The Memorial Tournament
It was another somewhat frustrating week for us at Colonial CC as despite all of our five picks making the cut and hovering around the higher reaches of the leaderboard we were only able to back a small each way return through two of our team, Grillo and Harman, who both finished in a logjam tie for eighth place.
Unfortunately that’s the way it has been going of late and Harman missing for birdie from 9ft at the last to bag the full place payout pretty much summed things up. Still you inevitably get these runs at some point in the season and I am not going to complain too much bearing in mind how our 2020/21 campaign is going as a whole to date.
The event in the end was won by Jason kokrak who having waited many a year for his maiden tour title, which finally came last October, bagged his second trophy of the campaign. In all honesty though while taking nothing away from the big man this will go down more as one Jordan Spieth lost, than Kokrak won, as the 54 hole leader produced a poor final day thus opening the door for a grateful Kokrak.
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.
The Memorial is an invitational event and this weeks field will be made up of just over 130 players.
We have a stellar line up on show this week and the market is headed up by defending Champion Jon Rahm who is closely followed by Jordan Spieth. Behind this pair we then have Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Bryson Dechambeau and Viktor Hovland.
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 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.
One important point to note is that following last years tournament 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.
It is hard to know what effect these changes will have to the playability of the course, however you would have to suspect that with the greens now featuring new irrigation and precision air systems and multiple fairways now featuring additional drainage the course will be able to play firmer even when it has received more rain, something, which Nicklaus has always desired.
It may also be with so many visual changes experience here becomes even less important with those who are not so used to the old site lines and green contours even at a slight advantage.
Away from Muirlfield 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 last years 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].
Other Nicklaus courses to consider are PGA National home of the Honda Classic, Glen Abbey the former home of the Canadian Open, and also Concession, which hosted the one off event in Florida earlier this year.
So lets take a look at the last ten winners;
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
2011 Steve Stricker
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.
Whilst past course form is never a minus it does not appear to be a requisite here. In fact the six of the seven 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;
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
2011 Steve Stricker 12 13 11 4 18
*Denotes finish pre ‘lockdown’ 2020.
As we can see from this all but one of the last ten winners [Lingmerth] 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] 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.
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 last year Rahm triumphed with a -9 total.
For the 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.]
It is also worth noting that only two winners in the past ten years, Cantlay and Steve Stricker in 2011 managed to post all four rounds in the 60s on route to victory
The early part of the week shows a dry Monday and Tuesday bit some rain on Wednesday so the players could be faced with a softer course on Thursday. At the time of writing the four tournament days show a dry Friday and Sunday but the possibility of some storms on Thursday and Saturday.
Wind, which can be a factor here looks set to play a part as all four days show the potential for 15-20mph gusts.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
SHANE LOWRY – 40-1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 6th
First cab off the rank for us this week is Shane Lowry.
Lowry arrives at Muirfield Village this week boosted by a cracking PGA Championship, which saw him finish up in fourth place with a closing round of 69.
Particularly significant for Shane that week was that for company on Sunday he had Ryder Cup captain and fellow countryman Padraig Harrington.
Lowry who has made no secret of his desire to make Harrington’s team in September will certainly have taken huge confidence and momentum from that week and that Sunday in Padraig’s company, and there are plenty of reasons to think he can roll that momentum forward to a big week this week.
Firstly and most obviously of course we have the current run of form Shane is on, a run, which started when he finished eighth at Sawgrass in March and has subsequently seen him make his next six stroke play cuts and post another top ten at the Heritage to go with the fourth place at Kiawah Island.
The strength of Lowry’s game this season has certainly been from tee to green as he currently ranks 22nd in this department, he also though ranks 26th around the greens and there is no doubt that, with the typical Nicklaus mantra of, ‘the closer to the hole you get the harder it gets’ his short game magic should stand him in good stead this week.
Having mentioned Shane’s prowess around the greens the area that has actually held him back so far this season in the US is on the greens as he currently ranks 143rd in SGP. After a frustrating first few days there were certainly better signs though at Kiawah Island in this department on Sunday and as we know if a player who has been striping it from tee to green but struggling on the dance floor suddenly finds their putting boots the sky’s the limit.
Lowry who now bases himself in Florida near to Nicklaus’ PGA National spends plenty of time on that layout so he certainly should be well versed in Jack’s design traits, while an 11th place at the Nicklaus designed Glen Abbey in the RBC Canadian Open and a best of 15th in four starts in this event both offer further encouragement.
Finally if the wind does pick up this week at times as it is forecast to do the Open Champion is of course a perfect man to have on your side.
Lowry is the sort of player who we know full well raises his game for the bigger events and arriving here with the recent strong form we are looking for I can see a big week ahead for him.
MARC LEISHMAN – 70-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 57th
Next up for me this week is Marc Leishman.
