The PGA Tour moves inexorably toward the U.S. Open, two weeks hence at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, with the annual major tune-up for the season's second major when Jack Nicklaus hosts the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in the Columbus suburbs.
Indeed, there is always an Ohio State feel to the Memorial, thanks to the presence of one of the greatest Buckeyes of them all, Nicklaus, who also designed the course. Still, we think things would be a little more colorful at Muirfield if our favorite Buckeye alum, Bob Knight, showed up for the tournament.
Muirfield, in the leafy suburb of Dublin, has always been considered a better prep for the U.S. Open than next week’s St. Jude Tourney in Memphis at TPC Southwind due to the layout of the Dublin course, which better replicates a U.S Open. Narrow fairways and fast greens, which often get baked if the sun comes out, always make the Memorial a good prep for the U.S. Open, and this year should be no different.
That U.S. Open prep theme, and deference to the great Nicklaus, usually allows the Memorial to attract all of the big names. Indeed, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and almost all of the heavyweights will be on hand at Muirfield, where Steve Stricker won a year ago. Among the top 10 players in the world, only Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar and Jason Dufner will be absent from this week’s fun in the Columbus suburbs. Zach Johnson, a winner last week at Colonial and second behind Kuchar in the recent TPC, will also be skipping the Memorial.
Stricker, however, will be on hand to defend his title and has been listed as a 30/1 shot to win. Stricker, like many of the top names, has been off since the The Players Championship three weeks ago, but has four top 10 finishes to his credit this season, including a win in early January at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua.
Heading into the weekend, let’s take a look at some of the players, other than defending champ Stricker, to watch and their prospects at the Memorial. Pre-tourney odds to win are listed in parentheses.
Luke Donald (9/1): Arguably the hottest player on the Tour, Donald enters Dublin with four top six finishes in his last six PGA tourneys, which includes a win at the Transitions Championship in mid-March. His recent surge, that counts a win in the European PGA BBVA Championship, has allowed him to overtake McIlroy as the top-ranked player in the world.
Rory McIlroy (12/1): Still licking his wounds after missing the cut at TPC, although some observers are not docking McIlroy for what have become annual troubles for him at the Stadium Course outside of Jacksonville. Others, however, wonder if McIlroy, who has admitted to being slack in his recent preparation, might be distracted these days. Whatever, McIlroy has a first, two seconds and a third on the Tour this season, but also laid eggs at both TPC and The Masters, where he finished far behind and in 40th place.
Tiger Woods (12-1): A four-time winner at the Memorial, Tiger is also struggling lately, having failed to crack the top 40 in three events (including The Masters and the TPC) since winning Arnold Palmer’s tourney at Orlando’s Bay Hill in mid-March. Woods also missed a cut at the Wells Fargo Championship in early May, marking the first time in his career that he’s gone three straight tourneys without a top 40 finish. Woods, however, claims he and new/old swing coach Butch Harmon have tweaked his swing to the point where Tiger believes he is ready to contend at both the Memorial and the Olympic Club in two weeks. We’ll see.
Phil Mickelson (16/1): Lefty, whose non-golf endeavors have expanded from owning numerous Five Guys hamburger franchises to being an investor in one of the groups bidding to buy the San Diego Padres, still has time for an occasional round of golf these days. Mickelson has five top 10 finishes this season, including a win at Pebble Beach, and has made 10 cuts in a row. We give Lefty a real shot this week because Muirfield has a plethora of reachable par fives; he’s third on the Tour in “par five birdie-or-better” standings. Mickelson also says he’s putting better than ever, reflected in those five top 10 finishes.
Jim Furyk (25/1): Furyk has yet to win on the Tour this season but has been getting closer, finishing third last week at Colonial with four solid, under-par rounds. Furyk also hasn’t missed a cut in his last seven tourneys and has three top 10 finishes this season.
Adam Scott (33/1): The Aussie has had a couple of weeks to regroup after missing the cut at the Byron Nelson Tourney at Las Colinas. Remember, Scott’s caddy Steve Williams formerly had the same job with Tiger Woods, who has won four of these events at Muirfield.
Webb Simpson (33/1): The Wake Forest grad has come close on a few occasions this season with four top 10 finishes, including a third at the Tournament of Champions and a fourth at the recent Wells Fargo Classic. Has had three weeks to stew after missing the cut at TPC, however.
Dustin Johnson (50/1): Top-10 finishes in three of his last four starts, and a history of recording birdies and eagles on par fives makes Johnson worth a serious look at this bomber price at Muirfield.
K.J. Choi (80/1): Although not in top form lately, Choi is a past winner at the Memorial (in 2007) and also has a TPC title (2011) among his eight Tour wins. Perhaps worth a look at that big price, considering his past success in this event.
As always, stay tuned.