The PGA Tour heads to one of the better stops on the calendar this week when 120 of the best players in the world will head to Ohio for the memorial Tournament, the annual event hosted by Jack Nicklaus, which couldn’t really have come at a better time.
It certainly came at the right time for Patrick Cantlay last year when he was a fortunate winner of the competition, although he would have been the first to admit had Covid not denied Jon Rahm a final spin that week it would have been the Spaniard returning to defend the title not the American.
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
Once again we are back at Muirfield Village this week. This is a typical stop off on tour but the 120 players teeing it up this week will still be getting used to a modified golf course to the one they have encountered in the past. Jack Nicklaus oversaw a huge change to the course with all the greens rebuilt and bunkers moved in line to make them hazards a year ago and this will be the second spin with the new layout. There has been a little length added to the course so the par 72 is now 7,543 yards so it is a fair length.
The dynamics of the course haven’t changed too much. Nicklaus likes his tracks to be a test with the second shot but the rough has been grown a little longer this week and is at four inches, which with relatively new greens which will be firm, is quite impactful. That might make a little more of a premium on hitting fairways but they aren’t the toughest to hit. Scrambling is often a key statistic around these very small greens. The fact they are new might bring poor putters into the game.
Jack Nicklaus always manages to attract a decent field to his tournament and this year is no different despite the fact we are only two weeks out from the next major on the men’s circuit. The last two champions of this event are back and ready to potentially go head to head again in Patrick Cantlay and the man he literally snatched the title from in Jon Rahm. Rory McIlroy is another headline act who is also teeing it up this week.
In a week where some big names turned their back on the PGA Tour it is encouraging to see the likes of Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Shane Lowry and Cameron Smith with a tee time this week. Collin Morikawa has never won this tournament but he won the other event here during lockdown and will be looking to go one better than last year. Sungjae Im, Abraham Ancer, Hideki Matsuyama and Joaquin Niemann bring an international flavour to the field while Viktor Hovland and Matthew Fitzpatrick will ensure a strong European charge.
Jon Rahm won this tournament in 2020 and he was a penalty kick to win it last year before a positive Covid test denied him of a final round where he would only have had to stand up to win retain the title. That makes him a very worthy 10/1 favourite this week although I don’t think he is playing quite as well now as he was in that period, even allowing for his win in Mexico. He wasn’t really a factor at the USPGA Championship but if course form is your thing he’s your man this week.
Rory McIlroy looked like he was primed to win the USPGA after a wonderful first round but then he went missing until it was too late and while he came good again by the end of the week his tilt at the title ended in disappointment. McIlroy has three top 10s around here but you wouldn’t say his record in the tournament is as strong as it might otherwise have been. He should be right in the mix but at 12/1 I’d want more guarantees of his chances to win than there are.
Patrick Cantlay is 18/1 to make a successful defence here but he is going to need to find some inspiration from the track because he has been quiet in singles play since Phoenix with the exception of his playoff defeat to Jordan Spieth at The Heritage. He did partner Xander Schauffele to the Zurich Classic title but he wasn’t a factor in either of the two majors and doesn’t look to be quite on his game. He has won two of the last three of these things so the course very well could inspire him.
Xander Schauffele gives off the impression that he is banging the door down for him to be back in the solo winner’s enclosure but each time I expect a big week from him I’m largely disappointed at the minute. To be to Schauffele, since he won the Zurich Classic alongside Cantlay, he has finished fifth at the Byron Nelson where he finished with a 61 and then T13 at the USPGA Championship without ever really being in contention. He has never cracked the top 10 here which would be a concern at a relatively tight 20/1 price.
This is a course where the greens are so small that poor putters can be rewarded if their long game is exceptionally good and there aren’t many better doing the rounds than the one possessed by Will Zalatoris. He missed the cut last week but after missing out in a playoff at the USPGA he was always going to do that. The winner, Justin Thomas also missed the cut. Either side of missed cuts at the Byron Nelson and Charles Schwab, Zalatoris has four top six finishes. There is nobody better on the PGA Tour in strokes gained from tee to green than him this season and at the PGA Championship there were certainly signs that he is starting to figure things out on the greens. If that continues this week he could be very tough to stop.
Cameron Young is the other player who is smashing the PGA Tour up from tee to green and while he is still waiting for his first title on the tour it is not going to be long before he lifts silverware at this level and with his skillset it could easily be this week. Young hasn’t been outside the top three in his last three tournaments and that includes at the USPGA Championship where he held the lead on the back nine on Sunday. He has gained double figures for shots from tee to green in those three events with figures of 10.688, 15.371 and 11.195. If he flushes it like that this week it isn’t going to matter how he putts as long as he holds his own. I expect a big showing this week.
Brendan Steele has an underwhelming record around this golf course but in theory it should be a course which suits him so I’m interested that he arrives here with some decent numbers in the long game department. At the PGA Championship a couple of weeks ago nobody found more greens in regulation than him and he converted that into a top 10 finish there. He gained over seven shots on the field on approach that week and more than 10 from tee to green. In fact, he has finished in the top five in three of his last five singles starts from tee to green and that is the test this week. Again if he holes his own on the greens he is swinging it well enough to be right there.
Stewart Cink registered a top 25 finish at Southern Hills a couple of weeks ago and we saw last year at The Heritage that these tight tee to green tests can be right up his street. It is actually a surprise to me that the former Open champion has never won this tournament but he does have six top 10s so he knows the golf course well. Cink has top 10s at the Valspar and the Wells Fargo in the last couple of months and on each occasion he ranked inside the top 10 on strokes gained on approach. That tells us that he is hitting his irons well and he isn’t too bad with the putter so if he is on a going well he could deliver the goods at a big price.
Back W.Zalatoris to win The Memorial (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 29.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back C.Young to win The Memorial (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 31.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back S.Cink to win The Memorial (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 151.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back them here:
Back B.Steele to win The Memorial (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-8)