Our first trip to the north of the United States in 2016 will be a real treat as we visit Muirfield Village GC in Ohio for 'Jack's Tournament'. The Memorial Tournament is always a highlight of the PGA Tour as its invitational status combined with its positioning close to the sport's second Major guarantees a high class field. 2016 doesn't disappoint with the 'big 3' all in attendance and all arriving fresh from victories. Muirfield Village and The Memorial tournament are the embodiment of Jack Nicklaus who established the course in 1974 and the first Memorial tournament 2 years later. The esteem of the tournament can be seen in the Champions roll of honour which includes Jack himself (x2), Tom Watson (x2), Hale Irwin (x2), Greg Norman (x2), Tiger Woods (x5 including 2012) and, in the past 5 years, Justin Rose (2010), Steve Stricker (2011), Matt Kuchar (2013), Hideki Matsuyama (2014) with Nicklaus course specialist David Lingmerth adding his name last year at 500/1.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Nordea Masters - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: Muirfield Village GC continually develops as a golfing test and in its latest guise plays as a 7,352 yard, Par 72. In the past the course has hosted the 1987 Ryder Cup and the 2013 Presidents Cup and is an original Nicklaus design. In the modern game of golf the layout isn't massively long but, as you'd expect from the pen of an 18-time Major Champion, the format stretches the world's very best via a combination of attributes: this classical design features tree-lined fairways, 79 bunkers, 11 holes with water in play and over 60 acres of primarily Kentucky bluegrass rough; severely undulating green complexes are a true work of art and feature some of the fastest Bentgrass the PGA Tour traditionally sees each season.
Muirfield Village GC, Dublin, Ohio: Designer: Jack Nicklaus 1974, latest guise established 2014; Course Type: Classical; Par: 72; Length: 7,352 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 11; Fairways: Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Rough: Kentucky bluegrass with ryegrass/fescue 3; Greens: 5,000 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass; Tournament Stimp: 13ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 73.67 (+1.67), Difficulty Rank 6 of 49 courses. 2013: 73.26 (+1.26), Difficulty Rank 6 of 43 courses. 2014: 71.90 (-0.10), Rank 29 of 48 courses. 2015: 71.74 (-0.26), Difficulty Rank 23 of 52 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Muirfield Village and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: It's worth highlighting that the back nine at Muirfield Village is a far tougher proposition than the front nine. The closing 484 yard 18th is traditionally the toughest hole on the course and was revised prior to 2015's renewal with a new bunker complex now on the right-hand side of the fairway in the landing area between 275 and 350 yards. The par-4 471 yard 10th played as the 2nd toughest hole in 2015 with holes 16 - 18 always proving to be a key section of the course where dreams can be made or shattered. When the wind blows Muirfield Village is always one of the hardest non-Major courses on the Tour. Relatively small and undulating Bentgrass greens that can run to 13 on the Stimpmeter, surrounded by thick Kentucky Bluegrass rough and tough bunkering, makes this course a huge challenge when wind is a feature.
The 2012 and 2013 Memorial Tournaments were wind-dominated and became Greens in Regulation grinds. When conditions are faster and calmer Memorial becomes a more all-round test. Traditionally fast 12+ stimpmeter greens still place a premium on accurate driving unlike the recent soft tests we have seen at Quail Hollow, TPC Sawgrass, TPC Four Seasons and Colonial. A typical Nicklaus design, each hole gets more difficult further away from the tee so those with consistent approach play this week will be able to access flatter parts of the green complexes close to hole locations. Birdies will be available for those with excellent course navigation, top notch scrambling and naturally a hot putter. Indeed only the 3-host courses at PGA West - the CareerBuilder Challenge - yielded more birdies in 2015. However where Bill Haas won in Southern California with only 2 bogeys on his card, Lingmerth won here last term with 9 bogeys to add to his 1 eagle and 22 birdies. The classical design does have teeth.
Accessing the flatter parts of these undulating Bentgrass green complexes is the key. This is how Jordan Spieth described it in an interview 12 months ago, "I love putting on greens where you have to have imagination, you have to play these ridges, speed control is so vital. And then I enjoy the ball‑striking part of this course where these pins are located normally three times. They're located pretty close to each other, and if you hit a really good tee shot, you're set up to feed into these holes." So although fairways are easy to find (42nd easiest of 52 courses last season), indiscriminate bombing from the tee tends to be rejected by this brilliant classical design. The real test at Jack's Place is a set of tough par-3s which are regularly amongst the most difficult on Tour, plus the ability to regularly get approach shots close to the pin locations which unlocks scoring opportunities.
