The Memorial Tournament
It was a frustrating end to a week at Colonial that had promised so much heading in to Sunday as our 80/1 pick Harris English who started the final round as favourite had a shocker of a day four.
Starting one shot shy of 54 hole co leaders Harry Hall and Adam Schenk there was plenty of cause for optimism that English’s experience as a four time winner on tour would see him through. Sadly though on a tough day for scoring after opening with a birdie the Georgia Bulldog capitulated to a 76, which saw him fail to even bag us a place return.
The tournament itself was won by Emiliano Grillo who ended a seven year plus wait for a second tour title shooting 68 and then seeing off Schenk in a play-off. That by line though doesn’t begin to tell the story as Grillo had stood on the 18th tee with a two shot lead only to hit his tee shot in the creek and make double bogey. In the end though after Schenk missed two 15-20ft putts on the 72nd hole and then the first play off hole to bag the trophy Grillo made a birdie on the second play-off hole to bag the title.
So onwards we go and its time for the annual trip to ‘Jack’s place’ Muirfield Village, for the for the Memorial Tournament.
The Memorial event was founded in 1976 by Jack Nicklaus and is played on the Nicklaus designed course at the Muirfield Village Golf Club.
As well as now carrying designated event status The Memorial is an invitational event and this weeks field will be made up of just over 130 players.
With the event having designated status we have a strong line up on show this week with Scottie Scheffler just edging John Rahm for favouritism. This duo are then followed by Patrick Cantlay, Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele.
Muirfield Village is a Par 72 measuring at just over 7450 yards.
The greens are Bent Grass.
Muirfield Village is seen as a classical test. Approach play is key as it is imperative to find the correct part of the undulating greens, which can, as long as the weather cooperates, run up to 13 on the stimpmeter.
With a bit more room off the tee compared to some courses, Muirfield Village is basically a second shot and in course.
Although plenty of birdies are available particularly on the par 5s there is also a lot of danger lurking with water in play on more than half of the holes, and historically thick rough around the greens.
The closing stretch of the course 16 through 18 is the toughest.
The Par 5s is where you make your score at Muirfield Village with all four Par 5s playing under Par year in year out.
I would therefore see Par 5 scoring as a key stat to look at.
Away from the four par fives and the most exciting hole on the course is arguably the par 4 14th, which is driveable most days.
After the 2020 edition the course underwent significant renovation with the aim according to Jack Nicklaus to make the course “better, not necessarily harder”.
Most holes had the greens completely recontoured with bunker modifications and the only holes where the greens now resemble the old greens are 12, 13, 14 & 17.
Based on these changes there was a fair amount of speculation as to whether past course form would count for as much however with Rahm and Cantlay dominating Again in 2021 it appeared to be very much ‘business as usual’.
Away from Muirfield Village I would also suggest that form on other Nicklaus courses is worth taking in to consideration and one fact that stands out is that in addition to 2021 champion Jon Rahm, 2017 winner Jason Dufner is a past winner at the CareerBuilder which uses a Nicklaus course. Similarly David Lingmerth who won here in 2015 has also come close at the CareerBuilder [when losing to Dufner in a playoff].
Meanwhile last years champion Billy Horschel was runner up at the Nicklaus designed Concession Club, which hosted a one off Tour event in 2021,
Other Nicklaus courses to consider are PGA National home of the Honda Classic, Glen Abbey the former home of the Canadian Open.
So lets take a look at the winners since 2012;
2022 – Billy Horschel
2021 – Patrick Cantlay
2020 – Jon Rahm
2019 – Patrick Cantlay
2018 – Bryson Dechambeau
2017 Jason Dufner
2016 William McGirt
2015 David Lingmerth
2014 Hideki Matsuyama
2013 Matt Kuchar
2012 Tiger Woods
As we can see from this list it’s been a fairly mixed bag of winners here over the past decade and we have seen three players Matsuyama, Lingmerth and McGirt gain there first PGA Tour wins here, with McGirt and Lingmerth’s successes in particular coming from left field.
