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Congratulations to Paul Williams who delivered both Alex Noren (20/1) and Francesco Molinari (18/1) in a rather splendid 1-2 at the BMW PGA Championship last week over on the European Tour. From the feedback on our Golf Betting System Facebook Group I know a lot of you were on board, so a very well done to all. All the more reason to join the group which you can via this link.
On the PGA Tour it's our first trip to the north of the United States in 2017 and it's sure to 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 second Major Championship, guarantees a high class field. 2017 doesn't disappoint with Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas all in attendance. That's 9 of the World's top 15 ranked players.
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 recent past, Justin Rose (2010), Steve Stricker (2011), Matt Kuchar (2013) and a young Hideki Matsuyama (2014). However wins from David Lingmerth (2015) and William McGirt (2016) have redressed the balance for huge priced winners. So just how will this go in 2017?
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Nordea Masters - you can read his preview for that event here.
Course Guide: Muirfield Village GC continually develops as a golfing test and in its latest guise plays as a 7,392 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, 73 bunkers, 11 holes with water in play and over 80 acres of primarily Kentucky bluegrass rough. Severely undulating green complexes are a true work of art and feature, if the weather plays ball, some of the purest Bentgrass with poa annua putting surfaces that 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: 7,392 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 with Poa Annua; Tournament Stimp: 11ft; 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. 2016: 70.99 (-1.01), Difficulty Rank 36 of 50 courses.
Muirfield Village Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Muirfield Village Golf Club and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on the PGA 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 3 holes make for one of the toughest closing stretches on the PGA Tour with a 201 yard par-3, a 478 yard par-4 and another par-4 this time at 484 yards, leaving little room for error, especially as the 2015 course renovation added a new bunker complex now on the right-hand side of the fairway in the landing area between 275 and 350 yards. Undoubtedly holes 16-18 always prove to be a key section of the course where dreams can be made or shattered.
As ever in golf, weather conditions - in tandem with ground conditions - make a golf tournament and 2017 at The Memorial will be no different. Plenty of rain in the build-up to the tournament (and in the forecast for Friday / Saturday at least) should see a soft and receptive golf course. Muirfield Village yields plenty of birdies when conditions are like this, so expect a winning score of sub -15/273 to be required for victory - I'd suggest closer to -18/-19.
It's undoubtedly a great all-round classical golf test where both ball striking and short game experts can contend with equal frequency when the wind is tranquil. 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. It's undoubtedly a second-shot golf course where those who can find the right layers of the green complexes can make birdies galore. Indeed despite strong winds in the final round 12 months ago, Muirfield Village still yielded 1646 birdies in total last term, second only to TPC Sawgrass in terms of par 72 set-ups. This despite seeing a short field of 120 at this Invitational-status event. However don't ever think of Muirfield Village as a purely resort-style track as this classical design still has teeth for the wayward, poor scramblers and poor putters, so we need to look for those with an all-round game who can hit the ball close, but also scramble and putt well on these Bent/Poa mix greens.
Accessing the flatter parts of these undulating Bentgrass green complexes is the key. This is how Jordan Spieth described it in an interview 24 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 50 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 amongst the most difficult on Tour, plus the ability to regularly get approach shots close to the pin locations which unlocks scoring opportunities.
Winners: 2016: William McGirt (-15); 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's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published 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 Dustin Johnson (No.1), Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner, Webb Simpson and Jon Rahm.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Puerto Rico Open and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events (no European Tour player stats have been available from Wentworth pre-release). Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: McGirt 200/1; 2015: Lingmerth 500/1; 2014: Matsuyama 66/1; 2013: Kuchar 22/1; 2012: Woods 16/1; 2011: Stricker 28/1; 2010: Rose 80/1. Average: 125/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Dublin, Ohio is here. 140mm of rain in May so far will see Muirfield Village GC play lush and soft. That would be fine, but the tournament also looks like it will be affected by thunderstorms before and during play on Friday afternoon, which could see the AM/PM half of the draw spill over into the weekend. Saturday looks little better, with thunderstorms likely from after lunch onwards. Light winds will make this a tranquil birdie-fest which is unlikely to run entirely to schedule.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners of this event 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:
William McGirt (2016): "The one thing that I've learned, I think this was my fourth time playing here, I think. The biggest thing I've learned is where you can and cannot miss it. Most of the week, I missed it in the proper spot and left myself a chance to get it up and down. I mean, that's the whole key around here is you can't go attacking pins. Like the pin yesterday on 18. I mean, I'm standing out there in the fairway knowing that, if I hit 7 iron and catch any gust at all and it lands on the front, it's coming 30 yards back down the fairway, but I'm thinking 6 could potentially go in that back bunker. And I kind of chickened out in the end, but I knew the right bunker was fine. So I kind of chickened out in the end and fanned it over there and got it up and down."