Winners: 2015: David Lingmerth (-15); 2014: Hideki Matsuyama (-13); 2013: Matt Kuchar (-12); 2012: Tiger Woods (-8); 2011: Steve Stricker (-16); 2010: Justin Rose (-18).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week which are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published The Memorial predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Jordan Spieth (Predictor Number 1), Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Puerto Rico Open and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Lingmerth 500/1; 2014: Matsuyama 66/1; 2013: Kuchar 22/1; 2012: Woods 16/1; 2011: Stricker 28/1; 2010: Rose 80/1; 2009: Woods 3/1. Average: 102/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Dublin, Ohio is here. The weather picture for The Memorial looks quite straightforward compared to previous weeks. Their is a 50% chance of thunderstorms early on Thursday morning, but apart from that conditions look set. 15-20 mph westerly winds on Sunday look to be a factor, but expect faster playing conditions than we have witnessed recently.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of The Memorial since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how Muirfield Village has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
Jordan Spieth (2015): "A couple of things specifically about the course, the greens are arguably tied for first or second only to Augusta National as far as speed and how pure they are consistently each year. I love putting on greens where you have to have imagination, you have to play these ridges, speed control is so vital. And then I enjoy the ball‑striking part of this course where these pins are located normally three times. They're located pretty close to each other, and if you hit a really good tee shot, you're set up to feed into these holes. You can have really short birdie putts and you'll see some eagles out here, given that the greens are so fast, they'll just speed off the side and roll down. But if you get yourself out of position off the tee, and all of a sudden you're left‑‑ you can't really take much of a chance because then you get above the hole and you're out of it. So premium on positioning off the tee, and then imagination putting. And I enjoy those aspects of Muirfield."
Rickie Fowler (2015): "Yeah, most of the driving areas are generous in a way. There are some tight holes where you do have to be careful. But for the most part, it's a second‑shot golf course. You have to have control of your golf ball coming to these greens, and you have to be able to put yourself on the right side of the hole on the right section of the green, which can definitely make a difference. It's a three‑putt when you're in the wrong spot. So having that control, coming from the fairway, it could be the proper side of the fairway, too, if the fairway is that big. But having to come in from the right side to change the angle, it can turn it into a little bit of a tighter hole. But it is definitely a second‑shot golf course. And you're rewarded with good shots, but it will pick you apart if you're off your numbers or missing your lines."
Matt Kuchar (2014): "Justin Rose. Kenny Perry. K.J. There's not a whole lot of similarities amongst that crew. I mean, I think this course demands you to do everything well. These greens seem to get every bit as fast as Augusta National's. You have to be on your game. And I think when greens are fast, it's not so much a premium on your putting, but your iron shots is a real premium and positioning your iron shots. Driving is certainly a premium here. You don't have to hit a lot of drivers. The longer guys, particularly, don't have to hit a lot of drivers. I tend to hit more than most. I tend to challenge some of the shorter holes knowing those are opportunities for me to turn into real birdieable holes and know that my driving is one of my strengths, so I tend to challenge those a little more than most. I think in order to do well, you just have to have all parts of your game working well."
Bubba Watson (2014): "The course has a major feel, it's because of the fact that it's so difficult. It's an approach‑shot golf course, I guess you'd say. The fairways are generous. Even I hit a lot of fairways here. So it's all about your iron shots. It's all about controlling your distance. It's all about your mental game, because the par 3s, these have to be the most difficult par 3s on any course, all four of these put together. So it's all about your approach shots into the greens and approach shots on the par 3s. So the last finishing stretch is you're going to have a difficult shot over the water on 16, which is one of the toughest holes I've ever seen in my life, and 17 you're going to have tough iron shot. And 18 now, the length, make it even tougher with that green. And so it's all about your mental focus and what you can do. That's what we all want. We always feel like if you focus better than the other guys and you think your ability is good enough, you're going to be there in the end. We want it as tough as possible, or I want it tough as possible so that it weeds out some of the guys that aren't thinking positive."
Phil Mickelson (2014): "Gotta drive the ball well here. It's hard to recover from here. And your short irons need to be sharp because you've got to make a lot of birdies here. But then you also have to have your long irons and hybrids strong because you're hitting those into the par 5s. And the greens are so pure and around the hole there's not a lot of movement that you can really make some putts."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of pure Bentgrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
The Memorial Tournament is very similar in stature and Tour scheduling placement to the Arnold Palmer Invitational. A number of top players use Bay Hill in March as their competitive warm-up for The Masters and the same point is true for Muirfield Village and the U.S. Open which is now only a fortnight away. Tie tournament scheduling in with the Arnold Palmer/Jack Nicklaus links, plus the classical nature of both courses, and it's hardly surprising the best players feature year in, year out.
