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This promises to be another excellent week of golf action across both Tours. A high quality field is always attracted to Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio as this is 'Jack's Tournament'; meanwhile in Sweden the Nordea Masters is one of the more established tournaments on the European Tour schedule and once again it offers a decent field including World No.4 Henrik Stenson. Paul Williams' preview gives you all the required lowdown to host course PGA Sweden National and the event's runners and riders.
2015 Punters League
Huge congratulations to Sean Colgan who goes from strength to strength in the 2015 Punters League. His selection of outsider Steven Bowditch at the Byron Nelson last week has boosted his overall score to an incredible 986 points after 21 weeks and he pocketed another £/€25 free bet courtesy of Paddy Power for his efforts. Commiserations to Andrew Davies who also selected Bowditch. New entrants are always welcome, so enter your 6 players across the Memorial and Nordea Masters on our facebook group now.
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) and Hideki Matsuyama (2014).
Here's my Memorial preview which walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
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 8-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; 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.
Course Overview: It's worth highlighting immediately that the course has changed slightly on the tough closing hole. The 484 yard 18th, which was the toughest hole on the course last term, sees a revised bunker complex now on the right-hand side of the fairway in the landing area between 275 and 350 yards. The hole before these revisions played at +0.338 above par 12 months ago on a course where the 4 toughest holes start (Number 1) and finish (Holes 16 - 18) the round. 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. However tranquil conditions look set for the opening 36 holes, so we may well see scoring closer to -16/272 levels.
Winners: 2014: Hideki Matsuyama (-13); 2013: Matt Kuchar (-12); 2012: Tiger Woods (-8); 2011: Steve Stricker (-16); 2010: Justin Rose (-18) 2009: Tiger Woods (-12); 2008: Kenny Perry (-8); 2007: K.J. Choi (-17).
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 Memorial Tournament predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players included in the Top 5 of the Predictor include Matt Kuchar (Predictor number 1 and 2013 winner), Justin Rose, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama (defending champion) and Dustin Johnson.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Arnold Palmer Invitational and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour. 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: 2014: Matsuyama 66/1; 2013: Kuchar 22/1; 2012: Woods 16/1; 2011: Stricker 28/1; 2010: Rose 80/1; 2009: Woods 3/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Muirfield Village is here. Rain levels in Dublin, Ohio have been typically seasonal so we won't see the exceptionally soft conditions that have blighted the Tour across the southern states. 12mm of rain since Saturday has softened the course to a degree, however we should still see much faster conditions this week. Rain can't be ruled out during the tournament but the risk continues to diminish. Noteworthy breezes only look to be a feature on Saturday, so scoring could be lowest we've seen since the course was extended for the 2013 tournament.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors:
Analysing the final stats of the last 5 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
The 2012 and 2013 Memorial Tournaments were wind-dominated and became GIR grinds. When conditions are faster and calmer, Memorial becomes a more all-round test. Fast stimp greens still place a premium on accurate driving unlike the recent soft classical tests at Quail Hollow 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.
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.
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.
After the shock win from Steven Bowditch at the Byron Nelson last week (I did warn you surprises happen at TPC Four Seasons), The Memorial should see a return to a shorter-priced player winning. 66/1, 125/1 and 33/1 shots took the first 3 places last year, all 3 of whom sat in the OWGR Top 70. So with tranquil wind conditions across 3 of the 4 days of play, I'm looking for true all-round players who have the precision to hit a high proportion of greens in regulation and putt at under 1.7 putts per GIR. High quality scrambling and bunker play is also an absolute must for Muirfield Village.
President's Cup qualification - current rankings are here - will become increasingly important now as we move through the season for both the American and International sides. It's noticeable that in recent weeks J.B. Holmes, Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler and Chris Kirk have all thrust themselves into the automatic spots (Top 10) in Jay Haas' team with big wins on courses that have suited. For the Internationals Byeong-Hun An (Wentworth) and Steven Bowditch (TPC Four Seasons) now find themselves in the reckoning for an automatic spot in Nick Price's side.
Key Bookmaker Offer: Paddy Power have again gone 6 places each-way at The Memorial. Full details and latest odds here.
