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Congratulations to Francesco Molinari and Justin Rose backers who landed 22/1 and 20/1 wins. On our weekly podcast – why not have a listen and follow – we preached that Wentworth and Colonial Country Club were very similar venues. So it followed that the mature heads of Francesco and Justin took the honours both sides of the Atlantic, with Francesco jumping to 3rd in the European points list for the Ryder Cup. Jon Rahm brought home a full each-way return for this column as the hunt for profit continues this week in Ohio.
On the PGA Tour it’s our first trip to the north of the United States in 2018 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. 2018 doesn’t disappoint with Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson and 5 times Memorial winner Tiger Woods all in attendance. In all, 11 of the World’s top-16 ranked players are in Dublin, Ohio this week.
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. 2017: 72.80 (+0.80), Difficulty Rank 13 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Muirfield Village and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Jack Nicklaus designs include:
Course Overview: Muirfield Village is 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. A second-shot golf course where those who can find the right layers of the green complexes can make birdies. 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 Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix greens.
Accessing the flatter parts of these undulating green complexes is the key. This is how Jordan Spieth described it in an interview back in 2015, “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 relatively easy to find, indiscriminate bombing from the tee tends to be rejected by this brilliant classical design. Greens proved 13th hardest to hit on the Tour last season and a Rough Proximity to Hole rank of 11th hardest also highlights that taking total liberties from the tee is not a winning strategy around here. The course ranked 2nd hardest for Scrambling in 2017 – so look for players who are trending in terms of strokes gained approach and around the greens. However the real test at Jack’s Place is a set of tough par-3s which proved the most difficult on Tour last season, allied to the ability to regularly get approach shots close to pin locations which unlocks scoring opportunities.
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.
Winners: 2017: Jason Dufner (-13); 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).
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 10 of my published predictor are Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Emiliano Grillo, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Corales Championship and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2017: Dufner 66/1; 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: 122/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 208/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Dublin, Ohio, is here. Thunderstorms look like they’ll impact the golf course across both the Wednesday Pro-Am and the opening Thursday of play. We’re guessing in terms of severity and duration, but early forecasts across multiple weather sites including the PGA Tour itself suggests that there will be plenty of precipitation. The tournament therefore could see a suspension of play on Thursday of some sorts and it’s more than likely we are in for a very soft course over the first 36 holes of play at the very least. Friday sees humid conditions in play, but fresher weather arrives for Saturday and Saturday with temperatures up to 22 degrees Celsius. With only light breezes across the full tournament, it’s likely the course will yield good scoring.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 8 winners of this event since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Let’s take a view from players as to how Muirfield Village sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Jason Dufner (2017): “This is a difficult golf course. The wind can be tricky at times. I’m hoping we’ll have some calmer conditions. But just being underneath the hole is a big thing out here. I find myself – when I play good rounds, I seem to be putting uphill all week. I’m struggling from above the hole. So position into the greens is important. Yeah, these are by far probably the best greens that we play on all year, from the standpoint of consistency on speed from green to green. When I step on 7th green I feel like it’s the same speed as the 14th green or the 17th green. And then also just the consistency of the roll, like you said. You feel like you get a really pure roll. If you start in on your line and your read is right you’re probably going to be holing a lot of putts. And I think they get as fast as any that we play. There’s a lot of pitch, a lot of undulation out there on these greens. You get above the hole you’re just breathing on them when they’re moving pretty good.“
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 8 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010.
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 vary and there have been seismic changes here in Ohio across the past 3 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. Last year saw World Number 65 Jason Dufner beat Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Justin Thomas to take his 5th PGA Tour victory at 66/1. Jason showed grit and resolve on a fast Sunday golf course, taking on the likes of 54-hole leader Kuchar, Bubba Watson, Thomas and playing partner Rickie Fowler to comfortably win in the end by 3 shots.