The Memorial is often a tournament where you don't want to hit the front too early, but undoubtedly quality players have always topped the leaderboard come close of play on Sunday. Tiger's wins in 2009 and 2012 came at 3/1 and 16/1 respectively. Justin Rose's first PGA Tour victory in 2010 came at 80/1 a fortnight after a 10th place finish at Wentworth. Steve Stricker won at 28/1 in 2011. Matt Kuchar's and Hideki Matsuyama's victories here in 2013 and 2014 both followed contending performances the week prior at Colonial, with both players being priced at 22/1 and 66/1 respectively. This plethora of sub-100/1 winners is hardly a surprise when you consider that every winner of The Memorial since 2003 (Ernie Els) has been ranked inside of the Top 75 in the Official Golf World Rankings on arrival in Ohio with the notable exception of David Lingmerth last year.
Now it would be remiss of me not to mention the quality on show this week at Muirfield Village. The event is similar to 2014 when Adam Scott (then World Number 1 went off at 11/1), Rory McIlroy (17/2 favourite), Jason Day, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson (had won the Masters in April went off at 33/1), Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Jason Dufner and the rookie Jordan Spieth (winless but a 28/1 chance) all played in Ohio - making it 11 of the world's top 15. That year Watson and Scott filled 2 of the each-way spots, both beaten by Hideki Matsuyama (66/1) and Kevin Na (125/1). 2016 sees the top 5 in the World Rankings at Muirfield, with 8 of the top 15 in the field - it's a shame Justin Rose is still suffering with a bad back. Day, Spieth and McIlroy all arrive of the back of wins in Florida, Texas and Ireland respectively, all making this a mouth-watering prospect. Of the 'big 3' only Jordan Spieth has finished in the top 3 here 12 months ago.
Bookmaker Offers. A number of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms again this week plus there are a couple of other offers out there:
My selections are as follows:
Of Day, McIlroy and Spieth at the head of the market, I have to go with Jordan Spieth who played some wonderful golf at Colonial Country Club last week to grab his first Tour title in his home state. His Dean & Deluca win was his 8th PGA Tour title which broke Tiger's record for wins at age 22 or younger. As I keep saying this guy is a little bit special! But in these days when back-to-back wins from the big 3 is the norm, why back Spieth over course member Jason Day or Rory McIlroy? Well Muirfield Village for me is a course where strategy from the tee, iron-play accuracy and top-notch putting marry together to generate the winner. Yes, World Number 1 Jason Day showed maturity when overpowering TPC Sawgrass 3 weeks ago and Rory McIlroy was sublime from tee-to-green when winning in soft conditions at the K-Club. Both have huge merits this week and, as we know, both have gone-back-to-back in their careers multiple times, but in the case of Day I'm concerned about a lack of both driving and approach play accuracy and this course cannot be overpowered. Whilst with McIlroy I'm still to be convinced about his play in firmer conditions where the short game becomes critical.
Spieth on the other hand is the arch strategist which, combined with his scrambling and phenomenal mid-range putting, makes him a real danger on a course which has undeniable links with Augusta National. 5th after 54 holes here in 2014 and 3rd here 12 months ago when he shot a closing 65 highlights a player who's improving at the venue and as we know with the Texan he loves to win on courses where he's contended previously - Kapalua, Copperhead, Augusta, Deere Run, East Lake and now Colonial make up 7 of his 8 main Tour wins. In terms of backing-up wins, rewind to December 2014 when Spieth won the Australian Open in Sydney then flew directly to Florida where he destroyed - by 10 shots - a top-notch field at Tiger's Hero World Challenge. He was a 10/1 shot at Isleworth. Spring 2015 saw Spieth win at Copperhead (16/1), then finish 2nd at TPC San Antonio, 2nd at GC of Houston and win at Augusta (11/1) in consecutive starts. Then in early summer he finished 3rd here (8/1), won at Chambers Bay (9/1) and won at Deere Run (7/2). With scoring set to be at Colonial levels, Spieth commented on Sunday about the Memorial, "We're going to go next week to a place that I love. I love putting those greens. For me it's big just to take a big step and a small chunk into Jason's lead right now, and I think we're both playing next week, so as long as we stay focused, strike the ball like we are and putting like we are, then try and work our way back into contention again."
