We wrap up the golf royalty trio this week in Dublin, Ohio, for the Memorial Tournament. Three weeks ago, it was Byron Nelson’s event in Dallas. Last week, we were at Colonial, the longtime home course for Ben Hogan in Fort Worth, Texas. This week, it is Muirfield Village, the course and tournament created by the Golden Bear himself, Jack Nicklaus.
Nicklaus designed Muirfield in 1974, and it debuted on the PGA Tour in 1976. It is one of the premier non-major events on the Tour schedule. While a few of the top names in the sport are not attending this week, the field is still strong as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth are all here to honor Mr. Nicklaus.
In designing Muirfield Village, Nicklaus used a couple of his favorite places to help create his own course. The name Muirfield comes from his affinity for the course that has the same name in Scotland, where Nicklaus won his first British Open in 1966. The layout of the course was constructed with many similarities to Augusta National, where Nicklaus won the Masters six times. And we can keep this in mind in this week’s handicap as there is a great deal of crossover success between the Memorial and the Masters tournaments.
Muirfield Village is a par-72 course that stretches to nearly 7,400 yards. Like Augusta, the fairways are pretty generous in width, but more like a U.S. Open, they are bordered by thick rough that ought to be especially penal this week due to the rain in the area this spring. Speaking of water, 11 holes at Muirfield have water in play and the greens, while much smaller in size than those at Augusta National, will run at a similarly very quick speed. They also feature undulation and a bentgrass surface. Most Nicklausdesigned courses are termed “second-shot” golf courses, but at the same time, Jack has built Muirfield Village to test all aspects of a player’s game. Both length and accuracy off of the tee will be important, proximity to the hole when playing from the rough, scrambling, putting -- all will be key to making a good run this week at the Memorial. But probably the most prominent areas of skill we have seen prevail in recent years here are Greens in Regulation and Par 4 Scoring.
FULL TOURNAMENT HEAD TO HEAD MATCH UP
Louis Oosthuizen (-115) over Emiliano Grillo
The stats here are pretty close, but I like Oosthuizen’s work around the greens better than that of Grillo’s. However, where I see the biggest edge is Oosthuizen’s experience at the crossover courses, Augusta National and also at Firestone CC in Akron, Ohio, another track where we see a strong correlation to Muirfield Village. Grillo has only played the Masters three times, finishing 62-51-17, while Oosthuizen is and has been a perennial contender for the green jacket. At Firestone, the former home of the WGC-Bridgestone, Grillo has also only competed three times, finishing 66-50-14 while Oosthuizen has participated eight times, collecting two top10 finishes and two top 25s. At a short price, I will go with the better overall player who owns more experience at similar courses and finished 13th here last season to Grillo’s 23rd.
FUTURES TO WIN THE MEMORIAL
Rickie Fowler (18/1)
Rickie Fowler has a tremendous relationship with Jack Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, and Rickie has responded with tremendous results at Nicklaus tracks. At PGA National in Florida, a Nicklaus design and home to the Honda Classic, Fowler has finished top 10 three out of the last four years, including a win in 2017. He also has finished in the top 10 in four out of the last five WGC-Bridgestone events and has finished 8th and 2nd in his last two trips to Muirfield Village. His stats are some of the best on the board this week. At the Masters, he has only once finished worse than 12th in the last six seasons.
Gary Woodland (30/1)
The Kansas Jayhawk has elevated his game quite a bit in the last couple of seasons, to the point of contending for major championships, finishing 6th at the PGA Championship last year and 8th at Bethpage just two weeks ago. He was 32nd at the Masters this year and took 17th at Bridgestone last year. He is 11th on Tour in Par 4 Scoring, 10th in Greens in Regulation, and 3rd in Total Driving. He also plays a fade, which is how Nicklaus played and what most of his designs demand. At the Honda Classic, another Nicklaus track, Woodland has two top-10 finishes including a 2nd place in 2017. He was 23rd here at the Memorial last year and 4th in 2016. He is going to win a big tournament soon, and this could be the right course for it to happen.
Kevin Streelman (100/1)
For a long shot this week, I like Streelman, who comes in with pretty solid form, notching two consecutive top-10 finishes last month. He doesn’t have startling results at the correlated courses, but he does have excellent recent history here at the Memorial with four straight cuts made, including two top-20 finishes and one top 10 back in 2016. He ranks 23rd on Tour in Total Driving, 55th in Greens in Regulation and 42nd in Par 4 Scoring. I also like the fact that he is 5th on Tour in Hole Proximity from the rough.