My selections are as follows:
Marc Leishman 2pts EW 33/1 with Paddy Power
The top of the market is as you would expect: the bookmakers have different opinions across Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy, but they all have prices between 12/1 – 14/1. If you can split them you are a better judge than me, but I’d probably err with Dustin Johnson who has won 8 times on Bentgrass/Poa Annua and pure Poa Annua surfaces. He’s ripe for a win after playing so well at TPC Sawgrass, but my main reservation is his price, where it’s a win only bet or a hefty each-way stake which destroys a balanced staking plan at an event which throws up some juicy priced winners. Tiger is also sure to be popular at a tournament where he’s won across 1999, 2000, 2001, 2009 and 2012. You have to like his chances, but again his last win here in 2012 came at 16/1 where had finished 3rd at Abu Dhabi, 2nd on the Nicklaus-designed PGA National and won at Bay Hill. If he drives like he did over the weekend at TPC Sawgrass he has a real chance this week, and that’s possible at Muirfield Village especially if the course plays soft, but there isn’t a lot of juice at 22/1 for each-way punters.
So my first port of call is a bet on Marc Leishman who has had 6 top-10 finishes in season 2017/18 and finds himself at 33/1 this week. His Memorial record is good with 5th (2015), 11th (2016) and 15th (2017) across the past 3 renewals here. It’s debatable though if the World Number 16 has ever been in such good nick with 2 high-profile wins at Bay Hill and Conway Farms last March and September respectively. Since then 2nd to Justin Thomas in South Korea, 7th at Kapalua which should have been a whole lot better, 7th when defending at Bay Hill, 9th at Augusta where he was 2nd to Patrick Reed at halfway and 2nd last time out at Trinity Forest, highlight a player who has found self confidence. Yes he should win more than he does, but the Australian ran into inspired players in the form of both Justin Thomas and Aaron Wise going down the stretch the past 2 times and in effect did very little wrong at all. 26th in Strokes Gained Approach, 27th in Scoring Average and 9th in par-4 Scoring Average are numbers I like this week and his putting last time out in Dallas led the field in Stokes Gained. An opening salvo of 61/65 at the Byron Nelson was impressive, where his irons were dialled-in, and Marc has played well at Muirfield Village ever since he played here in the 2013 President’s Cup winning 2 points for the International Team including beating 2013 Memorial Champion Matt Kuchar in the singles. RESULT: T62
Bryson DeChambeau 1.5pt EW 50/1 with Paddy Power
At 21st in the PGA Tour Scoring Average, Bryson DeChambeau again fills the criteria of an extremely talented player who’s yet to win this season. 5th at TPC Scottsdale, a gutsy 2nd at Bay Hill to Rory McIlroy, 3rd at Harbour Town (after a 75 on Saturday ultimately killed his chances) and 4th at Quail Hollow highlight the kind of talent we’re dealing with in DeChambeau. So I was a little surprised to see him in the same price range as he was at the recent Players Championship where he was making his debut. 11th SG Off the Tee, 18th in SG Approach the Green, 11th in SG Tee to Green, 19th for par-4 Scoring Average, 5th for par-5 Scoring Average and 21st for Scoring Average tell you all you need to know about Bryson’s game in 2018, but it’s his ball-striking right now which really excites. 1st at TPC Scottsdale, 5th at Augusta, 1st at Quail Hollow and 1st at Colonial is top drawer, with Bryson hitting the ball long and straight. The same cannot be said for DeChambeau 2 years ago when he made his one and only outing here at Muirfield Village, arriving off the back of 4 straight Missed Cuts. Hitting fairways was a not a priority for the freshly turned pro back in 2016, so the fact that he finished 38th with a 2nd Round -5/67 shows promise. 21st at Augusta as an amateur in 2016, in tandem with 2nd at Bay Hill and 4th at Quail Hollow this term, show that DeChambeau likes a classical golf challenge and if he can play patiently this week, I think he has a great chance. DeChambeau also grabbed his first professional golf tournament in Ohio, just 2 hours down the I-71 at Canterbury Golf Club when he won the 2016 DAP Championship on Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix greens. RESULT: Winner
Emiliano Grillo 1.5pt EW 50/1 with Coral
“Well, it’s been a great week, that is for sure. Just had to fight the two guys who are top 10 in the world. They showed out today. 7-, 8-under today, that’s kind of hard to beat. May is my favourite month here on tour with The PLAYERS. This week and next week it’s two of my favourite weeks out here that I look forward to.” The words of Emiliano Grillo who’s undoubtedly playing some of the best golf out there right now. His performances across the GC of Houston, Quail Hollow and last week at Colonial have been excellent and he’s looking more assured when in contention, plus it’s clear from his words that he likes the classical nature of Muirfield Village – a course where he’s had success in the past.
