THE MEMORIAL: After a week in the Texas heat that culminated in a playoff victory for Emiliano Grillo, the 30-year-old Argentine’s first win in eight years, the PGA Tour heads north to Jack’s place for one of the premier non-majors on the schedule, the Memorial Tournament.
Nicklaus founded this tournament in the mid-70s and has presided over it in every way for the past 50 years, coming up with the format (a 120-man invitational), constantly tweaking the golf course to keep up with the modern game, competing in the event and winning twice, and then, after his playing career ended, greeting the champions as they walked off the 18th green on Sunday. He held court earlier this week at a press conference and didn’t mince words when talking about the state of the game and particularly the PGA Tour/LIV rivalry, responding when asked about the absence of Brooks Koepka and Cam Smith that he “doesn’t consider those guys part of the game anymore.” Ouch.
While the presence of LIV stars such as Koepka, Smith, Bryson DeChambeau, and Dustin Johnson would certainly strengthen what was once a major championship-caliber field, that ain’t happening in Jack’s lifetime, and there are still a host of big names teeing it up this week, including 7 of the top 10 players in the world.
The course, Muirfield Village, is a 7,530-yard par-72 that requires length and accuracy off the tee and precision with the irons. Designed by Nicklaus himself to test every facet of a player’s game, it’s a layout that is characterized by the thick, lush rough that lines every hole and the lightning-fast bentgrass greens which are surrounded by mounds that can leave players with impossible up-and-downs. That said, the fairways aren’t excessively narrow and they can be soft at times, so if a player is hitting his tee ball well there will be scoring opportunities.
Billy Horschel posted 13-under (275) to take home the trophy last year, and the list of recent champions here– Cantlay, Rahm, DeChambeau– is pretty impressive. But we’ve also seen the likes of William McGirt and David Lingmerth win here in the past decade, so Muirfield is course where a wide range of styles can prevail, and the longer odds players should not be overlooked. With that being said, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Scottie Scheffler (8.6)- Picking the favorite is never particularly fun when you write articles like these, but if I’m risking my hard-earned money on this tournament, I’m putting most of it on Scheffler. The guy has been a machine lately, with top-5 finishes in his last three starts and six straight finishes of 11th or better since his victory at The Players. With the long-and-straight nature of his game and his deft touch around the greens, he’s a perfect fit for Muirfield Village and has found the top-25 in both of his appearances here, finishing T3 in 2021. The price feels short now, but I’m betting it won’t feel so short once the weekend rolls around.
Sungjae Im (49.0)- For whatever reason it took Sungjae a few years to figure Muirfield Village out, but he’s got it down now, as evidenced by his 10-place finish last year that included a Sunday 69 which was good for low round of a brutally difficult day. He’s had an excellent first half of 2023, logging seven top-10s, including three in his past five starts, and you get the feeling that he’s closing in on his third career victory. At nearly 50/1, he’s definitely one of the better values on the board.
Keegan Bradley (100.0)- After a spell in the wilderness Bradley has found his form again, winning the ZOZO Championship earlier this season and finishing runner-up at the Farmers, among other highlights, and with 6 made cuts in his past 7 starts and improving ball-striking stats, he feels close to breaking out in a big way. He has a long and mostly successful history at Muirfield Village, logging two top-10s and three top-25s since 2015, and he was set for another good finish last year until a final round 77 left him in a tie for 37th. With the way he’s been playing lately, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he were able to position himself for a shot at redemption this Sunday. Don’t be scared to throw some love Bradley’s way at 100.0.