Memorial Tournament Golf Preview
Adam Scott leads a field of World Class players at the Memorial this week...
After the excitement of last weekend, the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village has some way to go to meet expectations.
Rory McIlroy's come-from-behind success at Wentworth displayed immense guts and mental strength given how events off the course had transpired. Meanwhile at Colonial, the new world number one Adam Scott showed just why he is the best in the business right now with consecutive birdies to defeat Jason Dufner in a playoff.
With just two weeks until the season's second major, the US Open at Pinehurst, all eyes are trained on the Memorial this week as the world's best seek a timely confidence boost.
It just so happens that the patron of this event is the most decorated golfer of all time. Jack Nicklaus commands the respect of the modern professionals and they demonstrate that by turning out year on year at 'Jacks Place' for his tournament.
With the storylines bubbling nicely and Pinehurst ever closer on the horizon, this week promises to enthral once more.
Unsurprisingly, the Nicklaus-designed layout poses some tough questions of the players. Muirfield Village has been the hardest par 72 in a non-major the past two seasons on the PGA Tour. The rough is not overly punishing, meaning that even a wayward driver can prevail this week, but the greens are small by tour standards and accurate approach play is a must.
Defending champion Matt Kuchar ranked only T37 in fairways hit a year ago while he was also outside the top 20 in distance of all drives over the four days.
To win the Memorial Tournament this week, accurate approach shots and a deft touch around some diminutive greens to save par will be the key components. The world's best are in Ohio, so how do their chances rank?
Starting at the top, Adam Scott could not have dreamt of a better way to complete his first full week at the top of the world golf rankings chart. Despite slumping to four-over par during his opening round at Colonial, he fought back, shooting 66 on Sunday and grabbing the win in a high-quality playoff.
The Aussie has finished inside the top 15 three times in the past at this event, including a year ago, and will be determined to protect his ranking with another strong showing.
Like Scott, McIlroy claimed an unlikely success at Wentworth in coming from seven shots back on Sunday to overhaul Thomas Bjorn. That he did so in the midst of perceived personal turmoil over his split from fiancée Caroline Wozniacki made his display all the more impressive.
Could it be that McIlroy's torment is in fact at an end now that he has made his choice? The Northern Irishman was the best golfer on the planet 18 months ago and his equipment change was blamed for a dip in form.
With a clear mind and an overdue win to his name, the two-major champion looks set for a blockbuster summer. He should continue to build momentum this week.
Defending champion Kuchar must go on any shortlist for victory this week. A strong record at the Memorial - five top ten finishes - allied to nine top tens in just 14 PGA Tour outings in 2014 make the American a model of consistency.
Getting over the winning line has been something of an issue, although the 35-year-old secured victory at the Heritage in April. Nobody will be surprised to find Kuchar's name high on the leaderboard come Sunday.
The player responsible for keeping Kuchar up to his work a year ago was Kevin Chappell. Following his best performance of the year to date at Colonial last week, Chappell could again flourish at a venue where he has three times finished in the top 15, including that runner-up spot twelve months ago.
Dustin Johnson hits the ball so far he is often playing a different game to some of his peers. The American has enjoyed success at Muirfield in the past - his best finish is T4 - and he can really open up his shoulders on this course.
With a win and two runner-up finishes earlier this season, Johnson showed a pleasing return to form in his last two outings after missing the cut at Augusta in April.
Justin Rose will have the defence of his US Open crown in his sights and the Englishman made his PGA Tour breakthrough when winning this event in 2010.
Rose is coming into form with summer in sight and while he did not shine at Wentworth he has posted top ten finishes in his last three events in America, including a share of fourth spot in the Players Championship at Sawgrass.
Jordan Spieth is the brightest new talent in golf this season and he is making a real habit of contending at big events. The 20-year-old would surely love to put himself in the spotlight this week under the gaze of the 'The Golden Bear'.
Spieth has found himself in the final pairing at both the Masters and Players Championship in recent months and was again inside the top 15 last week at Colonial. The only thing missing from his CV this year is a tick in the 'win' column but given the quality of his play it looks only a matter of time.
Last weekend at Wentworth, Luke Donald showed glimpses of the form that saw him rise to world number one in 2011. With much less focus on distance and more gains to be made in scrambling, Donald could be described as the prototype Muirfield Village player.
Without a win on the PGA or European Tours since 2012, Donald will be eager to prove that his recent swing changes are not the first sign of decline in his game.
Jason Day's victory at the Accenture Matchplay in February appeared to set him up for a strong 2014 showing, but the Australian has been plagued by a thumb injury and has started only once, at Augusta, in the past three months.
Clues as to Day's fitness and chances at Pinehurst in two weeks will surely be on display this week as he gets back into competitive action.
Steve Stricker's reduced schedule this year means he can sneak into Muirfield under the radar. He was a standout performer at this venue for the United States during the Presidents Cup last autumn and he showed his well-being with four sub-par rounds at Sawgrass two weeks ago. Winner here in 2011, Stricker has the game for Muirfield success.
The players arrive at 'Jacks Place' determined to showcase their talents under the watching eye of the old master. The Memorial Tournament has a special feel in the presence of greatness and should prove to be another thrilling bout of PGA Tour action.