The world's five best golfers will assemble in Ohio this week for what should be a cracking renewal of the Memorial Tournament, so read our man's comprehensive preview here to get the lowdown before Thursday's start...
“Already a winner this season, at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jason Dufner played well last week before his putter went icy cold on Sunday and he could only finish sixth. He was just a stroke off the lead here at halfway last year, so we know Muirfield suits him as much as his stats suggest it should.”
The Memorial Tournament is an invitational event with only the top-75 on the previous PGA Tour season's money list guaranteed a place in the line-up. First staged 40 years ago, in 1976, this will be the 41st edition of what is a high profile event staged in Jack Nicklaus' hometown.
With the world's top five players all in attendance and with the 'big three' of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy all looking to win for the second time in a row, this is the strongest line-up assembled in a non-major in quite some time and we could be set for an absolute cracker.
Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio
Par 72, 7,392 yards
Stroke index in 2015 - 71.74
Jack Nicklaus' designed Muirfield Village himself and he very often tinkers with it. It was named after his favourite Open Championship venue and built in 1974 on land acquired eight years earlier. It's a strong but fair test. The fairways are fairly generous but the rough is pretty penal and it always strikes me how lush the whole place looks. Water comes into play on 11 holes and the smaller-than-average bentgrass greens are undulating and fast.
In addition to this event, Muirfield has also hosted the 1987 Ryder Cup, the 1998 Solheim Cup and the Presidents Cup in 2013.
Live on Sky all four days, starting on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2015 - David Lingmerth -15 (playoff)
2014 - Hideki Matsuyama -13 (playoff)
2013 - Matt Kuchar -12
2012 - Tiger Woods -9
2011 - Steve Stricker -16
What Will it Take to Win The Memorial Tournament?
Length off the tee used to be advantageous around Muirfield but not anymore. Three of the top-five and ties 12 months ago, including the winner, David Lingmerth, ranked in the 60s for Driving Distance and avoiding the rough off the tee is much more important than whacking it miles. The average DD ranking of the last ten winners is 39.2 and the average Driving Accuracy ranking is 11.3.
Lingmerth ranked 16th for Greens In Regulation and although respectable, that was quite a high ranking for a Memorial winner. The 2012 and 2013 winners, Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar, both ranked first for GIR and the two that ranked first and second for GIR last year, Francesco Molinari and Jim Furyk, both finished inside the top five.
Lingmerth ranked first for Par 3 Scoring but only eighth for Par 4 Scoring and that was the highest anyone had ranked for that stat in over ten years, with eight of the previous ten winners ranking first or second. That wouldn't be unusual on a par 70 track with only two par fives but given Muirfield is a par 72 with four, it's a stat to consider closely this week.
Is There an Angle In?
Having missed four of his previous five cuts and having been matched at 770.0769/1 before the off, Lingmerth caused a big shock last year. His best performance in 2015 before he pegged it up at Muirfield had been 13th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and such a bank of poor form was very unusual.
In the 20 years before Lingmerth won, every winner had recorded a top-ten finish earlier in the season and only two of the 20 hadn't finished inside the top-four somewhere. And half of the 20 had won previously. Three of them had won a week before winning here so it might be wise to forget all about Lingmerth's form last year and look to those that have already shown something in 2016 and especially those that have shown something recently.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Class, experience and course experience in particular all used to be essential here but things have changed a bit of late.
Between 1993 and 2004, every winner was either a past or future major champion and until 2014 only Tiger Woods, Carl Pettersson and Justin Rose (who was a month shy of his 30th) were the only other winners in their 20s but the last two have both been under 30.
Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Greg Norman and Jack have all won the tournament twice, Kenny Perry has won it three times and Tiger has claimed the title five times. And Justin Rose came within a whisker of winning it a second time 12 months ago so past winners do well here.
Bart Bryant in 2005 and Pettersson a year later were hard to spot before the off and so were the last two winners but the five winners before Matsuyama were all fairly well-fancied.
Americans used to dominate the event but six of the last 12 winners have been from overseas.
It's a bit of a curious picture because in the last 18 years only three winners - Matsuyama, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk - have been further than four strokes adrift after day one but it's been a great place to take on the leaders.
In the event's entire 40 year history, only two men have led or co-led after round one and gone on to win - Ernie Els in 2004 and Rose in 2010 - and only two of the last nine winners were leading through three rounds.
Justin Rose was trading at around 1.75/7 when he led by three with a round to go last year and he hit a low of 1.330/100 in-running. And there were all sorts of shenanigans in 2014 when Bubba Watson failed to convert a two-stroke 54 hole lead...
