Memorial Tournament: Sensational scrambling the secret to success

Golfer Jon Rahm with the Memorial Tournament trophy
Last year's winner Jon Rahm

This week the PGA Tour moves to Dublin, Ohio for the Memorial Tournament and our man's back with his comprehensive preview here...

"Justin Thomas, who was beaten by Morikawa in extra-time in the Workday Charity Open here, ranked second and the first three home in this event last year ranked one, two and three for Scrambling."

Tournament History

First staged in 1976, 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.

The brainchild of 18-time major winner, Jack Nicklaus, the Memorial Tournament always attracts a stellar field and the 46th edition is no exception.

Venue

Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin Ohio.

Course Details

Par 72, 7,456 yards
Stroke Index in 2020 - 74.01

Named after his favourite Open Championship venue and set in 240 rolling, wooded acres, Jack Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village himself and he very often tinkers with it. He did so last year, before the course hosted back-to-back PGA Tour events, with the Workday Charity Open preceding this event, and he's made more changes again this year.

Muirfield was built in 1974 on land acquired eight years earlier and it's a strong but fair test. The fairways are fairly generous but the rough, consisting of a blend of Kentucky bluegrass, fescue and rye, is usually pretty penal and it always strikes me how lush the whole place looks.

In addition to the Memorial Tournament, Muirfield also hosted the 1987 Ryder Cup, the 1998 Solheim Cup, the Presidents Cup in 2013 and as mentioned, the once-only staged, Workday Charity Open last year.

Water comes into play on 11 holes and the smaller than average bentgrass greens are undulating and usually set at around 13 on the stimpmeter. They've all been replaced this year though so they'll run at around 12.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting with Featured Groups coverage behind the Red Button from 12:15 on Thursday before the full coverage begins at 17:00

Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Jon Rahm -9 25.024/1
2019 - Patrick Cantlay -19 19.018/1
2018 - Bryson DeChambeau -15 (playoff) 48.047/1
2017 - Jason Dufner -13 90.089/1
2016 - William McGirt -15 (playoff) 360.0359/1
2015 - David Lingmerth -15 (playoff) 640.0639/1

What Will it Take to Win the memorial Tournament?

The 2018 and '19 Memorial Tournament winners, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay, both ranked fourth for Driving Distance but length off the tee isn't as advantageous as it once was around Muirfield.

The highest any of the top-seven ranked for DD in this event last year was 21st but three of the top-five ranked inside the top-five for Driving Accuracy. And it was a similar story the week before in the Workday with five of the top-six ranking higher for DA than they did for Driving Distance. The Workday winner, Collin Morikawa, ranked ninth for D.A and 19th for DD and Jon Rahm ranked 36th for DD and fourth for DA when taking this title seven days later.

Martin Kaymer traded at a low of 1.422/5 in 2019, before eventually finishing third, and he only ranked 51st for DD. Kyle Stanley was beaten in the playoff three years ago, having ranked only 57th for DD and the first and second four years ago, Jason Dufner and Anirban Lahiri, ranked only 28th and 35th for Driving Distance. The two playoff protagonists five years ago, William McGirt and Jon Curran, ranked 50th and 68th and in 2015, three of the top-five and ties, including the winner, David Lingmerth, ranked in the 60s for DD.

DeChambeau and Cantlay ranked only 51st and 58th for Driving Accuracy, but up until 2018, avoiding the rough off the tee had been much more important than whacking it miles and the last two results have seen a return to that remit.

The first two home in 2017 ranked seventh and first for Driving Accuracy and the DA ranking of the ten winners before DeChambeau in 2018 was 14.9. The average DD ranking of the 10 winners before Bryson was 35.4.

Last year's course winners, Morikawa and Rahm, ranked sixth and third for Greens In Regulation and the 2012 and 2013 winners, Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar, both ranked first for GIR, as did the 2017 winner, Jason Dufner.

Byeong Hun An also ranked first for GIR when beaten in extra time three years ago and the 2019 winner, Cantlay, ranked 11th but Adam Scott, who finished second, ranked second for GIR. The 2016 winner, William McGirt ranked seventh for GIR and the players who ranked first and second for GIR six years ago, Francesco Molinari and Jim Furyk, both finished inside the top-five. The average GIR ranking of the last 12 course winners is just 10.08.