A PGA Tour winner on the classical Silverado course in California which features Bentgrass Poa Annua mix greens, Grillo’s win there followed web.com form of 1-MC-2-9. He’s undoubtedly one of those who has to build up confidence and belief, so incoming PGA Tour form this week of 3-37-9-MC-16-3 is encouraging and Grillo’s next goal now that he’s qualified for the U.S. Open must be to grab his 2nd PGA Tour victory and jump back into the OWGR top 50 – a position he enjoyed in 2015 and 2016. On top of Silverado, Quail Hollow and last week’s 3rd spot at Colonial, 7th at Bay Hill (2017) and 2nd at Bethpage Black (2016) highlight the Argentine’s liking for classical course set-ups and his play this season has been top drawer. 18th for Scoring Average, 17th for SG Off the Tee, 17th for SG Approach, 32nd for Proximity to Hole and crucially 15th for SG Putting are a set of statistics that players in the top 20 in the OWGR would be proud of. It’s also interesting that Grillo sits 8th, 21st and 12th across my 10-week skill stat window for Driving Accuracy, Greens in Regulation and Putting Average. RESULT: T23
Ryan Moore 1pt EW 70/1 with Paddy Power
If we’re looking for course plotters who thrive in softer conditions, go well on classical golf courses and perform better when scoring is lower then Ryan Moore after shooting a closing -5/67 at TPC Sawgrass is an excellent fit. The Las Vegas, Nevada resident is playing some decent golf and could fulfil the ‘under the radar’ prophecy just as Dufner and McGirt have in the past 2 renewals. 6th at El Camaleon, 9th at Riviera, 5th at Bay Hill and 7th at TPC San Antonio is a decent haul of top-10 finishes season-to-date and it’s clear that Moore has been accurate off the tee and on his approach play for a prolonged period of time. For me though, Ryan is always a player to watch when the Tour moves north as he thrives on Bentgrass base putting surfaces. Indeed his 3 United States victories have been at Sedgefield, TPC Summerlin and Deere Run – 3 tracks which all featured Bentgrass putting surfaces. 4th and 2nd across my 10-week rolling Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation tracker, if Moore keeps the warm putter that we saw in the final round at TPC Sawgrass and at TPC San Antonio, he could well be a factor on a course which is there for the taking. It’s noticeable that Ryan’s best finishes here – 2nd 2007 and 5th 2010 – both came when scoring was low. Choi won here at -17/271 in 2007 and Rose won here at -18/270 in 2010 – so a lack of wind and soft conditions should be right up Moore’s street this week. 3 top-10s and another additional 4 top-22 finishes here in 12 appearances highlight a player who thrives in Ohio. Ryan also sits 19th for Scoring Average on the PGA Tour – a nice spot when compared to the 25th (Dufner) and 22nd (McGirt) that the last 2 winners sat in when arriving in Ohio. RESULT: T13
Charley Hoffman 0.5pt EW 150/1 (outright) and 0.5pt EW 125/1 (First Round Leader) with Coral
2nd last week in the First Round Leader market, Charley Hoffman is almost an automatic bet when it comes to Thursdays. 4th at Augusta this year, 2nd at Conway Farms, 6th at Royal Birkdale, 1st at Augusta and 3rd at Bay Hill at the close of Round 1 since the start of 2017 would undoubtedly have produced a rather tasty profit over the past 17 months. Those venues shout old school or classical courses and the World Number 34 tends to come to the fore on these kind of layouts. Hoffman’s numbers last week at Colonial were also encouraging with the Las Vegas, Nevada resident finding fairways (his huge weakness), hitting a decent amount of greens in regulation and finishing in the top 10 for Strokes Gained Putting. Always one to cover when he finds confidence, The Hoff has always come to the fore in Texas and ‘Up-State’ as he much prefers Bentgrass-based putting surfaces. He’s also got an excellent track record on Nicklaus courses. A winner (2007) and runner-up finish (2015) plus a further 3 top 10 finishes at PGA West which always features a Nicklaus-design amongst it’s course rota, Hoffman has also finished 16th (2013), 7th (2015) and 2nd (2017) at the classical Glen Abbey Par 72. So with thunderstorms a distinct possibility across Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which are likely to create a very soft test this week, I’m going to cover off Charley in both the FRL (5 EW, 1/4 odds) and overall markets (7 EW, 1/5 odds), as he ranks 4th in this field for soft course performances (check out our predictor model for our soft course variable). RESULT: MC
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