PGA Tour Picks: The Memorial Tournament

By Tom LaMarre

Three days after the Memorial Day holiday, a number of the best players on the PGA Tour will tee it up in the Memorial Tournament this week in homage to tournament host Jack Nicklaus, who has retooled his course at Muirfield Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.

Nicklaus, who designed the course that opened in 1974, has always tinkered with his course, tightening the fairways, adding of altering the bunkers and adding yardage as players continue the hit the ball farther than ever.

“He was starting to feel the course was not defending itself like it used to,” Jack Nicklaus II, who works with his father, said of the latest facelift. “It’s a new golf course.”

During the renovation, all 18 greens were stripped and rebuilt with new contours, which means even the golfers who have played Muirfield Village often were starting from scratch at the beginning of this week.

In addition, Nicklaus lengthened the course by 3,000 yards to about 7,600 in reaction to the golf clubs and balls that have created the increased distance.

“The guys are hitting it so far,” Nicklaus II said. “You take Bryson DeChambeau (who won the Memorial at Muirfield in 2018). He hit it off the first tee over the corner and had a 60-yard pitch to the green on a 440-yard hole.”

“We’ve always been fighting soft greens. Now we really will have to work to keep them soft enough, and that will completely change how the golf course plays. Firmer greens really is the biggest change.”

Nicklaus moved several bunkers farther down the fairway and relocated the greens on hole Nos. 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11 and 15, which also have been reworked with tricky contours, so the course figures to be more difficult from tee through the green.

And under those greens, the round granules of sand under the putting surfaces were replaced by angulated grains that bind better and reduce drainage, which means firmer greens.

Third-ranked Jon Rahm the defending Memorial champion, leads a strong field that also includes second-ranked Justin Thomas, fourth-ranked DeChambeau, fifth-ranked Xander Schauffele and sixth- ranked Collin Morikawa, eighth-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and ninth-ranked Patrick Reed.

Also playing are Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, red-hot Jordan Spieth, young star Viktor Hovland of Norway, Tony Finau, Patrick Cantlay, Matt Fitzpatrick of England, Billy Horschel, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Jason Kokrak and Scottie Scheffler and Sungjae Im of South Korea—all ranked in the top 25.

In addition to Rahm, DeChambeau and Cantlay, other former Memorial champions in the field include Jason Dufner and William McGirt.

It will be interesting to see if they have any recognition of the Muirfield Village course they won on.

BEST BETS

  1. Jon Rahm, Spain – The third-ranked Rahm claimed his third PGA Tour victory by three strokes in the Memorial last season and added the BMW Championship in August, but hasn’t won since, so he is overdue. It’s not like he hasn’t played well, with 10 top-10 finishes this season, including a tie for eighth in the PGA Championship two week ago.
  1. Bryson DeChambeau, United States – The long-hitting DeChambeau claimed the second of his eight victories on the PGA Tour in the 2018 Memorial, beating Byeong-Hun An of South Korea and Kyle Stanley in a playoff. The fourth-ranked player in the world has two wins among his six top-10s this season and leads the FedEx Cup standings.
  2. Collin Morikawa, United States – After tying for eighth in his title defense at the PGA, Morikawa tied for 14th in the Charles Schwab Challenge. The sixth-ranked player in the world has five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, including his fourth victory in the WGC-Workday. Tied for 48th in his first Memorial appearance last year.
  3. Justin Thomas, United States – The second-ranked Thomas hasn’t played his best since claiming his 14th PGA Tour victory in the Players Championship in March, but he has four finishes in the top five this season and is third in the FedEx Cup standings. His best Memorial finish was a tie for fourth in 2017 and he tied for eighth the next year.
  4. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – After finishing in the top 10 four times nine starts in the Memorial, the eighth-ranked McIroy might be ready to win it. His best was result a tie for fourth in 2016 and he was fifth in 2011. Rory has five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, including his 19th victory last month in the Wells Fargo Championship.
  5. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – The Masters champion captured the first of his six victories on the PGA Tour in the 2014 Memorial by beating Kevin Na in a playoff, and tied for fifth in his title defense in addition to finishing sixth in 2019. In addition to winning at Augusta, he tied for second in Houston and was 17th in the U.S. Open.
  6. Patrick Reed, United States – The ninth-ranked Reed claimed his ninth PGA Tour victory early this year in the Farmers Insurance Open and has recorded five other top-10 finishes, including a tie for eighth in the Masters, in addition to tying for 17th in the PGA. His best Memorial finish was a tie for eighth in 2016, and he tied for 10th last season.
  7. Jordan Spieth, United States – Even though he couldn’t hold the lead in the Charles Schwab Challenge and finished second on Sunday, Spieth has placed in the top 10 in five of his last six tournaments, including a victory in the Valero Texas Open. His best result in the Memorial was a tie for third in 2015 and he also tied for seventh two years ago.
  8. Xander Schauffele, United States – The sixth-ranked Schauffele hasn’t won since the 2019 Sentry TOC, losing his title defense in a playoff, one of his three runner-up finishes this season among six results in the top 10. He bounced back from an opening 78 in his third start in the Memorial last year to tie for 13th, after tying for 14th the season before.
  9. Patrick Cantlay, United States – Having slipped to No. 15 in the World Golf Rankings, Cantlay would love to climb back in at the Memorial, which he won by two strokes with a closing 64 in 2019 after finishing fourth a year before. He claimed his third PGA Tour victory last October in the Zozo, one of his three top-three finishes this season.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jason Kokrak, United States; Viktor Hovland, Norway; Gary Woodland, United States; Jason Day, Australia; Shane Lowry, Ireland; Billy Horschel, United States; Marc Leishman, Australia; Sungjae Im, South Korea; Jason Dufner, United States; Sam Burns, United States; Tony Finau, United States.

SLEEPERS

  1. Scottie Scheffler, United States – Two-time Korn Ferry Tour winner’s T-8 in the PGA was his 12th top-10 in last two PGA seasons without winning. T-22 in 2020 Memorial.
  2. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Africa – Seven-time winner as a pro was in hunt at PGA until closing with a 77 to finish T-30. Also wound up T-22 in 2020 the Memorial.
  3. Henrik Norlander, Sweden – Another two-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, finished T-2 in Farmers, T-4 at Sanderson Farms this season. T-6 in 2020 Memorial.
  4. Victor Perez, France – Four-time winner on tours in Europe finished T-9 in the Players and T-4 in Saudi International this season. Missed cut in the 2020 Memorial.
  5. Peter Malnati, United States – Six-time winner as a pro, including 2015 Sanderson Farms and two victories on Korn Ferry Tour. Finished 69-69 for T-17 in 2019 Memorial.

 For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html

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