Memorial Tournament preview

This week we are in Dublin, Ohio for the annual renewal of The Memorial which is hosted by the Jack Nicklaus designed, Muirfield Village Golf Club. Commonly known as “Jack’s Place”, this course tends to attract a strong field and this year is no different.

Like last week’s event, this is one of five events on the PGA Tour that has Invitational Status, meaning reduced fields (120-132 players), which also allows more freedom for the tournament hosts to invite the players they want as oppose to using the PGA Tour Priority Ranking System. Another feature of these invitational events is that there is no Monday Qualifying.

The field this week includes six players from the World’s Top-10 as; Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Scott all tee it up this week.

Matsuyama won here in 2014, in what was his maiden win on the PGA Tour and this started a run of three maiden PGA Tour winners getting their first here at Muirfield Village, with David Lingmerth (2015) and William McGirt (2016) following in Matsuyama’s footsteps.

Before these three most recent winners, it looked as though this was a course for the experienced heads, with Tiger Woods winning here five times since 2000, along with Kenny Perry (three-time winner), Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar and K.J Choi amongst a host of others wily veterans getting the job done here since the turn of the millennium.

2010 champion Justin Rose has made the decision to withdraw ahead of this week’s renewal in order to focus his attention on the upcoming U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

In 2014 this event was also given the right to grant the winner a three-year exemption on Tour, one more than most events and on par with WGC’s, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and The Tour Championship.

The Course and what it will take to win round here

Muirfield Village GC, 7,392 Yards, Par 72

This is a stunning course which rewards good quality play tee-to-green and as such hitting plenty of greens will be as essential as ever. To do this, avoiding the penal rough is a must, so Driving Accuracy will also be a factor this week.

It really is a ball-strikers course this week and if you are not on point with your irons you are not going to win. The smaller-than-average Bentgrass greens will reward good quality long irons shots, especially on the longer Par 4’s that this course features. Six of the ten Par 4’s here are between 450-500 yards, making it a similar test in a way to Augusta, which is why you may see a crossover in those that do well at both courses.

Nine of the last eleven winners here have ranked inside the top-2 for Par 4 Performance the week they won so it would be beneficial to look at those that have not only been playing the Par 4’s well all season, but also excelled on the 450-500 yard range.

Talking of the greens these are some of the fastest outside of the majors and should run at over 13 on the stimpmeter so we should see some variance in putting this week. Given how the greens play here, this week presents an opportunity to back those that are maybe excelling tee-to-green but struggling on the putting surface. I say this because this is a different putting test altogether this week and whilst you don’t want to make a habit of backing someone that has struggled all year long with a putter in their hand, someone who has had a dip in form of late, but is still striking the ball well may well raise their game with the flat-stick this week. Putting on fast and generally immaculate greens can often bring the best putting performances out of a player, even if they have struggled in recent weeks.

Here is a summary of stats I have focused on:

Stroked Gained: Tee-to-Green

Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green

Par 4 Performance

Par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards

Recent trends

As aforementioned, the last three winners of this event made this their maiden victory on the PGA Tour, so it starting to look less important to be a Tour veteran. Matsuyama also getting that maiden PGA Tour victory on his course debut should give confidence to those that are without a win on Tour or a start here. Of course Matsuyama is a world-class talent and he was already at a top level prospect before getting the job done, but the two most recent winners should give hope to those without a PGA Tour win.

Lingmerth and McGirt are not the biggest names on Tour, despite the latter kicking on in the last 12/18 months and neither had shown any particular love for Muirfield Village before their win either. The pair had five starts between them before their respective wins but neither finished better than 37th before winning. Lingmerth finished 57th and 49th at the course before his win, whilst McGirt had only garnered a MC and a 40th since finishing 37th on debut in 2013.

With Matsuyama the exception it does look advantageous to have at least played the course and made the weekend at least once before winning here so if you’re going take on a course debutant, make it one who you believe will go on and forge a fine career. For example, I wouldn’t be put off backing Jon Rahm here, despite him never playing before, purely because I believe he can win anywhere already.

Although strong course form doesn’t appear to be too much of a big deal at late, current form remains integral to winning here. Apart from Lingmerth who broke the trend when he won here, four of the last five winners have all had a top-10 in one of their five starts heading into this event.

Here are my picks for the 2017 Memorial Tournament.

Tony Finau 50/1 (BetBright) 1pt e/w:

I opted for Finau at the Byron Nelson two weeks ago at 40/1 and he finished in a tie for 13th and he then went on to finish 29th last week at the Dean & Deluca Invitational.