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 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of pure Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix 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 Jack Nicklaus links, plus the classical nature of this course, and it's hardly surprising the best players feature year-in, year-out here at Muirfield Village.
The Memorial is often a tournament where you don't want to hit the front too early, but undoubtedly quality players have generally 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 up to 2015 had ranked in the OWGR top 75.
But trends in golf betting change and there have been seismic changes here in Ohio across the past 2 renewals. Nicklaus course specialist David Lingmerth landed his maiden title here in 2015 with inbound form of MC-33-MC-MC-MC. You won't be surprised to read that the Swede was a 500/1 chance. Fast-forward to 2016 where Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland were all in the mix, but eventually it became a shoot-out between Jon Curran (400/1) and William McGirt (250/1) in a playoff, both of whom were chasing maiden PGA Tour titles. World Number 102 McGirt captured his first title since he played the Tarheel Tour in 2007 and came off immediate form of 47-43-17-37. He had though delivered 3 top-9 finishes and a further 2nd in the season prior to winning in Ohio.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
At the top end of the market I'm going for Jon Rahm who I think will thrive on his Muirfield Village GC debut. Yes we can question his 12/1 price point which puts him on a level with both Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, but I love the way the Spaniard is playing right now. It's also worth putting into context what level the 22-year old is at already. We remember 2013 when Jordan Spieth hit the PGA Tour with only a hint of web.com Tour experience. 2nd in Puerto Rico, 7th at Copperhead, 9th at Harbour Town, 7th at Colonial, 6th at Congressional, 2nd at Sedgefield, 4th at TPC Boston, 2nd at East Lake plus his maiden victory at the John Deere Classic saw the rookie finish the season ranked 22nd in the World. Since Rahm turned professional 50 weeks ago, he's finished 3rd at Congressional, 2nd at Glen Abbey, 5th at Pebble Beach, 3rd in the WGC-Mexico Championship, 2nd in the WGC-Dell Matchplay, 4th at Eagle Point, 2nd last week at Colonial and won at the classical masterpiece that is Torrey Pines. The World Number 9 (yes that's right) is undoubtedly ahead of Spieth in terms of his maiden season progression and I think that the soft, scoreable course this week in Ohio will play massively to his strengths.
2nd in par-4 Birdie or Better, 15th in par-5 Birdie or Better, 25th in Proximity to Hole, 14th in Scrambling, 38th in Putting Average and 3rd in All-Round are statistics I simply cannot ignore; he's also hitting plenty of greens to boot. Where Eagle Point and especially Colonial proved Rahm's mettle in technical, windy conditions, tranquil conditions and a soft golf course should really suit and he sounded determined to get another win on the board as quickly as this Sunday when interviewed after his near miss last week. RESULT: MC
This will be Rickie Fowler's final appearance before he travels up to Wisconsin for the U.S. Open in a fortnight. A long, Bentgrass greened Erin Hills which has a huge links-type feel to it is sure to suit Fowler, so I would be very surprised if Butch Harmon hasn't been working with the Florida-based 28 year-old getting his game ready for 2 big tournaments in Rickie's 2017 campaign. You see Fowler is a pure confidence player and his best Major Championship performances have always come off of a strong outing the appearance before. Indeed Fowler has won the Scottish Open (2015), finished 2nd at Firestone (2011), 3rd at Bay Hill (2013) and 3rd at the GC of Houston this year in the appearance prior to a Major. Take that angle a step further and Fowler has finished in the top 13 an incredible 12 times prior to a Major Championship. Team Fowler clearly like to peak and if Rickie is truly focussed this week at Jack's Place there's no reason why he can't contend and win at Muirfield Village. His first ever visit here produced a runner-up finish to Justin Rose in 2010 and linkable form across Nicklaus designed PGA National, as well as other classical courses, is naturally easy to find. Stats-wise Fowler is the equal of all in this field, so I'm taking a good price on the World Number 12 this week. RESULT: T2
Bud Cauley has been playing some top-level stuff recently and his 41st last week at Colonial has at last given his price some breathing space. Prior to that 5th at TPC Four Seasons, 5th in TPC Louisiana, 10th at TPC San Antonio and 9th at Harbour Town show a young player close to making a maiden PGA Tour break through. His record here reads 3 appearances with 3 paid weekends across a 52nd (2012), 24th (2013) with a 38th 12 months ago which featured his best career round here of -6/66.
