Outside of the Majors and world golf championships, few PGA Tour events attract a stronger field than Jack Nicklaus‘ own tournament, and this year is no exception. 21 of the world’s top-30 players line up at Muirfield Village, with most of the media attention centred on Tiger Woods‘ first start since withdrawing from the Players Championship with a neck injury.
Generally speaking, this is a tournament where it makes best sense to focus on players with proven top-class experience. With the exceptions of Carl Pettersson and Bart Bryant, all of this century’s Memorial winners were very pickable. Four of those went to Tiger while another course specialist, Kenny Perry, won twice. With this field restricted to roughly two-thirds the size of the PGA Tour norm, there are less rank outsiders than usual, and while several 100/1+ chances have made the frame in recent years, they were nearly all previous PGA Tour winners.
COURSE AND STATS
Muirfield Village has become slightly tougher over recent years, as Nicklaus has made minor alterations to make it more challenging to the modern player. Consequently, whereas driving distance used to be more important than accuracy, the reverse has become true. Due to the speed and complexity of the greens, this is a stern test of approach play, favouring the very best iron players and scramblers. Having said that, longer hitters will always enjoy an advantage on the key scoring holes, the four reachable par 5s.
No one statistic has proved all-important in recent renewals, but if pressed to choose, I would rank driving accuracy and greens in regulation as the most important, with good scrambling skills a further imperative for success. Experienced players tend to go well here.
2pts ew KJ CHOI @ 25/1 (GENERAL)
At first glance, 25/1 might seem a tad short about a player like Choi, but it really is difficult to pierce any holes in his claim. KJ has made every cut this year, only once finishing outside the top 40 and registering three top-four finishes, leaving the strong suggestion that an eighth PGA Tour title is around the corner. Furthermore, Muirfield Village arguably represents his best opportunity of the year. Besides winning here in 2007, Choi has made the top 15 in five of the last seven Memorials.
2pts ew GEOFF OGILVY @ 33/1 (BLUESQ, TOTE)
The most eye-catching performance at Colonial came from Ogilvy, whose last three rounds were 67, 67 and 64. This on a course that has never really suited his talents, in contrast to Muirfield Village where he’s made the last three top tens. I’ve been waiting for signs of a return to his early season form ever since Ogilvy returned from a break for the birth of his child, as his performance in defending his SBS Championship title carried the hallmarks of a player approaching his peak.
1.5pts ew MATT KUCHAR @ 35/1 (STAN JAMES, BET365)
Frustrating as following Kuchar is becoming, it would be madness to abandon him at the Memorial. Given that he’s improved markedly during the last year, it must bode well that the lower status Kuchar made the top 13 in each of the last three Memorials. I might have been tempted to give up on him after a poor week at Colonial, but a final round 66 showed he remains in very good form.
1.5pts ew NICK WATNEY@ 45/1 (BET365, BETFRED)
Watney has been very consistent in recent months. He’s made his last ten cuts, only once missing the top 30 and regularly recording excellent driving and greens in regulation stats. He is overdue at least a place payout, and should win before the year is out. This will be his fourth attempt at Muirfield Village, and having improved with each attempt to date, Watney should now have enough course experience to make his presence felt, especially on the par 5s.
1pt ew STEWART CINK @ 50/1 (GENERAL, 55/1 BET365)
The reigning Open champion has endured a disappointing 2010 campaign to date, but could be interesting having shown signs of encouragement ahead of one of his favourite events of the year. Rather like Ogilvy, Cink took the eye over the weekend with a pair of 66s to register his second straight top 25. He’s finished 12th or better in six of the last nine Memorials, so clearly has the game and course knowledge to feel confident.