Over recent years however the event has very much been the domain of the big names with Patrick Cantlay and Jon Rahm posting three wins between them over the past four years. Lets not also forget of course that the balance would almost certainly have been two to one in Rahm’s favour had he not been forced to withdraw from the event on Saturday evening in 2021 after a positive Covid test when he held a six shot lead through 54 holes.
Whilst past course form is never a minus it does not appear to be a requisite here. In fact six of the eight winners since 2014, Rahm, Dechambeau, Dufner, McGirt, Lingmerth and Matsuyama had a best place finish of 19th between them in eleven previous starts. [Hideki was making his course debut.] So don’t be put off if the man you have a hunch for has not done much here before.
Current form coming in is a bit more interesting and I have provided a table below to show this;
2022 – Billy Horschel MC 68 21 43 9
2021 – Patrick Cantlay 23 MC MC 18 MC
2020 – Jon Rahm 27 33 37 MC 3*
2019 – Patrick Cantlay 3 3 9 24 MC
2018 – Bryson Dechambeau 42 37 4 3 38
2017 Jason Dufner MC 13 60 5 11
2016 William McGirt 47 43 17 37 9
2015 David Lingmerth MC 33 MC MC MC
2014 Hideki Matsuyama 10 23 38 MC MC
2013 Matt Kuchar 2 33 48 35 8
2012 Tiger Woods 40 MC 40 1 WD
*Denotes finish pre ‘lockdown’ 2020.
As we can see from this all but two of the last ten winners, Lingmerth and Cantlay in 2021, had posted a top ten finish in their previous five starts on tour [although Rahm’s top 10 did come prior to the Tour’s break for covid 19]. Let’s also not forget that Rahm was in fine form last year before his WD, having finished eighth at the PGA in his previous start, so It would seem therefore that current form is a better way in here than course form.
One other angle I feel merits consideration is par 5 scoring and it’s correlation to similar style tracks like Bay Hill where taking advantage of the par 5s is key. Longer term readers may remember that this was a large part of the case I built for Bryson in 2018 when putting him up as he had finished second at Bay Hill [also fourth at Quail Hollow, which rewards par 5 performance], and he lead the tour coming in to the week in 2018 in par 5 scoring.
Furthermore anyone who had followed the Bay Hill connection last year may well have plumped for the winner Billy Horschel as he had been runner up at the API earlier in the year.
Finally as always the winning score is influenced by the elements with the lowest winning total in the last ten years coming from Patrick Cantlay in 2019 who posted -19, however in 2020 Rahm triumphed with a -9 total.
2021 saw Cantlay triumph in a play off with a -13 total although we mustn’t forget he Rahm was six clear prior to having to WD while last year Horschel posted a four shot win again with a –13 number.
For five years prior to Cantlay’s win though we saw three winning scores of -15 and two of -13 [-15 was the score required to make the play off in 2018., while Cantlay triumphed again with -13 in 2020.
It is also worth noting that one winner in the past ten years, Cantlay in 2019, has managed to post all four rounds in the 60s on route to victory
We look set for a week of warm dry conditions with temperatures set to sit in the high 80s all four days and no rain in the forecast. Expect firm, fast conditions then!
Wind, which can be a factor here doesn’t at the time of writing look to be too much of a factor with not much more than 10-15mph showing in the forecast, with Saturday the day it is predicted to blow the most.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JASON DAY – 28/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
In all honesty the top end of the market is very strong this week and you could easily make a case for any of them to triumph at ‘Jack’s Place’.
Rahm and Cantlay have owned this place between them over recent years, Scheffler has the ideal iron game for here and is a half decent putting week away from winning any given week, Rory McIlroy has obvious correlating form at venues like Bay Hill and Quail Hollow and may well arrive buoyed by his battling effort at Oak Hill, while Schauffele’s credentials are also obvious.
Ultimately though of course at the odds none of them make any real appeal as each way propositions so I will instead swerve them and start this week in the second tier down the odds with Jason Day.
Healthy once more Day’s game had been trending forward hugely since the back end of last year and despite a slight blip where he closed out the Masters with an 80 and then missed the cut at Quail Hollow it was no surprise to see him find the winners circle again at the Byron Nelson.
