The PGA Tour moves to Dublin, Ohio for the first of two events at Jack's Place. Our man takes a look at what it might take to the win the one and only edition of the Workday Charity Open with his comprehensive preview...
"My idea of the best value in the field this week is Brandan Steele. So far in 2020 he’s been placed in three of the eight tournaments he’s entered – second at the Sony Open, fourth at the Honda and sixth at the Travelers, where his putting was quite remarkable."
After the cancelation of the John Deere Classic, this would have been a blank week on the PGA Tour but instead we have a 156-player field with a juicy $6.2 million purse, for the inaugural and only once to be played, Workday Charity Open. The tournament is to be played at Muirfield Village which is the host course for next week's Memorial Tournament.
Andy Pazder, Chief Tournament & Competitions Officer for the PGA TOUR, had this to say about the event last month.
"Our special thanks go to Workday for partnering with us as title sponsor and for their pledge to make a significant charitable impact with the event. Memorial Tournament host Jack Nicklaus has always done what is best for the game of golf and in these unprecedented times, we are most appreciative of his Muirfield Village Golf Club hosting the event the week prior to the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide."
Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin Ohio.
Par 72, 7,392 yards
Stroke Index at 2019 Memorial - 71.32
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.
Muirfield was built in 1974 on land acquired eight years earlier. It's a strong but fair test when prepared for the Memorial Tournament. 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 and the Presidents Cup in 2013.
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 for the Memorial Tournament but that won't be the case this week.
According to the Golf Channel's Rex Hoggard, players are being told to expect two vastly different setups.
According to a memo sent to players at the start of June, this event will feature slightly shorter rough (3 ½ inches) and slower green speeds (about 11 on the Stimpmeter), which will allow officials more flexibility for hole locations. Officials also plan to use a variety of tee boxes, particularly on the par threes, to protect areas that are normally used for the Memorial, which will be played next week.
It's hard to know what to expect this week but it doesn't sound like it will be a pushover...
Muirfield Village will be a challenging but fair test this week and next. pic.twitter.com/SCudEbdczx? Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) July 6, 2020
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Last Five Memorial Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Patrick Cantlay -19 [19.0]
2018 - Bryson DeChambeau -15 (playoff) [48.0]
2017 - Jason Dufner -13 [90.0]
2016 - William McGirt -15 (playoff) [360.0]
2015 - David Lingmerth -15 (playoff) [640.0]
What Will it Take to Win the Workday Charity Open?
Although returning to a familiar venue, we're very much in the dark as to how it will play. Looking back at past Memorial Tournament stats may not be of much use but for what's it's worth here's how the course has played recently.
The last two winners, Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau, have both ranked fourth for Driving Distance but length off the tee isn't as advantageous as it once was around Muirfield.
Martin Kaymer traded at a low of [1.42] at the Memorial last year, before eventually finishing third, and he only ranked 51st for DD. Kyle Stanley was beaten in the playoff two years ago, having ranked only 57th for DD and the first and second three years, Jason Dufner and Anirban Lahiri, ranked only 28th and 35th for Driving Distance. The two playoff protagonists four 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.
The last two winners have 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.
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. With the rough said to be not quite so penal, those historic stats might not be too relevant and a third wayward big hitter winning at the course in-a-row has to be considered a possibility.
The 2012 and 2013 winners, Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar, both ranked first for Greens In Regulation and so did the 2017 winner, Jason Dufner. Byeong Hun An ranked first for GIR when beaten in extra time two years ago and last year's winner, ranked 11th. Adam Scott, who finished second, ranked second for GIR. The 2016 winner, William McGirt ranked seventh for GIR and the two players that ranked first and second for GIR five years ago, Francesco Molinari and Jim Furyk, both finished inside the top-five. The average GIR ranking of the last ten winners is 11.2.
The first three home ranked fifth, sixth and seventh and the two best Scrambler, Jordan Spieth and Marc Leishman, finished seventh and fifth. And DeChambeau topped the Scrambling stats two years ago so that's clearly a key stat.
The first two home ranked tied second for Par 4 Scoring last year and ten of the last 14 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 six winners have had a Putting Average ranking of seventh or better, this is one of those rare venues where putting isn't the most important stat to consider and players that aren't renowned for their flat-stick prowess have won or contended. DeChambeau only ranked 27th when he won here two years ago and 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, last year's second here, Scott, has won at Firestone, Kyle Stanley and Zach Johnson have both finished second at both venues, 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 Winner?
Cantlay was fairly well-fancied and he DeChambeau were both winning for the second time on the PGA Tour but it's been a good event for outsiders and first-time winners.
Bart Bryant in 2005 and Carl Pettersson in 2006 were big outsiders but the next seven winners were all very plausible candidates The five winners before Cantlay ranged from fairly tough to find to impossible...
DeChambeau's pre-event odds ranged between [95.0] and [46.0], Dufner was matched at [100.0] before the off but like the 2014 winner, Hideki Matsuyama, he went off at between [70.0] and [80.0] but the two in between that pair were huge outsiders, matched at more than [700.0] 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. And Justin Rose came within a whisker of winning it a second time five years ago so past winners do well here. Although again, it's a bit of a mixed picture as three of the last six winners were all breaking their ducks on the PGA Tour here.
Memorial Winner's Positions and Exchange Prices Pre-Round Four
2019 - Patrick Cantlay trailing by four [7.6]
2018 - Bryson DeChambeau led by one [3.5]
2017 - Jason Dufner trailing by four [11.5]
2016 - William McGirt one of three tied for the lead [12.5]
2015 - David Lingmerth trailing by three [20.0]
The Memorial Tournament has been a fantastic tournament to trade. We've had four playoffs in the last six years and numerous opportunities to take on short-priced contenders present themselves each year on a Sunday.
Jason Dufner was the only player to go odds-on three years ago but three other players traded at less than 2/1 (Rickie Fowler [2.02], Bubba Watson [2.7] and Daniel Summerhays [2.82]) and it's very unusual not to see at least one player trade at long odds-on and get beat. This has been a great place to trade over the years.
The runner-up, Scott, was matched at [2.5] last year and the third-round leader, Kaymer, who finished third, traded at just [1.42]. 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 [1.32]. 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 [1.32] 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 [2.02]. Less than an hour earlier it had spiked to [400.0]!
As if all 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 [1.66] in extra time.
In addition to the winner, McGirt, four years ago, Matt Kuchar traded at [1.95] and the runner-up, Jon Curran, hit a low of [1.4] in regulation play and [1.28] in extra time.
Justin Rose was trading at around [1.65] when he led by three with a round to go five years ago and he hit a low of [1.3] 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 [1.42] and Kevin Na, who had begun round four trailing by seven, was matched at just [1.12] before losing in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama. And Matsuyama had hit a low of [1.2] in regulation play before he looked like he'd thrown it all away with a double bogey at the 16th.
Dechambeau led by a stroke through 54 holes two years ago but Cantlay, last year, and Dufner in 2017, both trailed by four and five of the six winners between 2007 and 2012 were three, four (three times) or five strokes behind after three rounds so it's also a venue where closers can steel 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 six hardest holes are all positioned between holes nine and 18 and the last three holes ranked as the fifth, fourth and first hardest on the property. The par four 14th averaged below par last year and the five 16th is a chance to score but the last three holes are all tough.
Justin Thomas heads the market despite missing the cut at the Travelers Championship last time out and in spite of shooting 80 here in round two of the Memorial Tournament last year but I can see why he does.
In the two previous renewals of the Memorial, Thomas finished fourth and eighth and in his first two starts back he finished 10th at the Charles Schwab and eighth at the RBC Heritage. He's a winner at the aforementioned Firestone, he's a prolific winner on the PGA Tour and he's more than capable of putting a weekend off behind him. In fact, it may well spur him on and he's a perfectly reasonable price at anything above 10/1.
After his seventh placed finish at the RBC Heritage, where he ranked sixth for Greens In Regulation and eighth for Putting Average, I quite fancied Brooks Koepka's chances at the Travelers Championship but he withdrew before the off due to a COVID scare.
That seventh place came a week after a less eye-catching 32nd at the Charles Schwab and I'm less keen now he's had another little break. In his two previous visits to Muirfield, he's finished only 52nd and 31st and that's a little off-putting too.
It's fair to say Patrick Cantlay likes it here given he won the last edition of the Memorial and he traded at long odds-on here the year before. His 11th at the Travelers was a decent effort (his only start since the break) two weeks ago but he's only won twice on the PGA Tour and he's not prolific enough to go backing at fairly short odds.
Jon Rahm missed the cut in his sole start here in 2017 and his form figures since the restart read MC-33-27 so he's relatively easy to swerve. And so too is former course winner, Hideki Matsuyama, who hasn't won in nearly three years.
Bubba Watson's first start back was extremely encouraging when he putted really nicely to finish seventh at Colonial in the Charles Schwab Challenge. The putter's gone cold since so there's a very big chance he won't be able to cut it on the greens this week but if he does find something with the flat-stick, he's a huge price at a course he's playing well at before.
Bubba is renowned for playing well and winning at the same courses so the fact that he could have easily won here twice before is a big plus.
Ryan Armour was a bit of a disappointment on Sunday in Detroit but after a sixth at the Travelers and a fourth last week, I didn't feel I could desert him in his home state - even though he's exactly half the price I took last week. In his only three previous visits to Muirfield, over the last three years, he's finished MC-23-22 so his form here's solid enough and nobody has putted better than him over the last couple of weeks. He'll be a solid play in the top-10 and 20 markets again.
Mackenzie Hughes' course form is far from spectacular given his two starts have yielded a missed cut and a tie for 45th but he looked way too big at over [200.0] given how well he putted when finishing third at the Travelers Championship last time out. He's clearly found some confidence this year as he was also second at the Honda Classic just four starts ago.
My idea of the best value in the field this week is Brandan Steele. So far in 2020 he's been placed in three of the eight tournaments he's entered - second at the Sony Open, fourth at the Honda and sixth at the Travelers, where his putting was quite remarkable. On the face of it, his course form here isn't remarkable but it's worth highlighting that he was leading at halfway in 2016 and odds in excess of [300.0] are an insult. He too looks worthy of interest in the place markets.
And finally, I've thrown a few pounds at course debutant, Harry Higgs, who rates very highly on the par fours.
Bubba Watson @ [140.0]
Ryan Armour @ [160.0]
Mackenzie Hughes @ [230.0]
Brendan Steele @ [320.0]
Harry Higgs @ [570.0]
I'll be back shortly with my Austrian Open preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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