The Aussie struggled through most of 2020 openly admitting that a combination of little practice during lockdown and the lack of fans once the tour returned contributed to a sharp loss of form from June onwards.
2021 has been a much different story though for the six time tour winner as after opening up with a fourth place finish at The Sony Open he has gone on to post six further top 40 finishes, including a fifth place at the Masters, and in addition bag the Zurich Classic Pairs title alongside fellow Aussie Cameron Smith.
Last time out at the PGA Championship Leishman disappointed missing the cut however prior to that he played solidly at the AT&T Byron Nelson to finish 21st ranking fifth for the week in putting and gaining strokes with his approach play everyday and of course in his previous two starts to that he bagged the title in New Orleans and the top five at Augusta. All in all them I am happy to put the disappointing effort at Kiawah Island down as just one of those weeks on a tough golf course and take the view that Marc should still arrive here in good spirits and with his confidence high.
Looking at Leishman’s form at Muirfield Village and while he has never lifted the trophy here it is a track that, until he played here last year when in really bad form, he has always performed well on. In fact last years 40th place in this event, while disappointing when compared to a run of four top fifteen finishes in the previous five years, actually transpired to be his best finish of his 19/20 post lockdown starts if we exclude the last place 29th at the Tour championship.
Casting the net wider with regards to correlating courses and as I mentioned earlier one venue I always look at closely here is Bay Hill and of course Leishman is a former Champion and runner up in Orlando.
Furthermore Leishman is also a former Champion at the Farmers which links well to here through the likes of Rose and Rahm who have been victorious at both venues.
To sum up this has always been an event I feel Leishman is likely to add to his trophy cabinet one day and arriving here in solid form I am happy to jump on board with him this week.
MATT WALLACE – 80-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
When I began my research for this week the first name that leaped off the page at me was that of Matt Wallace.
With restrictions as they are the Englishman has chosen to base himself pretty much exclusively stateside this year and with only two missed cuts in nine solo stroke play starts he is clearly reaping the benefits.
Looking at Wallace’s numbers this season and in simple terms he is doing nothing brilliantly but everything really solidly. His worst strokes gained stat is around the green where he sits 66th and his best is 23rd from tee to green, he also sits 25th in approach play, 48th off the tee and 50th in putting.
Wallace’s name has been a regular sight at the top end of leaderboards this year with his best finish coming at the Valero Texas Open where he finished third. Furthermore he was right in the hunt at the halfway stage at the Wells Fargo recently before stalling slightly on Saturday and eventually finishing sixth.
Looking at that latter performance in particular and Quail Hollow is another classical test that sits very nicely when compared to this week and in addition to his really strong recent form it his performances on this type of track that make Matt so appealing to me this week.
A sixth place finish at the correlating Bay Hill in 2019 was the first sign in the US that Matt was suited to this type of venue and he has since followed it up with further finishes of 24th and 18th in Orlando. He also posted a 12th place finish at the Rocket Mortgage last year, a par 72, which correlates well with Dechambeau and of course he was fourth here last year.
Basically there is no doubt to me that Wallace saves his best for this type of test and I think he has a great chance this week to emulate fellow Englishman Justin Rose and make Muirfield Village the scene of his first PGA Tour title.
ADAM HADWIN – 125 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
A player who caught my eye last week at Colonial CC is Adam Hadwin and I am happy to chance him at three figure odds this week.
After a disappointing 2020, which saw Hadwin post only one top twenty finish, a fourth place at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which as already mentioned links well here, the Canadian began 2021 in far more solid fashion, making seven of his first eight cuts. Furthermore his best two finishes were an eighth place at the Nicklaus designed PGA National and an 18th at the correlating Farmers.
Following this solid run though Adam lost his way with a run of a three missed cuts, however a 64th place at the PGA seems to have got him back on track and last week he posted his second eighth place finish of the season at Colonial CC.
At Colonial Adam produced a solid week from tee to green ranking 11th in this department and interestingly for this week he also lead the field around the greens.
Adam arrives here then with the recent strong form we are looking for however what I also like is his superb form over the years at the American Express event, where has posted three consecutive to three finishes and, which features the Nicklaus Tournament course, as this is an event, which as mentioned seems to tie really well here through the likes of Lingmerth and Dufner.
Finally if we look at Hadwin’s past history here and while he has not pulled up any trees at Muirfield Village he has made the cut in five of six starts in the Memorial with a best place of 11th so that indicates a level of comfortability here.
A one time winner on tour at the 2017 Valspar the time seems right to me for Hadwin to strike again and arriving here on the back of last weeks high finish I am happy to chance him this week.
PATRICK RODGERS – 250-1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Call me a glutton for punishment if you will but I am going back to the well again this week with Patrick Rodgers.
Regular readers will know that Patrick featured in our team at Quail Hollow a few weeks ago and after the first two days we were dreaming that we might be in for a big payday as Patrick sat right in the thick of things going in to the weekend.
