Damien Kayat previews the 2021 Memorial Tournament taking place the Muirfield Village Golf Club.
2021 US PGA Tour
Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio
Jason Kokrak held off the efforts of Jordan Spieth in a thrilling conclusion to last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge. The fans were rather partisan, willing Dallas-native Spieth to victory. But the consistent Kokrak persevered and collected his 2nd title of the season. The tour moves to Ohio this week for one of the most emotionally stirring events of the entire year. First staged in 1976, the Memorial Tournament is the brainchild of golf’s most iconic father figure: Jack Nicklaus. This event only guarantees participation to the top 75 money earners from the previous season. It is one of only five events on tour that has invitational status and there will be only 120 players competing. The aura of ‘The Golden Bear’ looms large in this week’s proceedings and this event has special significance for the great man. This region of Ohio was essentially his old stomping ground and has become a vital part of the PGA landscape.
Nicklaus took inspiration from the Masters when setting about the creation of Muirfield Village Golf Club. He wanted to create an event that celebrated the traditions of the game but also gave back to the community through charitable contributions. He and Desmond Muirhead designed a beautifully lush layout named after Nicklaus’ favourite Open Championship venue. Undulating, tree-lined fairways meander through a maze of tricky green complexes. The smaller-than-average bentgrass greens are a key feature of this course. Speaking of lush, you don’t want to be caught too often in this rough. Driving accuracy is far more predictive of success here than accuracy (if you exclude the success of Bryson and Cantlay in 2018 and 2019 respectively). Look for pure ball-strikers with the ability to scramble around these tight greens.
Defending champion Jon Rahm was inspirational around the greens last year and he makes a logical market leader. The two previous champions- Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay- will also be in attendance. Furthermore, Muirfield hosted the Workday Charity Open last year to accommodate the pandemic. Workday Champion Collin Morikawa and runner-up Justin Thomas will also be looking to conquer Muirfield again. Rory McIlroy will look to bounce back after a disappointing week at Kiawah while Spieth will look to keep the Jordan bandwagon rolling. This is traditionally one of the toughest events to call, with an idiosyncratic golf course often leading to ‘unfashionable’ winners (just think William McGirt and David Lingmerth).
Past Winners (excluding last year’s Workday Charity Open)
2020: Jon Rahm (-9)
2019: Patrick Cantlay (-19)
2018: Bryson DeChambeau (-15) *playoff
2017: Jason Dufner (13)
2016: William McGirt (-15) *playoff
To Win Outright:
Jon Rahm 10/1
Rory McIlroy 14/1
Jordan Spieth 14/1
Bryson DeChambeau 14/1
Justin Thomas 16/1
Matthew Fitzpatrick: To Win 30/1 | To Place 13/2
Six-time European Tour winner Matt Fitzpatrick looks like he may be coming close to breaking his PGA Tour duck. In this last nine starts he has posted seven top 25 finishes. That includes four top 10’s. He currently sits 15th in Total Strokes Gained and Tee-to-Green. But perhaps my favourite piece of evidence concerning Fitzpatrick is last year’s Memorial. He closed with the best final round last year to finish in solo 3rd. Fitzpatrick is just the sort of solid ball striker who could emerge from the dark-horse pack this year.
Matt Kuchar: To Win 110/1 | To Place 24/1
I’m going for the classic ‘horses for courses’ approach. Kuchar won this event in 2011 and finished runner-up in 2013. His 54 career rounds played at Muirfield ranks 3rd in the field this week. More significantly, his 2.53 strokes gained per round is the 2nd highest amongst those in the field who have played at least 10 rounds. He is currently tied for 23rd in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour. He had consecutive top 20 finishes leading into his missed cut at the PGA Championship. This course will suit him down to the bone.
The Man to Beat: Collin Morikawa: To Win 16/1 | To Place 7/2
Morikawa looks like the best value in the upper reaches of the market. He did win on this course last year- though that was not officially a Memorial victory. Morikawa is just a demon from tee-to-green and he currently ranks 1st on tour for GIR. That is a vital stat with these smaller-than-average greens to consider. He always proves ultra-competitive in these stellar line-ups. The 2020 PGA Championship winner picked up a win at this season’s WGC Workday Championship. He had a top 10 at Kiawah and he just looks great value at 16/1.