Golf matchups: Rahm-Cantlay a heavyweight battle at Muirfield Village

May 31, 2022 07:50 PM
USATSI_16678315

The PGA Tour heads to Jack’s place this week for The Memorial. 

While the Bryon Nelson and Charles Schwab can be whittled down to a few key statistics, The Memorial plays more like a major championship. It will take a strong showing in all areas to emerge victorious at Muirfield Village, the home of Jack Nicklaus’ tournament in Dublin, Ohio. 

That is exemplified in my handicap. I looked at Strokes Gained: Approach, Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green, Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, Par 5 Scoring and Par 4 Scoring. A little bit of everything, right?

The fairways are pretty wide at Muirfield Village — there’s not much of a premium on accuracy off of the tee — but the rough is very thick and will present problems. The greens are firm, fast, smaller Bentgrass surfaces with a fair amount of undulation. Muirfield Village plays long at around 7,500 yards, but it is a Par 72. 

In looking for the perfect fit this week, I want a player who is on the longer side off of the tee. I want someone who is excellent around the greens, shaded more to scrambling rather than putting. I also want a precision iron player who excels on approach. Finally, I want someone who hammers the field on Par 4s, a statistic that has gone a long way at The Memorial for years. 

Augusta National is among the correlated courses I looked at. Nicklaus, who has a record six Masters titles, took a great deal of inspiration from Augusta in building Muirfield Village. The 12th holes at Muirfield Village and Augusta are very similar, and we have seen a lot of crossover success at these two courses. 

Here are the full tournament head-to-head matchups I considered and those that I played this week:

Considered (20-24-1 YTD)

— Shane Lowry (125) over Hideki Matsuyama

— Matt Fitzpatrick (-125) over Hideki Matsuyama

— Keegan Bradley (-130) over Matt Kuchar

— Brendan Steele (-115) over Adam Hadwin

Played (19-21-1 YTD)

— Sungjae Im (-115) over Daniel Berger. I’ve backed Berger on more than one occasion this season, and I've done so in some big events, but I’m starting to believe he’s still nursing some injuries that caused him to miss time earlier this season. Im missed a couple of weeks recently due to COVID-19 but returned last week at Colonial and finished 15th. He has two top-10 finishes at The Masters and is really steady in my models. He does everything well. Berger’s form has been pretty vanilla lately, while Im has four straight top-21 finishes, including an eighth at Augusta. I'll lay the short price with a player I think has a chance to win the tournament at around 35-1. Berger is listed at 50-1.

— Patrick Cantlay (+ 130) over Jon Rahm. Will Rahm be out for revenge this week? He was on his way to winning this tournament last year but was informed he had tested positive for COVID after the third round, leading to a WD. Cantlay was the lucky beneficiary. He was six strokes behind Rahm after Round 3 but went on to win without even having to make up that deficit. Rahm won two months ago in Mexico against the weakest field of the season and hasn’t had a great year otherwise. Cantlay won the team event in New Orleans after losing in a playoff the previous week at the Heritage. Cantlay has won this tournament twice. Let's say Rahm has won it one and a half times. My numbers are better for Cantlay this week, yet he is a big underdog in this head-to-head matchup. I'll take a shot with the player who I believe is in better form and has the better current stats.

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