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Long and short of it: Keegan Bradley shifts from long to short putter, opens Memorial with 67

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DUBLIN, Ohio - Mother knows best. It's true in golf, too.

Keegan Bradley reaffirmed that when he had a heart-to-heart with his mom a couple of Sundays ago.

Mind you, Bradley, who'll turn 28 in just over a week, is one of the best players in the world. He won the PGA Championship in 2011, so he's already got that major-championship bugaboo out of the way.

Yet, his mom had some advice for him.

"I actually talked to my mom, of all people, who is a golfer, but she's not a huge golfer," said Bradley, the nephew of LPGA great and World Golf Hall of Famer Pat Bradley. "She said, 'I'm going to tell you something. I don't think you're going to like it.' I was, like, 'All right.' She said, 'I think you should use the short putter.'"

Now Bradley had won three times on the PGA Tour and had become a weekly threat to win by using a long putter. Unfortunately, that anchored stroke associated with long putters has been outlawed by the USGA and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. The anchored ban begins in 2016, although the PGA Tour and PGA of America have declared they do not believe that the stroke commonly used for long putters is an advantage.

So Bradley, looking for a reason to energize his game, used a short putter Thursday in the first round of the Memorial Tournament and shot a 5-under 67.

"I needed something to get me excited about playing because I was bummed," said Bradley, who has played erratically for most of this season.

Bradley's round at Muirfield Village included five birdies and no bogeys.

Oh, and by the way, he took just 28 putts.

"I thought I could slip under the radar a little bit," he said with a grin. "Now it's out there and people know."

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QUOTABLE: Rory McIlroy after his 9-under 63 to take a three-shot lead after the opening round: "This has been coming."

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NOT A FAN: Bubba Watson loves Muirfield Village. Well, most of it, anyway.

After Watson put the finishing touches on an opening 66, he said he played really well. Except at the downwind, par-3 water hole at No. 16.

"I don't mind making a bogey there because I don't like that hole," Watson said.

This is the fifth year of the redesigned 16th. It used to be a relatively nondescript hole, made difficult by the winds that usually funnel as if through a chute behind the tee. The previous green had big, deep bunkers in front and back.

Jack Nicklaus, the course designer, also never liked the old hole. He called it "just a way to get from the 15th green to the 17th tee." So before the 2010 tournament, he completely reconstructed it. He added a big pond in front of a green that was cut on the bias, so it looked about as wide as a blade of grass from the tee. Heavy rough awaited any shots that flew the green. There were treacherous pin positions available that are tight to the bunkers or just over the water.

One of the tournament's signature moments took place at the hole. In 2012, Tiger Woods' iron shot ended up in the lush, gnarly, grabby rough over the green. Woods pulled out a 60-degree sand wedge and, with the distinct possibility of the ball bouncing through the green and into the lake, he holed it for birdie to tie for the lead. He then made a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th to lock up his fifth victory in the event.

Watson said the hole remains a major problem for him.

"It's the first par 3 I'm aiming off the green," he said. "If I can play it in 2 over this week I'll be pretty happy."

He's already 1 over.

Others felt the same way as Watson. Phil Mickelson, coincidentally another left-hander, also said he disliked the 16th after bogeying it in a 72.

The 16th, measuring 201 yards, was the second-toughest hole Thursday, averaging 3.342 shots. There were only seven birdies — and eight double bogeys.

Nicklaus is among those who recognizes how hard the 16th now is.

"I'm glad I didn't have to play my own hole," he said after the tournament two years ago.

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BIG MEN OFF CAMPUS: The NCAA championship at Prairie Dunes — and college golf in general — have been a major topic of discussion this week among the pros.

Alabama captured the national title with a 4-1 victory over Oklahoma State on Wednesday.

A proud former Crimson Tide player, Michael Thompson, said watching his old school take the victory was an inspiration.

"That definitely put me in a good mood, that's for sure," Thompson said after shooting a 5-under 67 on Thursday. "I was hooting and hollering in front of the TV yesterday afternoon, cheering those guys on. I'm really proud of the team."

Thompson graduated from Alabama with a degree in accounting in 2008. He still stays close to the alma mater, and its players.

"I actually spent a lot of time this spring practicing with them," he said. "It's just a treat for me to kind of go back and relive a bit of my college days."

In other news around campus, the opening round of the Memorial was a banner day for former Georgia players.

Bubba Watson and Chris Kirk each shot 6-under 66s and were tied for second with Paul Casey.

"When I was there in school we were all very competitive with each other and pushed each other a lot," said Kirk, winner of the McGladrey last November and is ninth on the PGA Tour money list to date. "I think that continues out here."

Watson, winner of his second Masters in April, still follows the Bulldogs — current and former.

"Georgia just happens to be hot right now," he said.

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QUOTABLE II: Paul Casey, who shot a 66, hadn't played at the Memorial the past four years.

"I don't know why I didn't play," he said. "The last few years have been kind of lost, so to speak, with injuries and stuff going on."

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STATE OF GOLF: Jack Nicklaus, who travels the world designing courses and serving as an ambassador of sorts for the game, says he believes that the game has scratched and clawed its way out of some hard economic times.

"I think that the state of tournament golf is really, really healthy," he said this week. "And, frankly, I'm starting to see signs that regular golf is making a recovery."

Not so terribly long ago, there were dire predictions that fewer people were picking up the game, established courses were dying off, no new layouts were opening and the growth of the sport — once upon a time a trend in the heady days when Tiger Woods was introducing hordes of youngsters to golf — was stagnant if not headed the other way.

Nicklaus' design group has 15 or 20 courses under construction in China. Another just opened in Japan that had been sitting for seven years for the capital to finish it.

With the U.S. economy growing, it stands to reason that people have more money to spend on recreation, including rounds of golf and equipment.

"I'm starting to see the whole economics of the game of golf increasing again," Nicklaus said. "People are starting to play more rounds. They're spending more money at a lot of the clubs. The clubs are not struggling like they were three, four years ago. I think we've made a turnaround. We're headed in the right direction."

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DIVOTS: Phil Mickelson climbed the leaderboard with four birdies in five holes on the front side, but then finished bogey-double-double for a 72. ... Justin Leonard's 68 was his lowest competitive score at Muirfield Village since a second-round 65 in 2002. ... Derek Ernst, who won the Wells Fargo a year ago but hasn't finished inside the top 30 this season in 20 starts, continued to have problems. He had two double-bogeys and eight bogeys in an 81 and was last in the field at 120th. ... Nicolas Colsaerts had the longest measured drive of the day, a 348-yard bomb on the par-4 13th. He mustered only a par, however, while posting a 76. ... A total of 20 players broke 70, almost as many as had the past two years (22) in the first round.

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP

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