Expectations are high.
There are so many players you could say that of in this week’s field for the 43rd playing of Jack Nicklaus’ legacy tournament, the Memorial. One of the most coveted titles of the entire PGA season has wanna-be winners swarming around a vision of Jack handing them the trophy on Sunday that it’s hard to imagine this won’t be a fight to the finish.
Justin Thomas will be playing for the first since ascending to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings. The man he replaced, No. 2 Dustin Johnson, hasn’t exactly slumped this year, leading the tour in scoring average. The player who is No. 3 in that category is also now No. 3 in the world, Justin Rose, after last week’s show of mastery at the Fort Worth Invitational.
In all, eight of the world’s top 10 will be at Muirfield this week. Fans will also be on the lookout for the next chapter in the comeback story of Tiger Woods, whose five previous victories at the Memorial are two more than anyone else has ever achieved. Phil Mickelson is also playing, along with defending champ Jason Dufner.
Here’s even more to get you ready for this week’s big event.
Tournament: The Memorial Tournament
Dates: May 31-June 3, 2018
Where: Dublin, Ohio
Course: Muirfield Village Golf Club
Distance: Par 72, 7,392 yards
Architect: Jack Nicklaus/Desmond Muirhead
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $1,602,000
Defending Champion: Jason Dufner
Marquee Players: Dufner, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson, Marc Leishman, Bubba Watson, Patton Kizzire, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Kenny Perry
TV AND ONLINE
Round 1: Thu 2:30-6:30 pm (GOLF)
Round 2: Fri 2:30-6:30 pm (GOLF)
Round 3: Sat 12:30-2:45 pm (GOLF), 3-6:00 pm (CBS)
Round 4: Sun 12-2:45 pm (GOLF), 3-6:00 pm (CBS)
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It was Masters week 1966 and Jack Nicklaus was five years into a golf career that would one day rival the best in the history of professional sports.
Prior to that tournament, which Nicklaus would win, he spoke candidly about a dream he had. Nicklaus, who had quickly become a branding giant as the biggest name in pro golf, expressed his desire to create his own tournament. He wanted it to be like The Masters, an elite event that would draw eyes from all over the world.
Grateful to an exuberant central Ohio golf community where he grew up and became one of the all-time greats, Nicklaus wanted to bring the prestige of championship golf to them.
That dream would later be realized in the form of Muirfield Village Golf Club, a golf haven built in the Columbus suburb of Dublin that would represent everything Nicklaus adores about the game that made him a legend.
Muirfield would be the host of Jack’s event, a tournament known as The Memorial.
In 1976, the first edition of the Memorial teed off, and since then, it has evolved into one of the greatest shows in golf. Today, The Memorial draws a field that rivals any non-major on the PGA Tour. With the passing in recent years of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Arnold Palmer, it is also a bit poignant given the tournament’s focus on honoring the past that it is the one event left that allows today’s players to vie for a title presented by a living legend, with Nicklaus himself presenting the winner’s trophy.
Constructing Muirfield Village with fan viewing foremost in mind, Nicklaus did not just create a golf course, he created the ultimate golf fan experience. Muirfield Village launched a global Jack Nicklaus design empire, as he would go on to put his name and ideas to many of what are now known as the best golf courses in the world, such as Valhalla (Kentucky), Harbour Town (South Carolina), Killeen Castle (Ireland), and Manele (Hawaii).
As for The Memorial Tournament, the inaugural event was held in 1976, with Roger Maltbie taking down Hale Irwin in a playoff. With an even-par champion, Muirfield Village was brutally difficult in that first year, but changes were made as the tournament progressed, and while the course never got anywhere near easy, it became more appropriately challenging, yielding winning scores that were more in line with most of the best tournaments.
Memorial champions have included Nicklaus himself, along with Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Curtis Strange, Fred Couples, Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, and Ernie Els. With five victories, Tiger holds the record for most Memorial titles, with Kenny Perry (three) being the only other golfer with more than Nicklaus (two).
The Memorial’s most famous tradition is the annual honoring of one person who has greatly contributed historically to the game of golf. Previous honorees (chosen by something called the Captains Club) have included Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias, Ben Hogan, and Arnold Palmer.
Nicklaus was even chosen to be the honoree one year (2000). This year’s honoree is three-time U.S. Open champ Hale Irwin.
1976-18: The Memorial Tournament
2017: Jason Dufner (-13)
2016: William McGirt (-15)
2015: David Lingmerth (-15)
2014: Hideki Matsuyama (-13)
2013: Matt Kuchar (-12)
2012: Tiger Woods (-9)
2011: Steve Stricker (-16)
268 (-20) Tom Lehman (1994)
5 – Tiger Woods (1999, 2000, 2001, 2009, 2012)
3 – Kenny Perry (1991, 2003, 2008)
Headlines after the third round of the 2017 Memorial tournament spoke of Jason Dufner’s collapse. A day later, Dufner was still the headline-maker, this time for a remarkable bounce-back Sunday that crowned him champion of the Memorial last year.
Jason Dufner overcame a third-round 77, and then two Sunday weather delays, to become the second Ohio native (tournament founder Jack Nicklaus was the first) to win at Jack’s Place.
Dufner, who held a five-shot lead through 36 holes after back-to-back 65s, had a nightmare third round (5-over 77), but was in control most of Sunday, riding seven birdies to a 4-under 68.