I like the Floridian 27 year-old's chances this week for a number of reasons: 64th in par-4 Birdie or Better Conversion, 51st in par-5 Birdie or Better, 61st in proximity to Hole, 32nd in 3-Putt Avoidance and 30th in Putting Average are season-long statistics I really like this week. Tie that in with an Up-State record that includes 4th at Old White TPC (2014), 4th at Hamilton (2012), 8th at Deere Run (2016) and 10th at Bethpage Black (2013), plus a win on the web.com Tour at Sycamore Hills GC in Indiana (2013), and it's easy to see that Bud is comfortable with both Bentgrass and Poa Annua. That win in Fort Wayne opens another channel of interest as Sycamore Hills is a par 72, sub 7,400 yard design of Jack Nicklaus. Cauley had finished 5th there previously in 2012 and his liking for Nicklaus designs is easy to see as he's also finished 4th twice at Annandale (2011 & 2012) plus 14th and 3rd at the CareerBuilder Challenge at PGA West across 2015 and 2016 - which features the Nicklaus-designed Tournament Course. For me a tranquil forecast and lower scoring can only improve Cauley's chances this week. RESULT: T25
Danny Lee is a player to follow when on form and I've been suitably impressed with him across the latter part of the Texas swing. 5th at TPC Four Seasons and 6th at Colonial saw the New Zealander rank 7th and 4th for All-Round play respectively. Now he enters the portion of the season where he thrived in 2015 when he scored his maiden PGA Tour victory and qualified for the International team for the Presidents Cup. Back then a run of 1st at Old White TPC, 3rd at Deere Run, 4th at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club and 6th at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational across 5 weeks saw Danny rise meteorically up the OWGR. He was an absolute Up-State machine who really came to the party in scoreable, soft conditions, much like we will see this week. If Lee wants to again qualify for the International team for the Presidents Cup which takes place at Liberty National in September, he could do with keeping this exceptional run going. A smart tee-to-green game that has seen him finish 2nd/5th for Greens in Regulation and 12th/9th for Proximity to Hole across TPC Four Seasons and Colonial is spot on for Muirfield Village and as we all know Lee tends to be a short game specialist who scores heavily when all points of his game connect. RESULT: T49
Scott Piercy is another player who I think can be a real danger this week. The U.S. Open runner-up from last year has always played well Up-State and he's a very streaky player who's never afraid to string a couple of top-level performances together in consecutive appearances when all is firing. His U.S. Open performance last year was immediately followed up with 2nd at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational - he can mix it at the top table and I was very impressed with his Colonial outing last week where he finished 11th in Fairways Hit, 3rd in Greens in Regulation, 2nd in Proximity to Hole, 4th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 24th in Putting Average. 2 of his 3 wins have come on Bent/Poa Annua putting surfaces and interestingly those 3 wins have come off 6th, 3rd and 13th place finishes within 2 outings prior. Indeed the Las Vegas resident is the perfect example of a player who finds form across a very short timescale and it's also worth noting that his win at Montreux in 2013 was on a Nicklaus design and he also finished 5th at PGA National as early as 2009. I prefer to play Piercy in lower-scoring affairs and I think he will like the soft, tranquil conditions on offer at Muirfield Village where he finished 16th in windy conditions back in 2013. RESULT: MC
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