Morikawa only ranked 31st for Scrambling in the Workday last year but that's been a key stat. Justin Thomas, who was beaten by Morikawa in extra-time, ranked second and the first three home in this event last year ranked one, two and three for Scrambling. After last year's renewal, the winner, Rahm, highlighted just how good his short game was, saying:

"One of the best performances of my life, yesterday (Saturday) was probably one of the best rounds of my life and I finished today with some clutch up-and-downs. And as a Spaniard, I'm kind of glad it happened that way. Every shot counts, and I tried every shot and got those two last up-and-downs, as a true Spaniard would.

"My short game has been unbelievable all week. It's been so good, and I've gotten close to chipping in a couple times. You always hear about people saying champions make it happen, and at that point I made it happen."

In 2019, the first second and third ranked fifth, sixth and seventh for Scrambling and the two best scramblers, Jordan Spieth and Marc Leishman, finished seventh and fifth. Bryson DeChambeau topped the Scrambling stats when he won here three years ago.

MUIRFIELD VILLAGE 2021 1.jpg

The two course winners last year only ranked 11th and fourth for Par 4 Scoring but 10 of the last 15 Memorial winners have ranked first or second for Par 4 Scoring. 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.

Although four of the last seven Memorial winners have had a Putting Average ranking of seventh or better, and Morikawa ranked first in the Workday last year (when the greens were slower than normal) this is one of those rare venues where putting isn't the most important stat to consider and players who aren't renowned for their flat-stick prowess have won or contended. The first three home in this event last year had Putting Average rankings of 17th, 32nd and 43rd. DeChambeau only ranked 27th when he won here three years ago. And William McGirt managed to win with a ranking of 55th!

Is There an Angle In?

The WGC-St Jude Invitational replaced the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2019 but a look back at the old leaderboards at Firestone should provide a few clues.

Tiger Woods has thrived at both venues, Hideki Matsuyama has won both events, Justin Rose has won here and finished runner-up at Firestone. The 2019 runner-up here, Scott, has won at Firestone, while Kyle Stanley and Zach Johnson have both finished second at both venues. Thomas is another Firestone winner to come close to winning here and a number of other players have played very well in both tournaments.

Firestone is also in Ohio but the form crosses over so well that it can't just be geographical - both venues clearly correlate nicely.

Is There an Identikit Memorial Winner?

Rahm was a decent price at 25.024/1 as he hadn't been playing well but he did sign off the Workday with the best round of the day - an eight-under-par 64 - so he came in for some support. Cantlay was fairly well-fancied, and he and DeChambeau were both winning for the second time on the PGA Tour when they won here, but it's been a good event for outsiders and first-time winners.

Cantlay.jpg

Bart Bryant in 2005 and Carl Pettersson in 2006 were big outsiders and the five winners before Cantlay ranged from fairly tough to find to almost impossible.

DeChambeau's pre-event odds ranged between 95.094/1 and 46.045/1, Dufner was matched at 100.0099/1 before the off but, like the 2014 winner, Hideki Matsuyama, he went off at between 70.069/1 and 80.079/1. The two in between that pair were huge outsiders, matched at more than 700.00699/1 before the get-go.

Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus have all won the tournament twice, Kenny Perry has won it three times and Tiger has claimed the title five times. Justin Rose came within a whisker of winning it a second time six years ago so past winners do well here. Although again, it's a bit of a mixed picture as three of the last seven tournament winners were all breaking their ducks on the PGA Tour here.

Winner's Positions and Exchange Prices Pre-Round Four

2020 - Jon Rahm led by four 1.341/3
2019 - Patrick Cantlay trailing by four 7.613/2
2018 - Bryson DeChambeau led by one 3.55/2
2017 - Jason Dufner trailing by four 11.521/2
2016 - William McGirt one of three tied for the lead 12.5
2015 - David Lingmerth trailing by three 20.019/1

In-Play Tactics

The Memorial Tournament has been a fantastic tournament to trade and so too was last year's Workday Charity Open. We've had five playoffs in the last eight events here now and taking on short-priced contenders is a great way to profit. Last year's Workday runner-up, Thomas, was matched at less than 1.11/10 on two separate occasions and he was matched at a low of 1.031/33!

Jason Dufner was the only player to go odds-on four years ago but three other players traded at less than 2/1 (Rickie Fowler 2.021/1, Bubba Watson 2.77/4 and Daniel Summerhays 2.829/5) and it's very unusual not to see at least one player trade at long odds-on and get beat.

