By Tom LaMarre
Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, the two greatest golfers of all-time, will be front and center this week in the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Course in Dublin, Ohio.
Nicklaus, of course is the tournament host, while Woods will be playing for the first time since the PGA Tour restart six weeks ago after a shutdown because of Coronavirus pandemic in a tournament he has won a record five times—the last in 2012.
“I’m looking forward to playing in the @MemorialGolf next week. I’ve missed going out and competing with the guys and can’t wait to get back out there,” Woods said in a Twitter post last week to announce his commitment to the Memorial.
Other players apparently are anxious to see him.
Justin Thomas, who often plays practice rounds with Woods, talked about it before losing in a playoff to Collin Morikawa in the Workday Charity Open, also at Muirfield Village.
“I think he was starting to get a little sassy; I was telling him he’s scared to come out and play against all of us when he’s sitting at home, just trying to give him a hard time,” Thomas said jokingly after the third round.
“ … I’m glad that he’s finally coming back out.”
The 44-year-old Woods has played in the Memorial 17 times without missing the cut and accepted the trophy from Nicklaus in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2009 and 2012. He also finished in the top 10 in 2003, 2004, 2005 and last year, when he closed with a 67 to tie for ninth.
Woods also was a member of the United States team that won the 2013 Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village in 2013.
“I’ve always enjoyed Muirfield,” said Woods, who started the year at No. 6 in the World Golf Rankings but has slipped to No. 14. “I’ve always tried to play at Jack’s events. What he’s meant to the Tour and he’s meant to all of us has players, I’ve always tried to support his events—and I just happened to play well on his golf courses, too.
“Whether it’s here or most of the Nicklaus Design courses that we play, I seem to play them well. But this one in particular is very special to him, it’s very special to us as players—obviously because of what he’s done to the golf course, but more so what he’s meant to us as players.”
Woods last played on the PGA Tour in February when he finished 68th in the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, after he tied for eighth two weeks earlier in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla.
However, in May, he and Peyton Manning combined to beat Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in the The Match II: Champions for Charity, at Woods’ home course, Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla.
Last October, Woods captured the Zozo Championship in Japan for his 82nd PGA Tour victory to tie Sam Snead’s record.
Among those trying to deny him the record this week in a loaded field including nine of the top 10 players in the World Golf Rankings—the fifth-ranked Thomas, top-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, defending champion and 10th-ranked Patrick Cantlay, second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, seventh-ranked Bryson DeChambeau, sixth-ranked Brooks Koepka, fifth-ranked Webb Simpson, fourth-ranked Dustin Johnson, eighth-ranked Patrick Reed and 11th-ranked Xander Schauffele.
The only one missing from the top 10 is ninth-ranked Adam Scott of Australia, who has not played since the restart.
Other big names include Jason Day of Australia, reigning U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman of Australia, Justin Rose of England, Jordan Speith, Zach Johnson, reigning Open champion Shane Lowry or Ireland, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan.
Leading the young guns are Morikawa, Viktor Hovland of Norway, Cameron Champ, Scottie Scheffler, Abraham Ancer of Mexico, Daniel Berger, Dylan Frittelli of South Africa, Joaquin Niemann of Chile and Matthew Wolff.
They all want to be the guy who takes the trophy from Nicklaus.
- Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – The No. 1 player in the world has six top-10 results this season, ranks fifth in the FedEx Cup standings and is overdue for his first win since the WGC-HSBC Champions in October. Has four top-10 finishes in the Memorial, including a tie for fourth in 2016 and a tie for eighth in 2018, but missed the cut last year.
- Patrick Cantlay, United States – The defending Memorial champion closed with a 64 last year to claim his second PGA Tour victory by two strokes over Adam Scott after finishing fourth at Muirfield Village a year earlier. Cantlay has five finishes of 11th or better this season, including a tie for seventh last week in the Workday Charity Open.
- Justin Thomas, United States – Will try to bounce back from blowing a three-stroke lead in last three holes of the Workday Charity Open, and losing in a playoff to Collin Morikawa. JT tied for fourth in the 2017 Memorial and tied for eight in 2018, but missed the cut last year. FedEx Cup leader has eight top-10s this season, including two victories.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – Coming off a break after claiming his sixth PGA Tour victory in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and has seven straight top-10 finishes to rank fourth in the FedEx Cup standings. DeChambeau won the 2018 Memorial in a playoff with Kyle Stanley and Byeong Hun An, and tied for 22nd in his title defense.
- Webb Simpson, United States – Has won the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the RBC Heritage this season among his six finishes in the top 10 and ranks second in the FedEx Cup point standings behind Justin Thomas. Simpson’s best result in seven appearances in the Memorial was a tie for seventh in 2011 and he tied for 11th in 2016.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – Seemed to find his game when he closed with a 64, low score of the final day, to tie for 27th in the Workday Charity Open last week after missing the cut in his debut at Muirfield Village in the 2017 Memorial. Rahm has recorded four top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, but they all came in his first five starts this year.
- Tiger Woods, United States – Making his first appearance since the restart in the Memorial, which he has won a record five times, but Woods played well in The Match II in May. He claimed his 82nd PGA Tour victory in the Zozo Championship to tie Sam Snead’s record and also tied for ninth in the Farmers Insurance Open early this season.
- Jason Day, Australia – A member at Muirfield Village, Day posted his best finish since the PGA Tour restart by tying for seventh in the Workday Charity Classic on home territory last week. It was his best finish since he was fourth at Pebble Beach. However, his best result in 11 appearances in the Memorial was only a tie for 15th in 2007.
- Matt Kuchar, United States – Beat Kevin Chappell by two shots to win the 2013 Memorial for one of his nine PGA Tour victories, and tied for second in 2011 among seven top-10 finishes in 14 appearances. Kooch played some good golf in two events since the restart, but his best this year was a tie for second in Genesis Open in February.
- Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – Captured the 2014 Memorial on the first hole of a playoff with Kevin Na for the first of his five victories on the PGA Tour, then tied for fifth in his title defense and also finished solo sixth last year. Shot 72-73 on the weekend after starting with 67-68 and tied for 22nd in last week in the Workday Charity Open.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Collin Morikawa, United States; Justin Rose, England; Sergio Garcia, Spain; Marc Leishman, Australia; Gary Woodland, United States; Shane Lowry, Ireland; Jordan Spieth, United States; Phil Mickelson, United States; Adam Hadwin, Canada; Brooks Koepka, United States.
- Viktor Hovland, Norway – Finished solo third in the Workday Charity Open and is the only player with five straight finishes in the top 25 since the PGA Tour restart.
- Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Ranks 14th in FedEx Cup standings with four top-10s and seven top-25s, including runner-up finishes in The American Express and RBC Heritage.
- Matthew Wolff, United States – Wound up second to Bryson DeChambeau in the Rocket Mortgage Classic two weeks ago and has six results in the top 25 this season.
- Doc Redman, United States – Has finished in the top 25 in his last three tournaments, including a tie for 11th in the Travelers, and has recorded six results in top-25 this season.
- MJ Daffue, South Africa – Shot 63 to Monday qualify for Workday Charity Open and finished T-22 with 69-65 in middle rounds. Had six top-30s on Korn Ferry Tour last year.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html