend off after a 79, matching his worst score in 19 appearances at Muirfield Village. Mickelson hit his opening tee shot out of play for a triple bogey and never quite recovered.

Tiger Woods was seven shots behind when he started out with the afternoon groups.

Merritt played last summer unaware he had a blood clot that ran from his chest to his left elbow. He could swing a club, even though it was difficult to lift his arm. He could hit the ball well enough to win the Barbasol Championship, but 10 days before the PGA Championship, his arm was turning purple.

The cause was thoracic outlet syndrome, where the top rib and clavicle grew too close together, pinched a vein and caused the clot. He played last fall on blood thinners and wore a compression sleeve, and then in January decided to have his top rib removed so he could get off the blood thinners.

He missed two months and is taking it easy this year. With a two-year exemption from winning, keeping his card isn't a concern.

"I'm just trying to get 20 starts," he said. "I'll play all summer long. Not really looking at the points race too much. But just planning on playing a lot of golf."

Cauley broke six ribs, punctured a lung and broke his femur when he was a passenger in the back seat of a car that flipped over and smashed into a tree. He needed a sponsor's exemption to get back to the Memorial, and while he is focusing on golf, he is aware of going from nearly losing his career a year ago to being two shots off the lead.

"Once I got here, it's actually been a little bit easier than the weeks leading up to it, just wondering how I would feel or what I would think about," Cauley said. "It's nice to play well. I haven't really thought about it too much, which has been nice. Just trying to treat it like a normal week."

Even with sunshine, Muirfield remained soft and easy to attack, provided players could avoid the rough.

Mickelson struggled with that, and he wasn't alone. Jason Day shot a 74 despite holing out for eagle on No. 2 with a shot out of the left rough and over a tree. He was headed for a missed cut.

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