Perhaps inevitably after the emotion of that week a missed cut ensued at the PGA where he chose to tee it up without a practice round, again, an indication of how much that week had taken out of him.
Rested now though Day gets to tee it up this week in what is basically a home game for him as he is based in the Columbus area just 30 minutes or so from this weeks track.
Granted a look at Jason’s record here doesn’t give hugely to the theory that he benefits from sleeping in his own bed however he did post back to back top tens here in the one off Workday event and then in the Memorial in 2020. In addition as noted earlier past course form here has never been a huge indicator.
While the Aussie then doesn’t have a great record here going for him what he does have is wins both at Bay Hill and Quail Hollow, two courses, which tie nicely here with the former in particular being a great pointer over the years. In addition he also has a win at the Nicklaus designed Glen Abbey in the RBC Canadian Open to his name.
A look at Jason’s stats this season tell us that, not unsurprisingly for someone who is having the year he is, that he is doing everything really well. He currently sits 11th from tee to green and 22nd in approach. In addition and something I expect to be key this week, his short game is firing superbly as he sits 13th in putting, 22nd around the greens and second in good old fashioned scrambling.
A look at Day’s career as a whole shows us that he is a player who has made a habit of winning in bunches as he won five times in his career year in 2015, three times in six starts in 2016 and then again twice in 2018.
Buoyed then by his win in Texas but having now recharged the batteries from the energy that win took I expect Jason to come out really strongly again and post a big week this week.
TYRELL HATTON – 28/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 12th
I have no doubt that one of the biggest frustrations to Jack Nicklaus over the years in this event has been that time and again Mother Nature has intervened disrupting the week and not allowing the event to get the firm, fast conditions he would undoubtedly desire.
This week then, while you can never completely rule out the weather throwing in a curve ball, the Golden Bear must be rubbing his hands together as if the forecast is to be believed there is not a shower in sight, meaning the course can be set up exactly as he would hope.
With that in mind, while I don’t expect it be as brutal as Bay Hill, I find myself not just looking to the correlating API event but to editions played in similar conditions and as such the name that springs to mind is that of Tyrrell Hatton’s.
While Hatton has just the one win to his name on the PGA Tour at the aforementioned API in 2020 there is no doubt he has been knocking on the door this year in what has been a superb campaign to date.
Fourth again at Bay Hill in similarly firm conditions and runner up at TPC Sawgrass Tyrrell has notched five top six finishes all told in 13 starts missing only one cut along the way.
Similarly to Day the Englishman’s success has been built around a really strong tee to green game for which he is currently ranked sixth, while he is tenth on tour in approach play. Furthermore he is 17th on tour in putting showing us the flat stick is firing as well.
With his iron game firing then and with his proven track record on a firm, fast layout I expect conditions to be ideal for Hatton this week.
Known as a player to vent his frustrations on the course it was also hugely encouraging to see Tyrrell grind out a 15th place at Oak Hill last time out having started really poorly with a 77.
Looking at Hatton’s history here and he has only teed it up once at Muirfield Village before finishing 33rd, however he posted all four rounds at par or better that week showing he was comfortable on the lay out.
While Hatton only has the one win on the PGA Tour he is of course a serial winner on the DP World Tour having posted six victories on that stage, however his last trophy came over two years ago in 2021. Long overdue a return to the winners circle then Tyrrell is a man on a mission in 2023 and I see a big week ahead.
COREY CONNERS – 45 /1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up for me this week is Corey Conners.
In a week where we are predominantly focusing on strong iron players the Canadian’s name is always going to be one that springs to mind.
16th on tour from tee to green and 17th in approach play Conners when on song is undoubtedly one of the best iron players on tour.
After a disappointing Presidents Cup performance last Fall it took Conners a while to get going in 2023 with his first seven events failing to yield a top ten finish.
All of that changed though when Corey returned to TPC San Antonio in April, the scene of his first PGA Tour triumph as he went on to bag his second title at the same venue.