Bubba hit a low of 1.422/5 and Kevin Na, who had begun round four trailing by seven, was matched at just 1.121/8 before losing in a playoff to Matsuyama. And Matsuyama had hit a low of 1.21/5 in regulation play before he looked like he'd thrown it all away with a double bogey at the 16th.
Matt Kuchar was two clear in 2013 with a round to go when he won but five of the six winners before him were three, four (three times) or five strokes behind after 54 holes so I'll be looking for a few closers at decent prices with a round to go.
The back-nine averaged almost a stroke harder than the front nine last year, despite the par five 15th hole averaging 4.62 and ranking the easiest on the course. Once through the 15th, the players face three really tough finishing holes and last year they averaged 0.85 strokes over-par and they ranked the third, fifth and first hardest.
There's not going to be much between the front three in the official world rankings but I fancy the number one should just shade favouritism.
Jason Day's victory at the Players Championship last time out was as impressive as his back-to-back wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-World Match Play in March and there's no reason why he can't double up here too.
Like all those at the head of the world rankings, his Driving Accuracy stats are nothing to write home about and his GIR figures aren't amazing either but he certainly knows how to score and he currently ranks third for Par 4 Scoring, averaging an impressive 3.96.
This will be his eighth appearance at Memorial and there isn't much encouragement to be found from his first seven visits. He's missed the cut three times and his best ever effort was tied 27th in 2009.
I'm still in a mild state of shock at how Jordan Spieth got off the mark in his home state yesterday and I'm still not convinced his tee-to-green game is even close to how good it can be but he finds a way to score and he currently tops the Par 5 Scoring stats with an average of 3.94.
His form course form figures of 63-19-4 suggest he's starting to get Muirfield and he has to be one to consider after yesterday's win. He'll be full of the joys of spring after winning in Texas for the first time and after putting his Masters meltdown to bed, and the only thing that could be a negative is the possibility of physical and mental fatigue.
Of the front three, Rory McIlroy is the one I fancy the least. He led here by three strokes after round one the last time he played here, in 2014, but ended up finishing 15th so his Muirfield form figures now read 10-5-MC-57-15.
It was magical the way he won the Irish Open last time out but the field wasn't strong, he didn't putt well again, and he hasn't won in the states in over a year.
The 2014 winner, Hideki Matsuyama, has been steadily backed since the market went up and I can see why. He didn't disgrace himself with a fifth place finish when defending last year and in his last four stroke play appearances he's finished sixth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, seventh in the US Masters, 11th in the Wells Fargo Championship and seventh in the Players Championship.
Already a winner this year, having won the Phoenix Open in February, it's very hard to see him not contending this week and he looks to have an outstanding chance.
Justin Rose loves Muirfield but he has to bounce back after the disappointment of last year's playoff defeat and there are also question marks surrounding his fitness after he sat out the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last week.
Although not playing to their full potential at present, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson are both worthy of mention given they've both forfeited 54 hole leads here recently.
Fowler led the 2010 edition on debut before a final round 73 saw him slip to second and he was sitting in third two years later but went on to shoot 84 in round four! That horror show might just have left a mark as he clearly has an aptitude for the course but since that implosion he's finished tied for 37th and missed the cut twice.
Bubba skipped the event last year but he was two clear with a round to go in 2014 and as already mentioned, he traded at a low of 1.422/5 deep into the back nine on Sunday. With victory well within his grasp, Bubba bogeyed the par four 14th before double-bogeying the par five 15th and he went on to miss out on the playoff by a stroke.
I can't recall the last time I pondered over a more competitive market than this. All the above have a great chance and I've not even mentioned the world number eight, Dustin Johnson, or the in-form former winner, Matt Kuchar.
It's a tournament to savour but I'm not convinced it's one to stake too much on so I'm being ultra-cautious before the off and playing just two. I backed Bubba Watson two years ago and so felt I had to have a small bet on him at a big price and I've also played Jason Dufner.
Already a winner this season, at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Dufner played well last week before his putter went icy cold on Sunday and he could only finish sixth. He was just a stroke off the lead here at halfway last year, so we know Muirfield suits him as much as his stats suggest it should.
He's an accurate enough driver and he currently ranks 10th on the PGA Tour for GIR and tied 23rd for Par 4 Scoring. It's all about how the putter behaves with Dufner and I'm quite prepared for a frustrating week of moaning about how many short ones he's missed but at 75.074/1 I thought he was worth chancing in what is an incredibly tricky puzzle to solve.
Bubba Watson @ 30.029/1
Jason Dufner @ 75.074/1
You read my Nordea Masters preview here and I'll be back later in the week with my In-Play Blog.
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