Unfortunately for Rodgers and his supporters though for whatever reason things unravelled on Saturday and a 79 saw him tumble down the leaderboard.
Whilst this was obviously not the outcome we had hoped for the Stanford grad steadied the ship on Sunday with a final round of 70 meaning that he had three solid days in Charlotte to go with the disappointing Saturday.
In essence then the facts, which lead me to side with Patrick at the Wells Fargo, remain the same, he produces some of his best stuff on classical layouts like Quail Hollow, Bay Hill, where he has a best of seventh to his name, and of course here.
Eighth and 18th on his last two starts in the Memorial Rodgers has posted these finishes on the back of four missed cuts in his six previous starts in 2018, a run which featured a best result of 34th at the Wells Fargo, and three missed cuts and a 45th in four starts last year prior to the 18th, a result which we should also note could have been much better but for a poor Sunday. On that basis the two made cuts this year prior to the weekend off at Colonial, which include the eye catching week at Quail Hollow actually offer plenty of encouragement.
For want of sounding like a stuck record as I say whenever I put Rodgers up, he is too good and talented player for things not to click for him one week and I am always happy to chance him again on a track that clearly suits his big hitting and good touch on the greens.
BRANDON HAGY – 300-1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 50th
With so many course changes, particularly to the greens, facing the players this week there is an argument to say that a player seeing Muirfield Village in competition for the first time this week could actually have an advantage, and of the half dozen or so who are doing so the one that leaps out to me is Brandon Hagy.
One thing that has become apparent when previewing events on Nicklaus designs over the years is that a huge key to unlocking the puzzle can be finding players who have shown form on other Nicklaus layouts.
I’ve already mentioned the link to here with regards Dufner and Lingmerth and the American Express, which features a Nicklaus track. Anyone who latched on to Morikawa at last years Workday here after his win on the Nicklaus course in Reno would have come up trumps and then of course he triumphed again on the Nicklaus designed Concession earlier this year.
Ben An has featured prominently at this event, The Honda and the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey over the years and followers of this column will have hopefully made a few pennies when I put up Sieffert each way at the Honda after his top five at the Workday last year.
On that basis and that basis alone at odds of 300/1 or bigger if you prefer to take eight places Hagy is a must for me this week. His best finish on tour came earlier this year at PGA National when he was second in the Honda, his second best finish on tour came when he was fifth at the Nicklaus designed Glen Abbey at the RBC Canadian Open and his third best ever finish on tour came when 12th at the 2020 Barracuda on the Nicklaus designed Tahoe Mt Club now being used for the event.
Quite simply Brandon loves himself a Jack Nicklaus layout and he should be licking his chops at getting a crack at another one this week.
Granted Hagy arrives here on the back of two missed cuts however he showed when finishing second at the Honda on the back of two comparable performances that he can play well after a couple of blank weeks. In addition prior to his last two outings he was in good solid form making three straight cuts and at 88th in the Fedex Cup standings he is having a strong year.
One of the biggest hitters on tour Hagy should be able to make mincemeat of the par fives this week, something which is always key around here, and with his clear love for a Nicklaus layout I am happy to finish off this week by rolling the dice on him.
UPDATED 1st JUNE
FANTASY DRAFK KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - CT PAN - DK VALUE $6900 - FINISHED 57th - DK POINTS 55
Those who have read my full preview will probably have noticed that three of our main eam are available for under $7K in DK, however as always I shall pick a couple of further specific sub $7K DK plays starting with CT Pan.
There are a couple of things that draw me to Pan this week. Firstly there are definite signs, which of course started with his fantastic display at Augusta last November, that his game is getting right back on track. The further evidence of this that we have seen in 2021 is highlighted by a third place finish at the Nicklaus designed PGA National, home of the Honda Classic.
This leads me to the second point, which is the fact that although CT is considered as a whole a player who performs best on short coastal tracks like Hilton Head he actually has a really strong record on longer classical tracks.
Away from the two performances I've mentioned already he also has a top five at Torrey Pines to his name and he has made the cut on all of his three previous visits to Muirfield Village.
Arriving here on the back of two solid performances at Quail Hollow and Colonial CC I expect him to perform here well again.
PICK 2 - DANNY WILLETT - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED 26th - DK POINTS 68.5
Former Masters Champion Danny Willett is another who has been showing glimpses of form of late and again has shown his liking for a Par 72 track Stateside over the years as in addition to his Augusta success he has produced strong efforts at the Rocket Mortgage Classic and Bay Hill to name but two.
Like Pan his record at Muirfield Village is solid having finished top 40 in both of his previous visits and having had a weeks rest following the gruelling fortnight of hosting the British Masters and a trip to Kiawah Island I expect him to play well here again this week.