Following on from that week perhaps understandably after the win, Corey missed the cut at Augusta and finished in the pack at the Heritage, however he then returned refreshed from three weeks off to finish eighth at Quail Hollow and 12th at Oak Hill having been right in the mix going in to the weekend.
Clearly playing some great golf at the moment then Corey returns this week to Muirfield Village where he has posted five solid efforts in five visits with a best of 13th last year. More interestingly though Corey has an 11th and third place finish to his name over recent years at Bay Hill, which we know ties really well here.
Furthermore prior to the missed cut this year Conners had taken a real shine to Augusta with three consecutive top tens and there is no doubt that as a second shot par 72 Augusta ties well here.
As we know Corey’s Achilles Heel is undoubtedly the flat stick for, which he currently ranks 108th on the campaign. We only need to look back to last week though and Emiliano Grillo to see how a strong putting week for someone who normally struggles on the ‘dance floor’ can make all the difference. In addition let’s not forget Corey’s strong efforts at Augusta showing he can hold his own on firm, fast greens.
In a week then when I expect solid approach play to be key I’ll take Conners to build on his recent form and produce a big week.
BYEONG HUN AN – 125/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 24th
Next up for me this week is a player who is something of a specialist on a Nicklaus layout Ben An.
An lost his way in 2020/21 to the extent that he found himself back on the Korn Ferry Tour last year having to claw his way back on to the PGA Tour.
Rather than wallow in self pity though he knuckled down and literally three weeks in to the season he landed the trophy at the Lecom Suncoast Classic, an event.
Following on from this the Korean has made a really solid return to the PGA Tour as having now tee’d it up 22 times posting six top 20 finishes including a best of fourth at the Fortinet and missing only five weekends along the way.
If we then look at Ben’s stats for the season and we see that he ranks 26th from tee to green and interestingly while there is no doubt he struggles on the putting surfaces he ranks second around the greens.
Meanwhile last week where he turned in another strong showing finishing 21st at the Charles Schwab he ranked an eye catching fourth from tee to green, fifth off the tee and 10th in approach play.
So we’ve established then that Ben is having a really solid season however things get really interesting when we start to look at his record on Nicklaus layouts. Firstly at this venue he was runner up in 2018 and 11th a couple of years prior to that while at PGA National he has had great success, notching two top five finishes in five previous visits. Furthermore he was runner up at another Nicklaus design, Glen Abbey, in the RBC Canadian Open, again in 2018.
Back then this week on a track we know Ben is comfortable on I am happy to roll the dice on him at big odds this week.
SEPP STRAKA – 250/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 16th
Finally at huge odds I am going to give another chance to a player I was on last week, Sepp Straka.
As noted earlier Muirfield Village is very much a ‘second shot and in’ course and like the majority of our team this is where, when on song the Austrian’s strengths lie.
As I noted last week Straka has had a fairly ‘up & down’ season to date, however his stats at Oak Hill on the way to his seventh place finish were superb as he ranked fifth in Driving Accuracy, 1st in Greens in Regulation, second in Approach Play and fifth from tee to green for the week.
On to last week then when we were onboard and while the Austrian didn’t deliver that level of a ball striking display he posted a solid 29th place and interestingly having struggled to make the cut on Friday he got stronger as the course toughened up posting two rounds of 70 over the weekend to climb up the leaderboard.
Looking at Straka’s record on the track and he hasn’t produced much in this event in his three appearances although he has made the cut on two occasions with a best of 45th last year when he opened up with two solid rounds before fading over the weekend. In addition he notched a 14th in the Workday event in 2020.
Nothing spectacular at Muirfield Village then however Sepp did of course land his sole PGA Tour title at the Nicklaus designed PGA National while he also has a fourth place finish to his name at the correlating Amex event.
There is no doubt these designated events are predominantly the domain of the big names on tour however at Bay Hill and Quail Hollow this year we have seen Kurt Kitayama and Wyndham Clark land the trophies so in a week where some of the big names may either be fatigued on a run which has seen them play consecutive weeks since the grind at the PGA, or be just looking to start gearing up for the US Open, I am happy to chance Sepp to build here on his recent eye catching play.