Leading by two over Rickie Fowler through 17 holes, Dufner hit his tee shot on the 18th well into the rough before the horn sounded, indicating the day’s second weather delay.
Starting back up just after 8 pm local time, Dufner hit out safely, and then two shots later nailed a 32-foot par putt to put The Memorial out of reach.
Finishing at 13-under, Dufner snatched his fifth career victory, this one by three strokes over Fowler and India’s Anirban Lahiri.
FINAL TOP 10
1 Jason Dufner -13
2 Anirban Lahiri -10
2 Rickie Fowler -10
4 Justin Thomas -9
4 Matt Kuchar -9
6 Kyle Stanley -8
6 James Hahn -8
6 Kevin Kisner -8
6 Bubba Watson -8
10 Daniel Summerhays -7
10 Jamie Lovemark -7
10 Graham DeLaet -7
THE FIELD: ANALYSIS
It’s almost impossible not to start any discussion about who has the best chances for this week with a guy who is coming off a previous tournament where the sequence of scores he posted was 66-64-66-64.
When he’s hitting on all cylinders, 37-year-old Justin Rose looks like the textbook definition of a player in his prime. He’s got an Olympic gold medal. He’s won a U.S. Open. The one small, nagging question then would be how a player who first teed it up on the PGA Tour with that much talent has won only nine times on tour?
Rose’s victory last week was his second of this season, and perhaps that is indicative of what will become a big season. He’s only won two tour events in a single year once before, and that was 2010, when he won for the first time on the PGA Tour. And that first ever victory that year? That would be the 2010 Memorial Tournament.
Rose has not been in a Memorial field since 2015. But in those intervening five appearances since he won at Muirfield, he missed the cut twice, but also posted a pair of eighth-place finishes and, in his most recent showing in 2015, placed second. It’s hard not to imagine his having a major say-so in what happens this week.
Justin Thomas is No. 1. That’s where he stands in the world rankings, in the FedEx Cup standings and in scoring this year on the PGA Tour. He hasn’t been playing great — at least by a No. 1’s standards — in the last two months.
He finished tied for 17th at The Masters, missed the cut in the two-man competition at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, placed tied for 21st at the Wells Fargo on the same course where he had won the PGA Championship last August and then showed signs of getting hot at THE PLAYERS, topping out at a tie for 11th on the strength of weekend rounds of 68-66.
This will be his fourth Memorial appearance, and after missing the cut his first two years, he broke through last year with a tie for fourth.
Similarly, world No. 2 Dustin Johnson comes in looking solid, but not red-hot. His game seems to be off by just a smidgen, as he’s managed a tie for 10th at The Masters, a tie for 16th at the RBC Heritage and a tie for 17th at THE PLAYERS in his last three starts.
The biggest cause for optimism over DJ would be his Memorial showing in 2016, when an opening round 64 helped propel him into a third-place finish.
Three players of great intrigue are Nos. 6-8, respectively, in the world rankings — Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day. McIlroy is flirting with what appears to be top form with his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and his tie for fifth at The Masters.
But last weekend back home in the UK after being tied for the lead after three rounds of the BMW PGA Championship, he was outdueled down the stretch by Francesco Molinari. McIlroy wasn’t terrible in the final round, shooting 70, but couldn’t quite close.
Like Rose, Fowler feels like a player whose talent suggests he should have a lot more than the four career PGA Tour victories he currently owns. He’s played poorly before at the Memorial, but he’s also been on the cusp a couple of times, finishing second, including a tie for runner-up last year with Anirbin Lahiri.
Day is a former world No. 1 who is on the rise this year, moving from No. 13 at the start of the season up to his current No. 8 ranking. He’s already won twice since the start of 2018, and has two other top five finishes, including a tie for fifth in his most recent start at THE PLAYERS.
So far, so good. But, he is a resident of Columbus, where his wife is from, and despite his many accomplishments, he’s never even managed to crack the top 10 in a previous Memorial. He finished tied for 15th last year, and that’s his career-best showing.
Muirfield Village is one of those courses that has really suited Tiger Woods over the years, with a particularly ridiculous stretch from 1999-2001 when he strung together three consecutive titles. He hasn’t played since THE PLAYERS three weeks ago, but had an auspicious weekend, making the cut on the number but then shooting 65-69 on the weekend to surge to a tie for 11th.
Will that birdie barrage and his knowledge and comfort at Muirfield finally be enough to earn him victory this weekend?
Two other players who could prove interesting this week are Charl Schwartzel and Joaquin Niemann. Schwartzel, once a world’s top 10 player and the 2011 Masters champion, seems to have found something of late. His two most recent finishes have been a tie for ninth at the Wells Fargo and a tie for second at THE PLAYERs.
Niemann is the 19-year-old Chilean native who was ranked as the world’s No. 1 amateur prior to his turning pro in April. He’s been invited to play in five PGA Tour events since, and along with three missed cuts, he also has flashed his potential with a solo sixth at the Valero Texas Open and now a tie for eighth last week in Fort Worth.
Finally, the second-winningest golfer in Memorial history behind Tiger is also teeing it up this week, returning to Muirfield for the first time since 2015. Kenny Perry, now age 57, won 14 times on the PGA Tour and has won nine times on the Champions tour, including last year’s U.S. Senior Open title. The Kentuckian was the Memorial champion in 1991, 2003 and 2008.
FULL FIELD: ODDS & RANKINGS
Credits: PGA Tour Media, Getty Images