My selections are as follows:
Hideki Matsuyama must have been looking forward to the 'up state' season and defending his Memorial title since finishing a hugely impressive 5th at Augusta. The 23 year-old Japanese sensation thrives on bentgrass putting surfaces so has only had the World Matchplay at TPC Harding Park (where he won all 3 group matches convincingly) to quench his thirst in a schedule that has only included strokeplay tournaments at TPC Sawgrass and Quail Hollow. So respective 17th and 20th finishes, which featured typically bermudagrass-negative putting performances, highlights just how well Matsuyama's game is right now. 17th in Scoring Average, 3rd in Bogey Avoidance, 30th in Hole Proximity and 10th in Scrambling season-long skill categories are perfect numbers for a Memorial challenge to be based upon and the only real question for me is how will he take to defending the title? Well interestingly, despite capturing 6 Japan Golf Tour wins, this will only be Hideki's second career title defence. Encouragingly he finished 4th at the Taiheiyo Masters in 2012 as a first year professional (he won in 2011 as an amateur), finishing 4 shots back from Ryo Ishikawa. RESULT: T5
Players undoubtedly develop at varying paces and Bill Haas slowly seems to be getting his head around the fact that he has the game good enough to challenge at the biggest tournaments. Despite winning 6 PGA Tour titles and both the 2011 Tour Championship and FedEx Cup, he's never delivered at Major Championship level although perhaps that will change soon. Well spurred on by the birth of his second child earlier in 2015 and by his desire to qualify for his father's President's Cup team on merit, Bill won early in 2015 at PGA West and has finished 7th at the WGC Cadillac Championship, a career best 12th at Augusta (equalling his best ever Major result) and 4th at The Players Championship, where he went out in Sunday's 2nd last group with Ben Martin. Wins at Riviera (2012) and the Invitational status AT&T National title at Congressional (2013) confirm the 33 year-old has the perfect game for Muirfield Village and that's confirmed when you see he's finished 4th (2013) and 8th (2014) on his last 2 appearances here. Winning Jack's Tournament would be a huge career boost and would take Haas into the 4th President's Cup qualifying spot. RESULT: T18
Russell Henley has been known for his amazing putting ability since he hit the PGA Tour in 2013, but in recent months it's clear that he has been working on both ball-striking and scrambling which he feels he needs to improve so as to take the exciting 26 year-old to the next level. The work seems to be bearing fruit as Henley's consistency since the Shell Houston Open has been excellent. 4th at the GC of Houston was followed by a career-best 21st at Augusta based on an opening round 68 (good enough for tied 6th). 24th at The Players and 22nd at last week's Byron Nelson have also featured minimal bogeys, top 5 total driving and top 7 ball-striking & all-round performances. So I get the feeling that all of this excellent work is about to manifest itself in a contending performance and Muirfield Village is clearly a course that Russell likes. He was 6th here on debut in 2013 where he finished 2nd in Greens in Regulation behind only Matt Kuchar and even last year's missed cut featured a 75% GIR performance. Henley was also 2nd in his last 'up state' outing at TPC Boston when he finished behind Chris Kirk in the Deutsche Bank. A win at Jack's tournament would very much follow the tournament status step Chris Kirk made at Colonial a fortnight ago and Henley has the game to deliver it right now. RESULT: MC
Ben Martin has played some cracking stuff across 2014 and 2015 and now finds himself on the verge of cementing a place in the OWGR Top 50. His latest Top 10 at Colonial a fortnight ago squeaked him into the Top 50 for the first time ever and importantly qualified him for both the US Open and the Open Championship (he made his debut at Hoylake last year finishing a creditable 26th). I've been seriously impressed with the 27 year-old whose accurate driving, fine ball-striking and excellent putting has seen him sit in the all-round Top 10 across both TPC Sawgrass and Colonial. I like him this week on a course where he marked his debut last season with a 3rd Round 65, which catapulted him into Sunday's 6th last group. Being paired with Andrew Svoboda was never going to be a match made in heaven at Muirfield on a Sunday, but it's clear that Martin likes the course and 4th at The Players, 5th at Bay Hill and 11th at Kapalua in 2015 highlight that the Clemson University graduate has no problems mixing it at big tournaments. Despite being a short hitter, Martin clearly likes classical and/or tree-lined courses (Bay Hill, Harbour Town, Colonial, Congressional) and Par 72 layouts (Trump International, TPC Sawgrass, Montreaux) to boot and it's worth noting that his 2 wins on the web.com Tour came 'up state' in Indiana and Pennsylvania on bentgrass-based putting surfaces. Remember his maiden PGA Tour victory last year at TPC Summerlin was also on bentgrass greens. RESULT: MC
Our predictions and final tips for the 2016 Memorial Tournament will be published here on the Tuesday before the event.