The runner-up, Scott, was matched at 2.56/4 in 2019 and the third-round leader, Kaymer, who finished third, traded at just 1.422/5. A year earlier, Cantlay, who came back to win last year, was the first man to make a big move in round four and when he raced to the front with a four-under-par 32 on the front-nine, his price dipped to just 1.321/3. He lost his way completely after that and it was left to DeChambeau to assume command but that wasn't the end of the drama.

Bryson was also matched at 1.321/3 as the challengers seemingly fell away but Kyle Stanley birdied 14, 15, 16 and 17 and that late charge saw DeChambeau drift right out to odds-against again as Stanley's price plummeted to just 2.021/1. Less than an hour earlier it had spiked to 400.0399/1!

As if that wasn't enough, Byeong An, who had birdied two of his last four to post -15 - which had looked highly likely to be a shot too short - was also matched at odds-on in the playoff. Just like Stanley, the Korean had looked dead and buried deep into the back-nine but he was matched at a low of 1.664/6 in extra-time.

In addition to the winner, McGirt, five years ago, Matt Kuchar traded at 1.9520/21 and the runner-up, Jon Curran, hit a low of 1.42/5 in regulation play and 1.282/7 in extra time.

Justin Rose was trading at around 1.654/6 when he led by three with a round to go six years ago 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.

That day, 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 Hideki 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.

Bubba Watson (720).JPG

Dechambeau led by a stroke through 54 holes three years ago but Cantlay, in 2019, and Dufner in 2017, both trailed by four. Five of the six winners between 2007 and 2012 were three, four (three times) or five strokes behind after three rounds. It's a venue where closers can steal the title. I'll be looking for a few closers at decent prices with a round to go.

One of the reasons we see so much drama here is the finish to the course. The seven hardest holes are all positioned between holes eight and 18. The par four 13th averaged below par last year and the five 15th is a chance to score but the last three holes are all tough and they ranked as the first, seventh and second hardest on the property in last year's edition.

Market Leaders

Tiger Woods won the Memorial Tournament three years in-a-row at the turn of the century but nobody else has made a successful defence and Jon Rahm is not a value price to achieve the feat.

He hasn't quite got going since becoming a father just before the US Masters and, although he finished inside the top-10 in the US PGA Championship last time out, he wasn't happy at any stage and his lofty finish was due to a low final round.

Jordan Spieth won the Valero Texas Open in April and he's been consistently contending for a few months now but he was disappointing on Sunday at the Charles Schwab Challenge - shooting a three-over-par 73 to allow Jason Kokrak in for his second PGA Tour title having led by a stroke with a round to go.

As detailed in yesterday's debrief, his driving was poor (ranked 63rd for DA) and he looks too short after Sunday's disappointment.

The Workday winner, Collin Morikawa, didn't do enough last week to make any appeal here at around 20.019/1 and the same can be said of Rory McIlroy, who was disappointing in the USPGA Championship after his win in the Wells Fargo Championship.

The 2008 winner, Bryson DeChambeau, also looks short enough given his very recent form. He's ranked outside the top-50 for Driving Accuracy in each of his last five stroke play events, he ranked 52nd for GIR and 51st for Scrambling last time out in the USPGA Championship and in his last two starts, he's had a Putting Average of 1.83, ranking 67th and 69th. That's not good enough to win anywhere so he needs to improve.

Selections

Everyone I've backed so far this week has been priced at 120.00119/1 and bigger so I'll go into detail on them all in the Find Me a 100 Winner column tomorrow. But one I have backed, who I definitely won't be putting up in the column, is one of last week's picks, Patton Kizzire, who finished third in Texas.

Patton Kizzire at the Byron Nelson.jpg

He didn't scramble brilliantly last week, he's not the straightest and he's missed his last four cuts here (38th on debut in 2016) so I can't possibly make a case for him being a good course fit. However, he's putting brilliantly and I can't see how anyone can be as big as 270.00269/1 (matched at a high of 450.00449/1!) in any event when they've finished third in each of their last two starts.

Selections:
Brendon Todd @ 120.0119/1 (Added after preview first published)
Jason Day @ 140.0139/1 (Added after preview first published)
Patton Kizzire 300.0299/1

*Since first publishing the preview, I've added the two picks above that weren't included in the Find Me a 100 Winner column which was published on Wednesday lunchtime.

All told, I've now backed six outsiders in total, and you can read why they were all selected in the Find Me a 100 Winner Column here.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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