Hideki Matsuyama and David Lingmerth both took their first PGA Tour victories here over the past 2 renewals so we should undoubtedly cover off Kevin Chappell this week at a price that's significantly higher than the 28s on offer at Colonial 7 days ago. Chappell did his standard play last week of missing the cut when he arrived fresh from a top finish on his previous outing. But with 2nd at TPC Sawgrass (to Jason Day), a back-door 4th at TPC San Antonio (to Charley Hoffman), 2nd at Bay Hill (to Jason Day) and 2nd at Sea Island (to Kevin Kisner) there is absolutely no doubt that the Californian is playing the golf of his life. A look at Chappell's CV highlights a superb set of results across a host of US classical courses including 6th at Pebble Beach (2009 - the course features Nicklaus renovations), 3rd at Congressional (2011 US Open), plus Nicklaus course observers will like high-profile finishes of 13th at Valhalla (2014 PGA Championship) and 2nd here at Muirfield Village (2013). As we pretty much know, Chappell blows hot and cold with the putter, but nobody will be shocked with yet another contending performance in a year when he's threatening not only to win, but also to automatically qualify for the USA Ryder Cup team.
I was pretty shocked when Chris Kirk played so poorly at TPC Sawgrass 3 weeks ago, but a solid 15th at Colonial last week when defending backed up 5th at TPC Louisiana, 13th at TPC San Antonio and 23rd at Harbour Town. Solid driving and approach play performances have been a regular feature of recent outings and we all know that Kirk can be an absolutely devastating scrambler and putter when he clicks - like Harris English last week. Kirk, also like English, has to be one of the best non-elite players when it comes to contending 'under the gun' and that should serve him well this week in a field of such high quality. It's worth remembering that Chris won at TPC Boston in 2014 and was also 4th at East Lake 2 appearances later so he can mix it with the world's very best when on form. A winner at Colonial last season, Kirk finished 4th here in 2014. His maiden PGA Tour win at Annandale in 2011 is also noteworthy as the course is a Nicklaus, par 72 design.
Marc Leishman is another we've followed unsuccessfully of late, but we try to learn from recent betting previews where Chappell, Garcia and Palmer have performed well the tournament after - golf betting is often a game of patience. Australian Leishman is one of the most Bentgrass-positive players you will ever find: both of his two main Tour wins at TPC River Highlands (2012) and Gary Player GC (2015) have both been on Bentgrass greens and 4th at Augusta (2013), 5th at Royal Liverpool (2014) plus 2nd at St Andrews (2015) highlights a player who can operate in the top echelons of the game. Yes, Leishman is confident on both Bentgrass and Poa Annua (worth noting for Oakmont) putting surfaces and it's abundantly clear that the 32-year-old prefers 'up-state' golf courses and conditions. That makes him an excellent proposition this week as he arrives after a strong all-round performance at Colonial where he finished an under the radar 13th - his best at the Fort Worth venue which is ultimately just a little too tight. Marc, like many, seemingly struggles with in-bound expectation when arriving at tournaments, but there are no doubts that he's a high-class performer with a classical CV that includes 2nd at Torrey Pines (2010 & 2014), 4th at Riviera (2016), 3rd at Bay Hill (2011), 12th at Oak Hill (2013 PGA Championship) and 2nd at Cog Hill (2009). 5th here 12 months ago when he ranked 1st in the all-round category.
Justin Thomas finished like a steam train last time out at TPC Sawgrass where a much needed reversion to a standard putting grip delivered an instant return to the strong putting we know him for. His closing 65 in tough, fast conditions featured 15 Greens Hit, +4.5 Strokes Gained Tee to Green and vitally +2.74 Strokes Gained Putting. Thomas called the round one of the best ball-striking rounds he has ever had. Now a single round doesn't make a season, but Thomas is a confidence player and his putting grip change came about after he spent 90 minutes at Jack Nicklaus’ home in Palm Beach Gardens after he had called the great man for advice. You see Thomas and Nicklaus go back a long way and it was Jack who gave the then web.com first year-pro a start here at Muirfield back in 2014. He played well enough shooting a 68 in round 2 eventually finishing 37th. From just over the state border in Kentucky, Muirfield Village is just about a 'home game' for Thomas who, as we know, is not afraid to mix it with the world's very best. It's also interesting that his 2014 web.com win came on the classical Alistair MacKenzie bentgrass-greened Scarlet Course at Ohio State GC in nearby Columbus, which is a 10 mile drive from Muirfield Village. Prior to The Players, 3rd at PGA National was his best result in 2016 - another Nicklaus design.
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel