Jason Kokrak delivered a 55-1 winner for this column last week at the Charles Schwab Challenge, winning by two strokes over 2016 champion Jordan Spieth. Kokrak led the field for SG: Off-The-Tee and was second for SG: Tee-To-Green, eighth for SG: Approach, plus seventh for SG: Putting. It was his second PGA Tour win in the 2020-21 season (2020 CJ Cup at Shadow Creek) but will take this week off. Spieth (14-1) is the second choice on the odds board and is an annual participant in the Memorial Tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus. Spieth has two career top-10 finishes (third, 2015; seventh, 2019).
The favorite this week at the Memorial Tournament is the man who won last year at Jack's place, Jon Rahm. The World No. 3 player has his price cut in half to 10-1 this year. A win in Nicklaus's event still eludes Rory McIlroy (14-1), but he does have three top-10s here in eight appearances. World No. 4 Bryson DeChambeau (14-1) won in 2018 but has never really featured here in any other appearance and has been too busy beefing with Brooks Koepka lately.
World No. 2 Justin Thomas (16-1) has two top-10s at the Memorial and finished second on this course at the one-off Workday Charity Open last summer. The man who beat Thomas in that Workday playoff was Collin Morikawa (18-1). Viktor Hovland (18-1) finished third at that same Workday event behind Morikawa and Thomas, and much like those two, had nothing the following week at the Memorial.
Xander Schauffele (20-1) follows in the market with three top-15s or better in his last three events at Muirfield Village. Patrick Cantlay (22-1) won this event in 2019 but has been searching for form while dealing with some rumored off-course distractions. Hideki Matsuyama (25-1) is another former Memorial champion (2014) in this week's field. In all, 11 of the OWGR Top 15 are in Columbus, Ohio, this week.
The Memorial Tournament was founded in 1976 by Nicklaus at his "home course" Muirfield Village Golf Club. There is no title sponsor for the event, but Nationwide Insurance, which is headquartered in Columbus, serves as the presenting sponsor, and Nationwide Children's Hospital is the primary charitable beneficiary. Nicklaus first spoke of wanting to host a tournament at the 1966 Masters and made it a reality 10 years later. Jack has always modeled this event after the Masters and viewers with a keen eye will notice similarities between Muirfield Village and Augusta National. Like the Masters, tradition is a major focal point at the Memorial. The event honors historical and accomplished figures, and this year's honoree is Nick Price, the 1992 and 1994 PGA champion and 1994 Champion Golfer of the Year. In lieu of the two-year PGA Tour exemption that an event winner usually receives, the Memorial champion earns a three-year exemption. The Memorial is one of only five events on the PGA Tour to have "invitational" status, which means a smaller field than usual.
The field consists of 120 players invited using the following criteria:
Memorial winners in the last five years or before 1997
The Players Championship and major championship winners in the last five years
The Tour Championship, World Golf Championships and Arnold Palmer Invitational winners in the last three years
Tournament winners in the last year
Playing member of last named U.S. Ryder Cup team, European Ryder Cup team, U.S. Presidents Cup team and International Presidents Cup team (non-PGA Tour members qualifying in this category count against unrestricted sponsor exemptions)
Prior year U.S. Amateur winner
Prior year British Amateur winner
Up to four players selected by the tournament from among the money leaders from the other five Federation tours
14 sponsor exemptions — two from among graduates of the Web.com Tour Finals, six members not otherwise exempt and six unrestricted
Top 50 Official World Golf Ranking as of the Friday before the tournament
Top 70 from prior year's FedEx Cup points list
PGA Tour members whose non-member FedEx Cup points the previous season (excluding WGCs) would have placed them in the top 70
Top 70 from current year's FedEx Cup points list as of the Friday before the tournament
Prior year college player of the year (Jack Nicklaus Award)
Remaining positions filled alternating from current year's and prior year's FedEx Cup point lists
Muirfield Village Golf Club serves as host for the Memorial Tournament and has done so every year since 1976. The course is in Dublin, Ohio, about 20 miles north of Columbus, where Nicklaus played his collegiate golf at Ohio State. Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village in 1974. The track plays as a par-72 and will measure out at 7,543 yards as it has been lengthened 153 yards, mostly on the par-5s and the par-4 first hole. The mix of Kentucky Bluegrass, Ryegrass and Fescue rough will be around four inches this week. Seven of the 18 greens have been moved and 12 greens have had significant contour changes. One thing that hasn't changed is that the greens can be quick but should run about 11.5 on the stimpmeter.
The layout consists of 73 bunkers (that have all been modified) and 13 water hazards in play over 11 holes. Muirfield Village is a classical, second-shot golf course. The fairways at Jack's place (35 yards wide on average) are historically relatively easy to find, but a few of them have been narrowed. In fact, while the final round was still going on for the 2020 Memorial, work was already beginning on these changes, including all tees, fairways and greens being reconstructed with Bentgrass, plus irrigation and precision air systems.
While Muirfield Village is a unique track, there are several Nicklaus designs on the PGA Tour that could provide some correlations:
Annandale Golf Club (Sanderson Farms Championship through 2013)
Glen Abbey (2008, 2009, 2012, 2015-2018 RBC Canadian Open)
Montreux GCC: Barracuda Championship
Old Greenwood: 2020 Barracuda Championship
PGA National: Honda Classic
PGA West, Tournament Course: The American Express
PGA West, Nicklaus Private (Humana Challenge through 2015)
Sherwood Country Club, Thousand Oaks (World Challenge through 2013 and 2020 ZoZo Championship)
Valhalla Golf Club (2014 PGA Championship)
The course will look substantially different, but it should not play all that different as Nicklaus has not changed his design philosophy.
“My belief is that tournament golf should be a test to find out who is the best golfer that week,” he said. “Far too many tournaments have eliminated the rough and firmness of greens, and that is just not my idea of what the game of golf should be. So I am going to stick with my old-fashioned beliefs about how the game of golf should be played and the way golf courses should be set up. The whole gamut of all shots is what the game of golf is all about. The game should challenge every facet of every club in the bag.”
2020: Jon Rahm (-9/279), 22-1
2020: (Workday Charity Open) Collin Morikawa* (-19/269), 30-1
2019: Patrick Cantlay (-19/269), 18-1
2018: Bryson DeChambeau** (-15/273), 55-1
2017: Jason Dufner (-13/275), 66-1
2016: William McGirt*** (-15/273), 200-1
2015: David Lingmerth**** (-15/273), 250-1
2014: Hideki Matsuyama***** (-13/275), 66-1
2013: Matt Kuchar (-12/276), 22-1
2012: Tiger Woods (-9/279), 16-1
2011: Steve Stricker (-16/272), 28-1
2010: Justin Rose (-18/270), 80-1
* playoff win over Justin Thomas
** playoff win over Byeong-Hun An and Kyle Stanley
*** playoff win over Jon Curran
**** playoff win over Justin Rose
***** playoff win over Kevin Na
The winners here the last five years have had an average field ranking of fourth for SG: Tee-To-Green and 10th for SG: Approach.
Six of the last 11 Memorial winners were behind after 54 holes. (2020: Rahm four-shot lead, 2018: DeChambeau one-shot lead, 2013: Kuchar two-shot lead, 2011: Stricker three-shot lead).
Eight of the last 11 Memorial winners were 11th or better after R1. (2018, DeChambeau 16th; 2016, McGirt 44th; 2014, Matsuyama 21st).
11 of the last 13 Memorial winners have ranked inside the top 10 for Strokes Gained: Approach. Nicklaus has always said that this is the proverbial "second-shot golf course."
Strokes Gained Approach (last 24 rounds)
Collin Morikawa 43.7
Charley Hoffman 33.7
Emiliano Grillo 32.6
Stewart Cink 29.1
Jordan Spieth 27.6
Corey Conners 27.5
Justin Thomas 26.8
Doug Ghim 22.2
Sam Burns 20.4
Patton Kizzire 20.3
Hideki Matsuyama 19.9
Viktor Hovland 19.7
Nicklaus wants this course to be a test of the all-around game and strong players tee-to-green have succeeded here in years past.
Strokes Gained Tee To Green (last 24 rounds)
Collin Morikawa 55.1
Charley Hoffman 44.6
Jordan Spieth 44.4
Keegan Bradley 41.2
Corey Conners 39.8
Viktor Hovland 37.6
Justin Thomas 36.6
Tony Finau 35.7
Bryson DeChambeau 34.4
Patrick Cantlay 34.1
Jon Rahm 33.4
Doug Ghim 32.5
Six par-4s measure between 450-500 yards and all are above average in terms of difficulty.
Strokes Gained Par-4s 450-500 Yards (last 24 rounds)
Collin Morikawa 22.2
Louis Oosthuizen 19.1
Bryson DeChambeau 17
Matt Wallace 16.3
Shane Lowry 16.1
Troy Merritt 13.7
Lanto Griffin 13.3
Matthew Fitzpatrick 13.2
Kyle Stanley 12.9
Billy Horschel 12.9
Rory McIlroy 12.9
Brendan Steele 12.8
Five of the last six Memorial winners have rated ninth or better in the field for Scrambling those weeks. With all the greenside bunkers being redone as well, Scrambling should be even more important this week.
Scrambling Gained (last 24 rounds)
Cameron Tringale 19.4
Robert Streb 18.9
Christiaan Bezuidenhout 18.6
Cameron Smith 13.5
Camilo Villegas 12.3
Denny McCarthy 10.9
Sungjae Im 10.5
Matt Kuchar 10.3
Troy Merritt 10.3
Carlos Ortiz 10.2
Keegan Bradley 10
Jason Day 10
Jordan Spieth 10
Muirfield Village is considered Nicklaus' masterpiece among his designs featured on the PGA Tour, but perhaps we can find some Nicklaus specialists.
Strokes Gained Total: Nicklaus Designs (last 24 rounds unless noted)
Patrick Cantlay 50.6
Justin Thomas 45.2
Jon Rahm 41.6 (Last 21 Rounds)
Tony Finau 44.5
Collin Morikawa 34.5 (Last 12 Rounds)
Russell Henley 40.3
Billy Horschel 39.1
Brandon Hagy 37.9 (Last 23 Rounds)
Jason Day 38.3
Jordan Spieth 35
Matt Jones 31.2
Charley Hoffman 31
Tony Finau 29-1
Finau ended up a disappointing eighth last year after being the 36-hole leader. He has four finishes of 13th or better at the Memorial and has a good history on Nicklaus layouts.
His putter went awry on Sunday at the Colonial, losing -3.74 strokes, but the tee-to-green game looked in great shape. Finau finished the week ranked third in the field in strokes gained tee to green and averaged nearly two strokes gained ball striking per round.
Corey Conners 30-1
While he has cooled a bit from his torrid form in March and April, the ball striking game has stayed true.
Although he finished 20th last week at Colonial, he was once again top 10 in the field for both Approach and Tee-To-Green.
Patrick Reed 38-1
While DeChambeau and Koepka have their kerfuffle to determine who is the bigger heel on the PGA Tour, the original heel has drifted up to a nice price here.
The form does not leap off the page, but he does have a couple of top-10s here and is certainly capable.
Charley Hoffman 50-1
Hoffman shot the low Sunday round at Colonial (-5) to finish tied for third.
He also comes into the Memorial off his best finish at Muirfield Village last year, a seventh.
Gary Woodland 61-1
Woodland’s game has slowly come back into shape from being well off the grid last season.
He also has three top-6 finishes here, including a fifth last year on this course at the Workday.
Matt Wallace 85-1
Wallace has had a couple of down-the-board finishes after a third at the Valero and a sixth at the Wells Fargo over a six-week span.
The Englishman is just trickling outside the OWGR top 50 and is still seeking his first breakthrough win on American soil.
Troy Merritt 175-1
Like Hoffman last weekend at Colonial, Merritt shot a Sunday 65 for the low round of the day and might be able to build on that this week.
Merritt did the Texas Metroplex two-step with seventh-place finishes in Dallas and Fort Worth, but he posted another recent top-10 at the Valspar.
PORSCHE EUROPEAN OPEN
Bernd Wiesberger, at 18-1, successfully defended his Made In Himmerland title last weekend with a five-stroke victory over this column’s 42-1 tip of Guido Migliozzi. This week the European Tour moves from Denmark to Germany for the Porsche European Open. Wiesberger slots in as the third choice at 14-1 behind 2019 European Open champion Paul Casey (6-1) and Abraham Ancer (8-1). Matthias Schwab (18-1) is hoping to follow fellow Austrian Wiesberger with a victory in Germany. He finished eighth last week in Denmark and was seventh here in 2018 and tied for second here in 2019. Sam Horsfield (25-1) has made the cut here in both appearances. Jason Scrivener was third and Laurie Canter eighth last week in Denmark, and are both priced at 33-1. Martin Kaymer (35-1) is the top German on the betting board and is looking to win on home soil for the first time in 12 years.
The Porsche European Open began as the European Open Championship in 1978. It was played at several courses in England and Scotland before finding a home for 12 years at The K Club in Ireland. After a five-year hiatus from 2010-14, the event moved to Germany, with sponsorship from German auto manufacturer Porsche. Nine major champions have victories under this event’s long lineage — Sandy Lyle, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer, Greg Norman, Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, Darren Clarke, Michael Campbell, and Retief Goosen — plus other accomplished players like Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie and Isao Aoki.
COVID-19 protocols in Germany have caused change in the format. This event now starts Saturday and finishes Monday for a 54-hole event.
The Green Eagle Golf Courses, specifically the North Course, in Winsen has played host to this event since 2017. The event is in its fifth year in Germany and has been played at several historic venues in the UK, including British Open rotation sites such as Turnberry and Royal Liverpool as well as former Ryder Cup venue The K Club, Walton Heath and Sunningdale.
The North Course is being used for this week’s event, and the Michael Blesch design is super long at 7,836 yards from its tips for its scorecard par of 73. However, with four teeing areas on each hole, there’s considerable flexibility as to how the course can be set up. This week’s layout will reportedly measure 7,544 yards and play to a par of 72, as it did when this event was last played in 2019.
The fairways are generous, and the greens are large and undulating. The primary course defenses are the large bunkers and having water on 17 of the 18 holes.
Three of the five par-5s ranked among the easiest holes in 2019, with the 15th the easiest of all. But the 663-yard 16th certainly proved no pushover, and it played over par cumulatively for the four days. The short par-4s on the first and seventh holes also gave up a lot of birdies, which reinforces the view that this is a strong risk/reward track.
2019: Paul Casey (-14/274), 7-1
2018: Richard McEvoy (-11/277), 125-1
2017: Jordan Smith (-13/275), 40-1
Matthias Schwab 18-1
Schwab will try to follow fellow Austrian Wiesberger with a victory this week. He was eighth last week in Denmark and has four top-10s in his last six starts.
He finished seventh here at Winsen in 2018 and tied for second in 2019.
Adrian Meronk 35-1
Meronk is the first member of the European Tour from Poland. However, he was born in Hamburg, just a few miles north of Winsen.
He ranks third for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee, which will definitely help on a big layout like Green Eagle. In addition, he comes in on some good form, with two T-3 finishes in his last four starts, including three weeks ago at the British Masters.
Jordan Smith 40-1
The 2017 champion returns to the site of his lone European Tour victory.
Last week’s T-3 in Denmark (first for SG Off the Tee and seventh for SG Tee To Green) was his best finish in two seasons, capping a two-month run of progressive form.
He also has the tendency to be a fast starter and has been the first-round leader in two of his last 21 events. That will be even more important in a 54-hole event.
Pablo Larrazabal 80-1
The Spaniard went seventh here on debut two years ago.
He can be a bit erratic off the tee but makes up for it with a deft touch around the green (third in the field in the 2019 event).
Marcus Armitage 80-1
The Englishman has three top-10s in his last six starts, including an eight last week. Englishmen have won every year since this event moved to Green Eagle.
Ashley Chesters 200-1
On the surface, Chesters would seem to be a bad fit for this track. He is not a particularly long hitter, but he is second on tour for Driving Accuracy. He also has two top-10s here in three appearances and was sixth on Approach two years ago.
U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN
Patty Tavatanakit, 21, of Thailand won the first major of the LPGA Tour season at the ANA Inspiration in April. Tavatanakit (28-1) will try to win consecutive majors in 2021. World No. 2 Inbee Park (11-1) is the tournament favorite and already has a 2021 victory at the Kia Classic. Park also has two U.S. Women’s Open (2008, ’13) in her trophy case but is nearing a six-year drought for major championships. World No. 1 Jin Young Ko finished 2020 winning the CME Group Tour Championship but is still searching for her first win of the season. She is joined at 14-1 by Sei Young Kim and Lydia Ko, who broke a three-year winless drought at the Lotte Championship and was runner-up at the year’s first major. The Korda sisters, Nelly (12-1) and Jessica (16-1), won the first two events of the season, respectively. World No. 5 Brooke Henderson (20-1) won the L.A. Open six weeks ago. Hyo-Joo Kim (22-1) and Ariya Jutanugarn (20-1) recently won in Singapore and Thailand, respectively. Jutanugarn also finished third at last week’s Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play.
The U.S. Women’s Open was established in 1946 and is one of five major championships in women’s golf. Last year’s championship was played in December due to COVID-19 but returns to its customary early June date in 2021.
The Lake Course at the Olympic Club in San Francisco will host the event. The track was designed in 1924 by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting. It was renovated in 1955 by Robert Trent Jones before a 2009 restoration from Robert Love. The Olympic Club has hosted five men’s U.S. Open championships (1955, ’66, ’87, ’98 and 2012). It will play as a par-71 of 6,457 yards. It is a forest-lined track but can be exposed to the wind. The fairways are narrow, tree-lined, sloping, straight Poa Annua. The rough is a challenging and thick patch consisting of Perennial Rye and Kentucky Bluegrass. The greens are very small at an average of 4,150 square feet, well-bunkered, Bentgrass that will be very fast (12.5 Stimpmeter).
2020: A-lim Kim (-3/281), Champions Golf Club
2019: Jeong-Eun Lee6 (-6/278), Country Club of Charleston
2018: Ariya Jutanugarn (-11/277), Shoal Creek
2017: Sung-Hyun Park (-11/277), Trump National
2016: Brittany Lang (-6/282), CordeValle
2015: In-Gee Chun (-8/280), Lancaster
2014: Michelle Wie (-2/278), Pinehurst No. 2
2013: Inbee Park (-8/280), Sebonack
2012: Na-Yeon Choi (-7/281), Blackwolf Run
2011: So-Yeon Ryu (-3/281), Broadmoor
2010: Paula Creamer (-3/281), Oakmont
TRENDS AND ANGLES
South Korean players have won nine of the last 13 U.S. Women’s Opens and currently hold 10 of the top 20 spots in the Women’s World Golf Rankings.
Only two players not from South Korea or the U.S. have won the Open since 2002 — Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand in 2018 and Annika Sorenstam of Sweden in 2006.
Inbee Park 11-1
Park leads the LPGA Tour in Scoring Average and Putting Average. She is also sixth on tour for Driving Accuracy, and that will likely be of utmost importance on the narrow, sloping fairways the players will see this week.
Jin Young Ko 14-1
The world No. 1 has four top-10 finishes this season despite having a wrist injury this spring. She also finished T-2 at December’s U.S. Women’s Open.
Brooke Henderson 20-1
The Canadian already has a victory this season. Henderson ranks third on the LPGA Tour for Greens In Regulation and hits over 80% of her greens. This is not a week when you’ll win being a birdie machine, though Henderson ranks fourth for birdies, but peppering the greens will provide the best recipe for not giving strokes back.
Hannah Green 33-1
The Australian went out in group play for last week’s match-play event but looks to be peaking at the right time with finishes of 7-2-3 in her last three tournaments. She is an excellent scrambler, which will be beneficial.
Jennifer Kupcho 90-1
Kupcho is a former NCAA champion and No. 1 amateur. She is still seeking her first LPGA Tour win. Her ball-striking game is strong, as she is eighth in Driving Accuracy and 12th in Greens In Regulation.