The 50/1 is tempting enough for me to go in on him again this week at a course where he has finished 8th and 11th on his two starts. This is very similar to the form he had shown in his first two starts at the Byron Nelson and hopefully he can improve on the 13th place finish he managed there two starts ago.

Finau is a player of immense quality and it is just a matter of time before he adds to his lone PGA Tour victory, that he landed in Puerto Rico last season.

From a statistical standpoint, Finau ranks fairly highly in the important areas this week, particularly in Par 4 Scoring (4th) and Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (6th). Finau also ranks 21st in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green and whilst he has seemingly struggled on the 450-500 yard Par 4’s (78th), I am confident he can post another strong finish around this track.

At 50/1 you are getting a player in good form, with quality course form to boot. He has the potential to win numerous times on the PGA Tour and this looks to be one of the courses he can get the job done at.

Webb Simpson 55/1 (Betfred 6 places ¼ odds) 1pt e/w:

One player that already has a few wins under his belt and is seemingly closing in on another is Webb Simpson. The four-time PGA Tour winner and 2012 U.S. Open champion has been in fine form over the last month, and this course suits his game.

Simpson has always relied on accuracy over distance, but he also needs to elevate his play on the greens every time he wins. This is something he can do this week, given the immaculate Bentgrass surfaces and the form he has shown in his last two starts.

Webb finished T16 at the Players Championship and 5th at the Dean & Deluca Invitational last week, so should he keep trending in the right direction a win should be well within reach.

In six starts at this course, Simpson has an 11th (2016), an 8th (2011) and a 48th (2009 debut) as well as three missed cuts. The way he is currently playing, the hope is that he comes here and plays nearer the level he was when 11th here last year and 8th in 2011.

Statistically, Simpson catches the eye in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green (5th), Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (20th) and Par 4 Scoring (21st), as well as ranking a respectable 38th in Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 yards.

It does appear to be his putting that will determine how he goes here, as it does with most players I have plumped for this event.

Emiliano Grillo 66/1 (Bet365, Ladbrokes, Coral) 1pt e/w:

After a bit of a slump, Emiliano Grillo looks to be in fine form again, so will hope to add to his 2015 Frys.com Open win.

In the last three weeks, Grillo has finished 11th at the Players Championship and T24 at the Dean & Deluca Invitational. Before that good finishes were few and far between on the PGA Tour this season, but a T7 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was a gentle reminder of his talent level.

Grillo, a Bentgrass putting specialist gains a more than respectable 1.861 strokes on the field on this type of surface, good enough to rank him 17th on Tour since 2013/14.

Due to his indifferent start to the year, Grillo hardly stands out statistically but he still ranks inside the top-30 in both Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (24th) and Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green (30th). His Par 4 play so far this year leaves a bit to be desired (42nd in Par 4 Performance and 83rd in Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 yards) but his numbers will start to improve now that he has found some form in his all round game.

Grillo actually hit the front last year, with Matt Kuchar at -15 during round three, before a lengthy weather delay (roughly 2 hours) halted play. Grillo did also get to -16 at one stage, which was one better than the two that contested the play-off, but a back-9 41 led to a final round 74, which ultimately cost him.

In the end Grillo finished T11 last season, which was a stellar attempt on debut and now with a year of experience under his belt alongside some good current form, he looks a good bet to go better this time around.

Kyle Stanley 100/1 (Betfred & StanJames 6 places ¼ odds) 0.5pt e/w:

Statistically, Kyle Stanley is a dream fit for me this week so to leave him out at 100/1 would make no sense. Now he has not won since 2012, when he won the Phoenix Open a week after a meltdown at the Farmers Insurance Open but Stanley has showed close to winning form all season long.

So far this season, Stanley has posted three top-10’s, a further four top-25’s and a whole host of other respectable finishes. His missed cut last week was just his third of the season, but the most recent of his top-10’s came at the Players Championship just three weeks ago, where he finished in a tie for 4th. Given how well he played that week at TPC Sawgrass and the way he has been performing in all the key areas I have focused on this week, I am confident he can bounce back from disappointing week last time out.

Stanley ranks 2nd in Par 4 efficiency 450-500 yard, 4th in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green, 5th in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and 18th in Par 4 Performance. This suggests that not only is he striking the ball at an elite level but he is also excelling on the longer Par 4’s, which will serve him well this week, should he keep it up.

His form at Muirfield Village has been patchy at best, but a 3rd place finish in 2013 and a 37th in 2011 suggests he can go well round this track. He has not played here the last two years, but has made what looks to be a wise decision to take advantage of his quality ball striking this season and return to the event this week.

Given his current form and his obvious ability it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that he can add his second PGA Tour victory here this week, five years on from his first.

Total Points Staked this week: 7

Profit/Loss for 2017: -11